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22 pages, ebook
First published January 1, 1945
It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the Tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow.
Niggle - basically "to spend too much effort on minor details" (as the character Niggle does in this story...literal name, eh?). Yep, its official. I am a niggler.
So Niggle has this painting. Or at least he wants to have it, but he keeps getting interrupted in his detailed, slow work, by his neighbor Parish ('nother literal name) and other interruptions till he is finally for the last time interrupted by the thing he has been dreading since the start (literally mentions this in the very first sentence): his Long Journey (aka death). The Driver (Grim Reaper?) has come to take him on his journey, which ends in the "Mountains" (heaven...). So he is brought to work in a place for...centuries? But oh joy, he sees his tree in physical, complete form in the land between the working place (Purgatory - Tolkien was Catholic) and the Mountains/heaven! There it is, beside the woods he wanted to paint and the Mountains in the background he wanted to paint and all of his painting, in fact, spread before him, real. Happy, he stays there with his friend/neighbor Parish, who he now appreciates for his practical work. Niggle goes on soon enough to the Mountains, but Parish stays in the in between (later referred to as 'Niggles Parish'...ahhh) for a bit, waiting for his wife to join him.
What a wonderful allegory of Tolkien! And yep, you heard that right, Tolkien, the man who, well, disliked allegory in stories and did not use it (defiantly NOT in LotR, looking at you scholars who say that), has written an allegorical story! And it's not that subtle, because he didn't write it to be that way, he made it obvious! Niggle is Tolkien, trying his hardest to finish his great art piece, his magnificent creation, before his "Great Journey" takes him. So THAT is what this is: an allegory for Tolkien's own struggle, above all. Tolkien was the niggler of nigglers, he was the most detailed, time-consuming creator, and he was afraid he wouldn't be able to finish his masterpiece (Lord of the Rings) before his death - or at least not make it as great as it could be, as great as he was imagining it in his head, as Niggle imagined his painting. Thankfully, we know he did, but when he wrote this (in the midst of writing LotR), he had no idea if he would be able to do it. He was interrupted, like Niggle, by life, and himself, his own passions to write something else, like his favorite baby - his continued side tracks and extensive delvings into elvish history (Silmarillion). But he did end up seeing his art in final, beloved form before going on his Journey...just as Niggle did.
Anyway...this has been Havens Rants, tune in next [review] to read more!
5 out a 5 stars.
"At any rate, poor Niggle got no pleasure out of life, not what he had been used to call pleasure. He was certainly not amused. But it could not be denied that he began to have a feeling of-well, satisfaction: bread rather than jam. He could take up a task the moment one bell rang, and lay it aside promptly the moment the next one went, all tidy and ready to be continued at the right time. He got through quite a lot in a day, now; he finished small things off neatly. He had no "time of his own" (except alone in his bed-cell), and yet he was becoming master of his time; he began to know just what he could do with it. There was no sense of rush. He was quieter inside now, and at resting-time he could really rest."
"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…"