|"I was going to advert to it myself, as
part apologia, part confession--I need say no more. Except that that story
was the only thing I have ever done which cost me absolutely no pains at
all. Usually I compose only with great difficulty and endless rewriting. I
woke up one morning (more than 2 years ago) with that odd thing virtually
complete in my head. I am not aware of ever 'thinking' of the story or
composing it in the ordinary sense."
--Letter to Stanley Unwin, ca. 18 March 1945
"Looking at it myself now from a
distance I should say that, in addition to my tree-love, . . . it arose
from my own preoccupation with the Lord of the Rings, the knowledge
that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and fear (near
certainty) that it would be 'not at all.' The war had arisen to darken all
horizons. But no such analysis are a complete explanation of a short
--Letter to Caroline Everett, 24 June 1957
"It is not really or properly an
'allegory' so much as 'mythical'. For Niggle is meant to be a real
mixed-quality person and not an 'allegory' of any single vice or
virtue. Of course some elements are explicable in biographical terms (so
obsessively interesting to modern critics that they often value a piece of
'literature' solely in so far as it reveals the author, and especially if
that is in a discreditable light.)"
--Letter Jane Neave, 8-9 September 1962
Tom Shippey has argued in J.R.R. Tolkien
Author of the Century that Leaf by Niggle is really best
understood as an allegory of Tolkien's own "niggling" impulse, a
scholar who revises too much to publish much of his work, a writer who
revises so much his work was almost not published and which generated the
massive legendarium of the History of Middle-Earth. Shippey argues
that Niggle and Parish represent two sides of Tolkien--the writer and
scholar versus the practical person of daily life, bound by academic and
Tolkien himself seems to both admit to an
autobiographical and allegorical reading of the story only to dismiss it,
stressing it is more a mythical work.
- How necessary is a knowledge of the conditions
and impulses surrounding the writing of the story necessary for
- Does that knowledge add to and/or take away from
- Is Tolkien's element of fantasy present in the
- Are the elements of recovery, escape, and
consolation present in the story?
- Could Leaf by Niggle be described as
possessing eucatastrophe? Why or why not?
- How does the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory
enter into the story?