1. Julie D says:

    I love both of those stories, just as glimpses of what cannot be described.

  2. bainespal says:

    This one brought me to tears when I was extremely unhappy last year, when I discovered it in a library’s old copy of Tree and Leaf. I felt and often feel incompetent and incapable of doing anything real, so the theme of the story and the character of Niggle really connected with me.

    The Great Divorce is one of Lewis’s masterpieces, demonstrating how he can be so human and readable and so densely intellectual at the same time, how he murders even the genre distinction between fiction and non-fiction. But it doesn’t mean as much to me as ‘Leaf By Niggle’ does.

    • I actually wondered if Tolkien felt a little like Niggle, too, and Middle-earth was his own painting that he never finished. Tolkien wrote all his life, and the only full-length works he ever completed were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

      But we all have unfinished business, which is why Leaf by Niggle touches so deep.

  3. I wasn’t familiar with  Leaf by Niggle, Shannon. Thanks for introducing me. This is a delightful post.

    I particularly love this line:

    The fantastic events of these stories aren’t like photographs, showing facts, but prisms through which to see the truth.

    I tend to think that’s a pretty accurate description of all fiction, or perhaps of fiction as it should be.


  4. dmdutcher says:

    I don’t really like Leaf by Niggle, though I understand it. It’s not that he takes a train to a hospital, but to a workhouse (purgatory.) Or even a prison, and in it he learns the value of things like a prisoner does, by being unable to do anything but focus on the constant, grinding moment. The idea of heaven as “gentle treatment” really made God seem too much like a jailor/warden for my comfort.

    In a way its consolation. The things you try to make and ultimately fail at will be awaiting you in heaven. But evoking the existential despair the story does really sours the message.

    • I thought of purgatory, too, and Tolkien’s Catholicism lends credence to that interpretation. But Leaf by Niggle is rather vague on the point, and much clearer on heaven, which mattered to me more.

      Part of Niggle is, I think, that we find what we’ve lost in heaven – God restoring to us what the locusts have eaten. But there were tokens of heaven in Niggle’s painting, and heaven – and only heaven – was the real fulfillment of all his longings. Niggle, in his painting, glimpsed the mountains, but only by going on the journey could he ever actually come to the Mountains.

      It actually reminded me of Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, and Tolkien’s Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth: “But do you know that the Eldar say of Men that they look at no thing for itself; … that if they love it, it is only (so it seems) because it reminds them of some dearer thing? Yet … where are these other things?”

What do you think?