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Leaf by Niggle

From Tolkien Gateway
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Leaf by Niggle
Publication Information
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
ReleasedJanuary 1945
Separate book: 28 July 2016
FormatPaperback; audio-book

Leaf by Niggle is a short story written by J.R.R. Tolkien around 1942, first published in The Dublin Review in 1945.[1]

It is included in the book Tree and Leaf (1964) and in other compilations, such as The Tolkien Reader (1966), Poems and Stories (1980), and Tales from the Perilous Realm (1997).

Its first separate appearance seemed to be a 2003 private print by the Trinity Forum, in this edition there is a foreword and a "group discussion guide" at the end.[2] The separate book was formally released by HarperCollins in 2016.


Leaf by Niggle is very much an allegory of Tolkien's own creative process, and, to an extent, of his own life. Although Tolkien actively defended against being allegorical, he admitted having been just that in Leaf by Niggle in a letter to Caroline Everett (24 June 1957):[3]

"I should say that, in addition to my tree-love (it was originally called The Tree), it arose from my own pre-occupation with the Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be 'not at all'. The war had arisen to darken all horizons. But no such analyses are a complete explanation even of a short story..."


Niggle is an artist who paints to please himself, living in a society that holds art in little regard. His main occupation is a huge painting of great tree. He started with one single leaf and the painting grows around it. Niggle hopes to draw every leaf in detail. Soon Niggle finds birds in the trees, hills that are visible through the branches. And so the painting grows and takes up all time from the painter. Niggle takes time off from his work, because of politeness, to aid his neighbor, a gardener named Parish who is lame and has a sick wife. In the process of helping Niggle catches a sickness.

Then he is forced to take a trip, but was ill prepared for it (partly due to his illness) and ends up in Workhouse Infirmary 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, his neighbour, 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.

