Monday, November 23, 2015

Leaf by Niggle

I was told recently that "Leaf by Niggle" is a good story to read during times of grief, and, since I have been having a tough week, I thought it the perfect time for the story to be on the schedule.

At first, as I read it, I was confused about why it was good to read during difficult times.  It felt like the type of story that just makes everything feel worse and more tragic.  Niggle tries so hard, and yet, he can never attain what he desires.  He is taken away and abused, and I want to think it's unfair, but it feels somehow like justice, which makes it all the more upsetting.  I didn't feel like it was a good story for grieving at all.

Then, I got to Niggle's Parrish, and the mountains beyond, and I cannot describe the effect of those pages.  They offer a hope and a purpose, and we suddenly see so much of Tolkien's own hope.  It is easy to feel like Niggle sometimes--unable to improve and unable to give up--and it is easy to feel like Parrish at the end--unable to go forward and unwilling to let go--but this story reminds us that those moments of hopelessness and helplessness are passing things.  Personally, it reminded me of the hope of the Gospel as well.

In the end, after reading through the story, what do you think?  Is it a story of healing?  Does it help?


Varda said...

First of all, I hope your week gets better, and I am glad that you found some hope within the pages.

To me, this story reminds me not only of instances of healing, but also of the importance of integrity. Niggle was never happy to help others and take time away from his passions, but he did so nonetheless because he felt it was the right thing to do and he had a kind heart. In the end, his Tree came back to him and he was rewarded. This story is about healing because it emphasizes the importance of rest and thoughtfulness. Niggle disappears in the work he is given at the "hospital," totally forgetting all that had troubled him while not necessarily feeling happy. I came to view him as a blank canvas, so to speak. His journey into, essentially, his own painting was beautiful because he had become so blank that, as soon as he saw his Tree, Niggle's spirit seemed to elevate immensely with joy, as he had forgotten much of his painting and former life. I think his Tree I a reward for his hard work and kind life.

Aulë said...

I loved this story, and I think it makes sense to interpret it as a story of healing. Niggle goes through a sort of purification process where he redefines his priorities and is forced to work through monotony until he can appreciate every task he undertakes and become, as was brought up today "the master of his time." He cannot come out on the other side and truly appreciate his fulfilled work until he has gone through this process, and in the same way we are often unable to appreciate the goodness in our lives and what we have achieved until some adversity has come against us and we have to face and come through a (sometimes very painful) healing process.

Lórien said...

For me by far the most painful moment of the story was when the inspector came into Niggle's house and told him that he had to give up his painting so it could be used to repair other peoples houses. I was ready to fight that guy, why couldn't he just leave the painting alone! Then it struck me that I had somehow become attached to Niggle and his act of sub-creation to the extent that I was willing to suspend one of my basic ethical beliefs. I am of the opinion that life is the most precious thing in the universe and that innocent life is at the zenith of that hierarchy. Therefore, as much as I value knowledge and art, I would be willing to sacrifice the entire body of human artistic effort in order to save an innocent life. Hopefully, I will never be in that situation. Interestingly enough, my initial reaction was to protect Niggle's sub-creation, his pride and joy over the innocent people would have benefited from the raw materials of the work. Tolkien managed to do that in less than 10 pages, this is completely incredible to me. I felt a genuine empathy towards Niggle even without ever having an experience even remotely comparable. For me the ending was as final and definitely as healing as it was for Niggle. Few pieces of short fiction have ever accomplished a task quite like this for me.

Tulkas said...

I find the story as a whole to be very uplifting. It has a sense of completion and peace. I think we can all see ourselves in Niggle, to some degree (the line, "He cursed them in his heart, but he could not deny that he had invited them himself..." rings particularly true with me). We hold so tightly to the things which are most important to us. We think that if we lose them then we will have lost everything worth having. But so often, I think, we find that in losing something we gain something better. We come out more experienced, better equipped to handle life. Better things are right in front of us, and all we have to do is reach out for them. But we're too afraid to let go of what we have, and we risk never moving forward. Niggle clung to his painting with all he had. Yet when he gave it up and went on his long trip he got something even better.

Uinen said...

I wouldn't consider this a story of healing as much as a story of perseverance. That being said, I wouldn't focus on the death aspect of the story. This is a happy story, really. Niggle gets to become his own creator. He makes what he has always desired: his tree, his parish. I agree that these show hope and purpose for Niggle. He is suddenly aware that there is so much more than burdens and troublesome things to worry about and to live for. Imagine Niggle didn't actually die. Imagine this because happiness doesn't always come from death. This is a story of perseverance because Niggle, and everyone, have the ability to make it through whatever they need to. There is always something better once you get out of the darkness. Healing? Maybe. Hope? Definitely. (P.S. if a similar post pops up in these comments, it's because I couldn't find it)