Plot summary[ edit ] In this story, an artist, named Niggle, lives in a society that does not value art. Working only to please himself, he paints a canvas of a great Tree with a forest in the distance. He invests each and every leaf of his tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every leaf uniquely beautiful. Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single vast embodiment of his vision. However, there are many mundane chores and duties that prevent Niggle from giving his work the attention it deserves, so it remains incomplete and is not fully realised.
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Jonathan Shoulta Urging his troops to manly fortitude in the face of Germanic barbarians, General Maximus of the film, Gladiator does not downplay the certainty that some of his Romans are about die. It is wise rather than morbid for us to meditate on this reality each morning as we prepare for the day ahead.
The acts we perform today really will echo in eternity, for no one can turn back the clock to undo those things he has done, or to do the things he has left undone. And no one is promised a tomorrow to finish those things that ought to be done today. A thread of this color runs through J. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start sometime, but he did not hurry with his preparations.
It takes no great mind to observe the inevitability of death, and that despite its inevitability many of us will face the journey unprepared. Tolkien, though, was a great mind, so his story is more than an ambiguous injunction that we live each day as if it were our last.
For example, the reader must consider that Niggle disregards the practical for the sake of the beautiful, but that his neighbor, Parish, disregards the beautiful for the sake of the practical.
Neither habit is a virtue, but how is one to judge which is worse? Granting that this might sometimes be necessary, to what lengths should a person go for charity? Overshadowing all these, though, is the theme of the preparation that one must make for death. There is a trunk uniting each of these branches and boughs. Even so important a limb as meditation on the Four Last Things is dependent on its trunk for life. That any temporal act could last forever is an odd thing to consider, and it seems to contradict our experience.
Whether a word is kind or venomous, it is often forgotten in a matter of hours. We pay our bills, go to work, eat dinner with our families. Each of these acts seems to be gone forever once done. In a way it is. But in another way the act has being that is eternal; for the act is known by God, and He cannot forget.
In eternity, though, it is perfected, for God knows what it was intended to be, and what it ought to have been. But the eternal nature of our acts is not limited to our artistic creations. Once dead she was thrown into the sulfuric lake of fire in Hell, but her angel pleaded with God on behalf of her one good deed. God granted that the very onion she had selflessly given might literally be the tool of her salvation. Her angel was to lower the vegetable to her in the abyss. Once she had a firm hold on it, the angel could draw her up into Paradise.
The one act of charity she had committed had an eternal character such that the onion, itself long deceased upon earth, had being of the weightiest consequence in the hereafter. Similarly, though Niggle had done no great thing in his life, and none of his charitable acts were untainted by inner grumbling, he found on his journey that the acts that had required greater sacrifice were used by an Advocate as arguments for his salvation.
All of these acts of charity involved his neighbor, Parish. And this reveals another part of our lives that has eternal consequence. In addition to his acts of charity and his creative work, Niggle found that his relationships, even so common a relationship as that of neighbor, would last forever. On earth, Parish and Niggle were necessary annoyances for one another.
Had he been inclined to do otherwise, perhaps he would have fallen again into the abyss, even as the woman saw the onion crumble in her hands, her angel helpless to preserve her from this final act of selfishness. What we do in life echoes in eternity. Each morning as we prepare for the day ahead, let us consider that every act has real meaning and consequence. To meditate on this helps us to focus on the things that really matter, and to disregard the things that do not.
Leaf by Niggle
Usually I compose only with great difficulty and endless rewriting. I woke up one day more the 2 years ago with that odd thing virtually complete in my head. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out. Although Tolkien activily defended against being allegorical.
Life Echoes in Eternity: On J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle”
Previous Next J. Birzer , Fiction , Imagination , J. One very late night or early morning in , J. Tolkien awoke, a full story ready to burst from his already imaginatively feverish brain. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out. Sometime in , he read the story—presumably to an approving audience—to the Inklings.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle”
Main content Leaf by Niggle: The Hidden Nucleus This story allows diverse interpretations, political, religious, autobiographical. As often mentioned in his correspondence, Tolkien endlessly rewrote the pages he drafted; even when his work was to be republished, he rewrote it in great part. This is not true of Leaf by Niggle : the story appeared like a dream, and the author wrote it very swiftly, barely correcting it before it was published. As if it had always been there, in his mind, and had only to come out.
E-Text: Tolkien. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations. Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do. Most of these things he thought were a nuisance; but he did them fairly well, when he could not get out of them: which in his opinion was far too often. The laws in his country were rather strict.