“Leaf by Niggle” was first published in the Dublin Review in January 1945, and is widely regarded as an allegory of Tolkien’s own creative process. Many would also claim that it is indeed an allegory of Tolkien’s life up to that point. [Despite Tolkien’s avowed dislike for ‘allegory’] Along with the essay “On Fairy-Stories” the story about Niggle can be found in the book “Tree and Leaf” which offers the underlying philosophy (Sub-Creation) of Tolkiens writings.
Niggle is an artist who works to please himself, living in a society that holds art in little regard. His main project is painting a great Tree in the middle of a forest, taking great care to bring out the beauty of each individual leaf. Niggle takes time off from his work to aid his neighbor, a gardener named Parish who is lame and has a sick wife. On an errand for Parish, Niggle catches a sickness.
Eventually he is forced to take a trip that has been on his mind a good while. He is ill prepared for it (partly due to his illness) and ends up in an institution of sorts where he must labour each day. He is paroled and sent to work as a gardener in the country. He realizes that he is in fact working in the forest of his painting, but the Tree is the true realization of his vision, not the flawed version in his art. Niggle is reunited with Parish, and together they make the forest even more beautiful. Finally Niggle travels to the far reaches of the forest, to places on the fringe of his canvas.
To what extent is “Leaf by Niggle” an allegory? Tolkien made no secret of his dislike of allegory, and in a letter makes specific reference to ‘Niggle’ not being allegorical. On the other hand he writes in another letter that “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.”
How does Niggle show Tolkiens ideas about sub-creation? Niggle ends up discarding his other artworks or incorporating them into his Tree painting. How does this resemble how Tolkien worked with Middle-Earth? What about Niggles almost compulsive attention to each single leaf? To what extent is Niggle really Tolkien?
In what way does Leaf by Niggle deal with death?
Join us in #thehalloffire as we debate this curious work of literature.
October 4-5: Leaf by Niggle
5:30pm ET (17:30)
[also 11:30pm (23:30) CET and 7:30am Sunday (07:30) AET]
7:00 pm (19:00) CET
[also 1:00pm (13:00) ET and 3:00am (03:00) Monday morning AET]
ET = Eastern Time, USA’s East Coast
CET = Central European Time, Central Europe
AET = Australian East Coast
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