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Thread: leaf: by niggle

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i would have to say this is my favorite tolkien story, hands down.
i mean, it's him.. its what he was doing with middle earth.
part of him saw the impact that his collective work would have on people as a source of inspiration and healing.. but another part of him saw it as putting off the 'inconveniences' of everyday life that everyone thought were so important at the time..

and now, now all we have is that one leaf. that phrase from a passage of what he really saw.. and while it seems like a great body of work, i's only what he was able to put into words.. a small corner of his mind.

I also believe his books i magnificent.

Of course, the allegory of "Leaf by Niggle" is life, death, purgatory and paradise. Niggle is not prepared for his unavoidable trip, as humans often are not prepared for death. His time in the institution and subsequent discovery of his Tree represent purgatory and [heaven]].

But "Leaf by Niggle" is also about Tolkien's profoundly religious philosophy of Creation and Subcreation. True Creation is the exclusive province of God, and those who aspire to Creation can only make echoes (good) or mockeries (evil) of truth. The Subcreation of works that echo the true creations of God is one way that mortals honor God.

(This philosophy is evident in The Silmarillion -- one Vala, Morgoth, creates the orc race as a foul mockery of the elf. Another Vala, Aul’, creates the dwarf race as an act of Subcreation that honored God (called Eru in JRRT's invented mythology), and which God accepted and made real, just as Niggle's Tree was made real.)

Niggle's yearnings after truth and beauty (God's creations) are echoed in his great painting; after death, Niggle is rewarded with the realization (the making-real) of his yearning. Or, if you prefer, Niggle's Tree always existed -- he simply echoed it in his art.

On a meta-level, then, JRRT's Middle-earth is itself a Subcreation designed to honor the true stories of the world-that-is. Thus, Middle-earth, despite its lack of overt religious elements, is a profoundly religious work.

So, on a final level of allegory, Tolkien himself is Niggle -- and, humorously, in mundane matters as well as spiritual ones. JRRT was compulsive in his writing, his revision, his desire for perfection in form and in the "reality" of his invented world, its languages, its chronologies, its existence. Like Niggle, Tolkien came to abandon other projects or graft them onto his "Tree," Middle-earth. Like Niggle, Tolkien faced many chores and duties that kept him from the work he loved. And like Niggle, Tolkien was a horrible procrastinator -- late in life, Tolkien spent hours playing solitary card games instead of working on The Silmarillion.

Finally, Tolkien himself might have disagreed with an allegorical interpretation. He wrote, in Letter 131 of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, "I dislike Allegory." And in specific reference to Niggle, he wrote in Letter 241, "It is not really or properly an 'allegory' so much as 'mythical'." On the other hand, in Letter 153 he said, "I tried to show allegorically how [subcreation] might come to be taken up into Creation in some plane in my 'purgatorial' story Leaf by Niggle."
There is an experience I sometimes have with a work of art that I have described (badly) as having my heart filled with love. Closest to describing it is something I read in an Anglo-Saxon language class some years ago. It was a translation exercise, the parable of the prodigal son from the New Testament. When the father sees his wayward son returning he is filled with "mildeheortness" from the words that become "mild" and "heart." (I'm a little uncertain of the spelling.) It is translated as "compassion" but it stays a separate word for me and describes something near compassion and near love, something "too deep for tears."

Anyway, one of the the times I have felt that way is reading "Leaf by Niggle" at the line "It's a gift!" It seems to me an almost painfully confessional Tolkien himself. It is someone with a great love of his own creations who is aware of the moral dangers of Pride; (Auden writes somewhere that Pride is the only sin, that all sins are expressions of Pride.) who wishes to submit his creations to God and prays that they may be preserved.

In time, my personal art has narrowed down to being now almost exclusively pencil drawings of leaves. I'm not sure where that comes from. I have tried twice to draw a picture of the Mountain seen past the leaves of the Tree. They're pretty enough but eventually unsuccessful.

I have no idea why I am writing this. There is something attractive about the anonymity of message boards. This is only the third time I have posted anything, today is the first day and Planet Tolkien the first place.

