Tolkien Gateway

Leaf by Niggle

Leaf by Niggle
Leaf by Niggle 2016.jpeg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
Released28 July 2016
FormatPaperback; audio-book

Leaf by Niggle is a short story written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1938-39, first published in The Dublin Review in 1945.

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).

The first separate print seems appeared in 2003, in a private edition by the Trinity Forum. This edition contains a foreword and a "group discussion guide" at the end.[1]

The book was formally released in its own volume in 2016, by HarperCollins.


[edit] Overview

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):[2]

"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..."

[edit] Plot

Niggle is an artists 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 true 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 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, 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.

For a longer plot summary, see Leaf by Niggle/Plot.

[edit] Characters

Listed in order of appearance:
  1. Niggle - An obsessive artist who needed to make a journey; Distracted constantly by his neighbor from niggling on every detail of his life's work, a picture of a Great Tree. He hated being nice, yet was kind regardless.
  2. Mr. Parish - An old man with a lame foot; 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; Caught a cold that she unknowingly spread to Niggle.
  4. Doctor - A doctor who worked within the town where Niggle lived; Enlisted by Niggle to cure Mrs. Parish's cold and arrived two days late.
  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 - An enforcer of the houses come first law; Threatened to use Niggle's Picture to fix Parish's roof.
  7. Driver - A person 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 for the region of the Gentle Treatment.
  9. Severe Doctor - A doctor who worked at the Workhouse Infirmary; Supervised Niggle during his stay there.
  10. First Voice - A strict and harsh voice; One of two voices that Niggle heard during a break at the Workhouse Infirmary.
  11. Second Voice - A loose and advocative voice; One of two voices that Niggle heard during a break at the Workhouse Infirmary. Later considered Niggle's Parish as the perfect holiday spot.
  12. Great Tree - A physical representation of the tree from Niggle's Picture and the central point of Niggle's Parish. A Forest and a Spring were supported by it.
  13. Shepherd - A shepherd who dwelled on 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.
  14. Councillor Tompkins - A councillor who lived at Niggle's old home; Claimed that Niggle was no use to Society at all, and that Society should "put him away" forever at the "Rubbish Heap", a name for the Workhouse Infirmary.
  15. Atkins - A schoolmaster who claimed that Niggle is pitiful; Saved a piece of Niggle's Picture ("a mountain-peak and a spray of leaves"), and framed it at the Town Museum as Leaf: by Niggle.
  16. Perkins - A person who never knew that Niggle painted, yet voiced pity regardless.

[edit] Publication history and gallery

1945 Dublin Review vol. 216, no. 432  
2016 HarperCollins  

[edit] See also

[edit] External links


  1. Interesting eBay Auctions (accessed 12 June 2022)
  2. Leaf by Niggle - a symbolic story about a small painter (accessed 12 June 2022)
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)