Characters and places

Listed in order of named appearance:
  1. Niggle - An obsessive artist who needed to make a journey; Lived within a pleasant house miles away from town; Distracted constantly by interruptions; A distant friend fell ill; his neighbor pressed him for chores; He was constantly kept from niggling on every detail of his life's work. He was kindhearted, in a grumbling, reluctant kind of way.[4]
  2. Mr. Parish - An old man with a lame foot who was given the name Old Earthgrubber by Niggle; Was once ill with lumbago; Pressed his neighbor to do several chores for him, not understanding that they took time away from Niggle's art. Moved eventually to Niggle's Parish, finally understanding the art, and waited for his wife to join him.
  3. Mrs. Parish - The wife of Mr. Parish. Later, she was mentioned to be mopping up some rain water wondering if Niggle had forgotten to meet with the builder.
  4. Doctor - A doctor who worked within the town where Niggle lived; Enlisted by Niggle to cure Mrs. Parish's cold but took two days to arrive.
  5. Builder - A builder who worked within the town where Niggle lived; Enlisted by Niggle to fix Parish's roof and never arrived at all.
  6. Inspector of Houses - A very tall man and an enforcer of the houses come first law; Was once in the past called to inspect Niggle's neglected garden; Threatened to use Niggle's Picture to fix Parish's roof.
  7. Driver - A very tall man, clad all in black, who forcibly began Niggle's journey; Drove him by carriage to the Porter's railway station.
  8. Porter - The person who sent Niggle to the Workhouse Infirmary. Later coined the name Niggle's Parish.
  9. Severe doctor - A doctor who worked at the Workhouse Infirmary; Supervised Niggle during his stay there.
  10. First Voice - A very severe voice; One of two voices that Niggle heard during a break at the Workhouse Infirmary.
  11. Second Voice - A gentle, but authoritative voice, sounding both sad and hopeful; One of two voices that Niggle heard during a break at the Workhouse Infirmary. Later considered Niggle's Parish to be the perfect holiday spot.
  12. Shepherd - A man who lived as a shepherd within the Mountains just beyond the Edge of Niggle's Parish; Offered to be Niggle's guide to the mountains beyond and revealed to Parish that this was the land from Niggle's Picture.
  13. Councillor Tompkins - A councillor who lived at Niggle's old home; Claimed that Niggle had no use to Society at all, and that Society should have "put him away" forever long ago at the "Rubbish Heap", possibly another name for the Workhouse Infirmary.
  14. Atkins - A schoolmaster who claimed that Niggle is pitiful; Saved a piece of Niggle's Picture, and framed it at the Town Museum.
  15. Perkins - A person who never knew that Niggle painted, yet voiced pity regardless.
Places and terms
Listed in order of named appearance:
  1. Town Council - The local government of the town that Niggle lived in. Niggle tried to save his painting from the Inspector of Houses by suggesting that Parish should file a complaint to the council to fix his roof, damaged by the rain.
  2. Emergency Service - An agency run by the Town Council that is responsible for providing disaster relief to the town. According to the Inspector of Houses, they could not deal with Parish's roof due to more significant damage from a flood in the nearby valley that left many families homeless.
  3. Houses come first law - A law in the Society where Niggle lived that says that the fixing of houses must come before leisure activities, such as painting.
  4. Workhouse Infirmary - A prison like place that locked up people who did not "contribute" to Society and forcing them to work; The place was run by severe officials and attendants who were unfriendly and silent; Possibly referred to by Councilor Tompkins as the Rubbish Heap. There was a railway station just below the green hill the infirmary was on.
  5. Medical Board/Court of Inquiry - A council at the Workhouse Infirmary that was comprised of at least the two voices. Their meetings took place in the room next to Niggle's room with the door open.
  6. Records - The name of the documented report on Niggle's background that the Workhouse Infirmary possessed; It was read and used by the Second Voice to convince the First Voice to allow Niggle to be put through the Gentle Treatment.
  7. Calls - A name given by the First Voice to refer to the action in Society of one person asking another person for help; The First Voice claimed that this type of action was called Interruptions by Niggle.
  8. Gentle Treatment - The name of the procedure that the Second Voice recommended to the Niggle case where the Workhouse Infirmary provides the subject with new clothes, breakfast, and a treatment for injuries before allowing them to leave for the next stage.
  9. Great Tree - A name given by Niggle to the physical representation of the Tree from his painting and the central location within Niggle's Parish.
  10. Forest - A physical representation of the Forest from Niggle's Picture located within Niggle's Parish, growing off in the distance on both sides of the Great Tree.
  11. Mountains - A physical representation of the Mountains tipped with snow from Niggle's Picture located just beyond the Edge of Niggle's Parish, surrounding it in the distance.
  12. Spring - A physical representation of the Spring that Niggle imagined, but never had the time to paint within his painting. It was located at the heart of the Forest within Niggle's Parish, it was the source of a distant lake. The name appeared on the two tonics that Niggle and Parish were provided with.
  13. Edge - The name given to the border between Niggle's Parish and the Mountains beyond.
  14. Parish's Garden - The name given by the shepherd to a small region located within Niggle's Parish that belonged to Mr. Parish.
  15. Niggle's Picture - The name given by the shepherd to Niggle's painting; Given the names Niggle's Nonsense and That Daubing by Mrs. Parish; It began with a leaf caught within the wind and became a tree with strange birds nesting on it. The canvas was located up a ladder within a tall shed that Niggle had built above an old potato garden he had. It was left incomplete as it was eventually confiscated by the Inspector of Houses in order to fix Parish's roof.
  16. Society - A loose general term for the country and the town that Niggle lived in. This Society placed an emphasis on work over art, confiscating artworks such as Niggle's Picture to benefit the town. The people, such as Niggle, who violated the laws of Society have their homes and possessions given away after they go on their journey.
  17. Town Museum - A museum located within the town that Niggle lived in; The remnant of Niggle's work was framed there until the museum was burned down.
  18. Leaf: by Niggle - A damaged, but legible corner torn off from Niggle's Picture ("a mountain-peak and a spray of leaves") that was found by Atkins in a field and framed within the Town Museum where it had attracted a few people; The remnant was destroyed when the museum was burned to the ground, leaving Niggle to be completely forgotten by his old country.
  19. Niggle's Parish - The name given by the Porter to the region where the Gentle Treatment takes place; Given the name Niggle's Country by the shepherd and shares the name Niggle's Picture with Niggle's original painting; Named after both Niggle and Mr. Parish.

Portrayal in adaptations

1992: Tales from the Perilous Realm radio series

Leaf by Niggle Was one of the four stories that the series adapted. The other three adapted stories were: Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. The cast of the Leaf by Niggle part of the series included Michael Hordern as J.R.R. Tolkien, Alfred Molina as Niggle, John Fleming as Parish, and additional voices performed by Jonathan Adams, David Holt, Melanie Hudson, Matthew Morgan, Joanna Wake, and Melinda Walker.

Publication history and gallery


External links


  1. Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (2017), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (Revised and Expanded Edition): II. Reader's Guide, "Leaf by Niggle" pp. 658-9
  2. "Interesting eBay Auctions", Tolkien Collector's Guide (accessed 11 November 2022)
  3. "Leaf by Niggle - a symbolic story about a small painter", Tolkien Library (accessed 12 June 2022)
  4. Leaf by Niggle
Tales from the Perilous Realm
Farmer Giles of Ham · The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · Leaf by Niggle · Smith of Wootton Major
Roverandom (since 2008) · On Fairy-Stories (since 2008)
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
On Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not on Arda Short stories
and others
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · Letters from Father Christmas ·
Mr. Bliss · Roverandom · Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · The Old English Exodus · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Letters & poems The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien · The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien
academic works
A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse
Books by other authors
Books on Arda The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Maps of Middle-earth
Tolkien biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Scholarly books The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library · Tolkien on Chaucer, 1913-1959
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline and an index.