I greet you all, wish you all well and think this is a generous place.
mannnnnn i've been waiting for a reply to this thread and finally....
tho i've got nothing of substance to add except i never did finish reading this story, maybe now s d time
I just discovered a battered old copy of a book called a Tolkien Reader in my local library. It contains, among other things like Farmer Giles of Ham, an essay by Tolkien on Fairy-Stories and then the story Leaf by Niggle.

The line in the story "It's a gift!" is SOOO filled up with joy, hard to state how much.

I must re-read it, though it's short, it deserves a second perusal.

I know Tolkien's avowed dislike of allegory, but it's quite hard to keep this story from leaping directly to allegory in some moments..... the journy is so obviously death, one can't help it. However it's not all allegory, you might say it's part parable, part thinly disguised auto-biography, part mythic(ish), part character study.....
your description of Leaf by Niggle is brilliant and to my mind absolutely the truth.
I loved that story so very very much and you are right when you say that it is a profoundly religious piece of work, that which he wrote always honored the true Creator.
The Perilous Land is one of my absolute favorite books.I am amazed at how many different covers I have seen though, rather confusing.
Is The Perilous Land written by Tolkien?
Pardon me, I m eant Perilous Realm and it is by Harper Collins and is merely a collection of his short stories. He once said that to him faerieland was a Perilous Land.
Sorry about any confusion. Dunce Smilie
I just bought this book in Denmark Read Smilie Looking forward to learn more about what Tolkien meant about the fairies and thenature of the leafs Smile Smilie
Hullo Mellon dear, it is always always WONDERFUL to see your name and that beautiful avy and to hear what your heart is saying.
Leaf by Niggle really challenges each one of us I think to think hard about our lives and the time alloted to us. We can focus on the little or big things that annoy, or we can stick to what we know we are to do in this life and get to it for all too soon we too must take that journey.
It really spoke to me about not wasting life.
Not sure whether this belongs in the Lewis threads or not. It has just occurred to me that Lewis also wrote a story about the journey after death (purgatory) (The Great Divorce, i think is the title?).

I will have to go back and re-read them, but I wonder if anyone has ideas about how the LbN compares to tGD?
I've just read Leaf by Niggle today, like an hour ago. It is definitely a jewel among Tolkien's many works. I do wonder who Parish represented?
I do wonder who Parish represented?
Possibly you and me and the next person, Cloveress. Elf With a Big Grin Smilie
Ah yes. We've all taken so much of the old professor's labours. He must have thought the fan mail a horrible nuisance.
And now he can finally read our boards and blogs and laugh at our presumptions and ignorance as much as he wishes, all without so much as hurting our feelings. And if we were to have the honor of meeting him in the afterlife, both he and us, had best be on our best behaviors so as not to ruffle the other's feathers. Elf Sticking Tounge Out Smilie
Quote: as not to ruffle the other's feathers.

Or leaves. Elf With a Big Grin Smilie
Okay don't laugh, but I have always thought Parish was the people in the church that he saw daily and who were often eager to criticize and ask for help but declined to do it themselves. He received a letter from Michael I think who was severely depressed and who criticized the universities and the people in it and said his faith was in jeopardy because of the people, the hypocrites and so on . His father comforted him and explained about those in the parish he attended as the very reason Michael ought to go there. He was to go to please God and fellowship with Him,not the people that were driving him to distraction and upsetting his peace.
Okay, laugh. It does seem silly when I see it in print.
It doesn't seem silly, Leelee! Which one of us has not been annoyed by the people in our civilized communities? The Professor is certainly very kind-hearted in wishing these nuisances a happy afterlife, and in admitting humbly that without them he could not have done anything! The part that I found most touching in this story was when Niggle realizes that his tree could not have been made without Parish, and when he welcomes him into his new world. It is not often that we come by such humbleness!
He received a letter from Michael I think who was severely depressed and who criticized the universities and the people in it and said his faith was in jeopardy because of the people, the hypocrites and so on .

Hypocrites, how? Please elaborate.
Hypocrites: The many who spout the words, but fail to: heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger, etc., etc., etc. Elf Sticking Tounge Out Smilie