Leaf by Niggle


Tolkien’s acclaimed modern classic ‘fairie’ tale, read by Derek Jacobi.

‘Leaf by Niggle’ recounts the strange adventures of the painter Niggle, who sets out to paint the perfect tree. But he senses that he will be snatched away from his work long before it is finished – if indeed it could ever be finished in this world. For it is in another and brighter place that Niggle finds his tree is finished and learns that it is indeed a real tree, a true part of creation.

Created in the early 1940s, at the same time as The Lord of the Rings was taking shape, ‘Leaf by Niggle’ is a passionate adult fairy tale about a man who has ‘a long journey to make’, thought to be an allegory of Tolkien’s own life.


On June 23rd 2016 the audible release of Lead by Niggle came out. Today I listened to this audible version of the classic Leaf By Niggle from J.R.R Tolkien. And for the price (under $3.00) it is well worth it! The story is set like an allegory and definitely leaves the reader pondering the various meanings, interpretations and insights gained from it.

Leaf by Niggle is considered by some to be Tolkien’s most autobiographical work, springing from his fear of not finishing The Lord of the Rings. In 1939, as war clouds were darkening, he woke up one morning with the story almost complete in his mind and wrote it down.

Niggle is a struggling artist who is trying to complete his magnum opus, a painting of a curious tree. He isn’t sure when he will need to set out on his journey, but he is worried that he won’t be able to finish the painting before it’s time to leave.

Leaf by Niggle is often seen as an allegory of Tolkien’s own creative process, and, to an extent, of his life. It is a tale of transformation, which examines the relationship between an artist, his creation and his community.

The story presents Tolkien‟s ideas about art, employment, responsibility toward neighbors, as well as the importance of community with others. It paints a perceptive portrait of the author himself. Moreover, it offers inspiration for artists, writers, scholars, and all who engage in constructive labor, and gives guidance to those who (like the author) feel the pressure of too much work. Perhaps most importantly, this fascinating tale conveys to the reader Truth inherent in Creation.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:20 (NLT)

Perhaps the argument at the heart of “Leaf By Niggle” is that we can all imagine something beautiful, and if we don’t we should try. At the very least we should give ourselves the opportunity to respond to the beauty around us. Otherwise it’s a barren world out there, an industrialized, dehumanized, bureaucratic wasteland, overwhelming in its ugliness. To be human is to imagine, and to be fully human, to reach our great potential, is to imagine beauty in order to create beauty. We can be too superficial about our notions of beauty—what it is, where to find it, what it really looks, feels, sounds, or tastes like. We look for it in the media, in the shopping malls, in our faces and the clothes we wear, but shouldn’t we also look for it in the world around us, in our environment, in our souls, and in the people God places in our lives?

I also feel that there is a strong emphasis on the value of community in this work. When Niggle views his completed tree by being immersed into the world of it, he finds that the points that are most vivid and complete are the times when he was helping his neighbor Parish. It is possible that in this we see how what we often view as distractions are not distractions after all but something God uses to craft His masterpiece through us. God places others in our lives for this purpose and for our refinement though we can often view them as “distractions” from the work and busyness of life and the accomplishing of our own goals. But partnering with God and being in caring community with others is not a distraction of our goals in life but the way by which they produce lasting value and beauty.

There are other insights the reader can gain from this work as well. My goal is not to exhaust them all but state a few that sticks out to me.


Niggle is a painter with a grand vision. In his mind‟s eye, he sees a huge Tree with shimmering leaves surrounded by a lovely country of forests and mountains. He wants more than anything to paint what he sees; however, he is constantly interrupted by his neighbor Parish and by intrusions of civic and social responsibilities. Before he can make much progress on his painting, Niggle is called away on a Journey. He is taken to a place where he is compelled to do hard labor and to rest. After a long time he hears two voices discussing his case. They send him on to the next stage, an open country with a great Tree, which Niggle soon recognizes to be a realization of his own vision. Niggle suddenly understands that to complete the painting he needs help from his former neighbor Parish, a gardener. Parish appears and they work together. Upon completion of the painting, Niggle decides to follow a shepherd into the mountains, while Parish elects to wait for his wife. Back in the old country Niggle is remembered briefly as a minor painter and then forgotten entirely. In the new country his complete vision, now called Niggle‟s Parish, has become a refreshing stopover for travelers.
Leaf by Niggle