A tale by J.R.R. Tolkien
, an allegory
of sorts for death
, but Tolkien didn't like allegory, so let's just say it's a kind of fairy-tale
with a certain degree of abstraction
, a certain vagueness that makes it easily applicable when we think of death and creativity.
It says that we have in each of us something that is supremely ours and will last forever, if only we could see.
Niggle is a painter. Not a very good painter, nor a very good anything, an ordinary man with a kindly heart sometimes and a bad temper sometimes, who puts up with a bad grace with the little and thoughtless impositions his neighbour Parish asks of him. So they're like you and me.
He can't finish his paintings, he can't muster the discipline to do any one of them really well, but still he thinks he ought to try, that there's something he's got, in his own little way. Sound familiar? You and me again.
Leaves. He can do a leaf quite well. He spends care on his leaves, catching the light and dew just so, and out of these things he can in some degree do, Niggle over his lifetime has been buildiing a larger vision, a Tree. A home for all these leaves: and for birds, strange birds, and for vistas of mountains beyond, and almost a whole country built around what he can do with leaves and would like to do with his life's vision.
But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbèd pace, come the things that we all need to face: he had to make a Journey, and answer to the Inspectors, and give up whatever he had not yet finished. Agonised to be called away when he'd got closer than ever to getting right the leaves and the Tree and the country beyond, he goes with the Driver to a kind of sanatorium, where he is put to work, hard work, making himself useful, forgetting his old life, learning skills.
Eventually he is judged by unseen Voices, and sent on to his next destination, a vale where he sees the Tree, his Tree, as he had made and envisaged it, but far more complete. Exploring, he finds his neighbour Parish, who in their old life was a gardener with no interest in painting. Together they cooperate to bring to fruition their joint vision of a new and beautiful place: later to be known as Niggle's Parish, a haven for travellers passing on to the great Mountains beyond.
First published in the Dublin Review in 1947, inspired by the senseless felling of a great poplar in Tolkien's neighbour's garden, Leaf by Niggle was reprinted and made more accessible in the 1964 volume Tree and Leaf, as a companion to his essay On Fairy-Stories.