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Essay: 'Leaf by Niggle' by J R R Tolkien

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published: 21 September 2015*
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  • Words: 1,191 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)

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The story ‘Leaf by Niggle’ by J.R.R. Tolkien is a story that does a very good job showing us the allegory of our religious journey on earth to heaven. The story used allegory which is metaphors for the characters and places used in the story. It start with a man named Niggle, who is going on a trip, but wants to finish his painting before he goes. Once we read the entire story it becomes clear that it is an allegorical story. The main character in the story is Niggle. He is a painter; however he is not a successful painter. He is very nervous and not sure about going on his journey. Niggle is very kind and feels the need to help others, even when he feels it is annoying at the time. Niggle lives in a country that has rules about needing to help each others neighbors, so Niggle is forced by an inspector to help his neighbor Parish, who he is not fond of. Through the symbols of Niggles’ journey of who he meets and where he goes, it is a clear that the story represents a mans life of his path to purgatory and death. The symbolism seems likely, especially to Catholics and their belief in purgatory.
In his idea of a painting, he sees a large tree with leaves and mountains. He wants more than anything to paint what he sees; however, he is continually bothered by his neighbor, a man named Parish. He procrastinated for his journey by keeping himself very busy with his painting and helping his neighbor with doing odd and end jobs which Niggle feels is a waste of time, but because ‘he was kindhearted, in a way’ he could not turn anyone down. Before he can get very far on the painting, Niggle is called away to start his trip. He is taken to a place where he feels he needs to do hard labor and to rest. After a long time he hears two voices talking about him. They send him on to the next part of his trip, a beautiful country with a beautiful tree which Niggle sees as the tree he wanted to paint. Niggle suddenly understands that to finish his painting he will need to ask his neighbor Parish, a gardener for his help. Parish comes and they work together. When he finishes the painting, Niggle decides to go to the mountains, while Parish chooses to wait for his wife. Back in the old country Niggle is remembered as someone who liked to pain and then he is not remembered at all. In the new country his complete vision, now called Niggle’s Parish, has become a place travelers visit.
The Inspector is the first example of allegorical meaning in the story. When the inspector shows up to look at his neighbor Parish’s house he says that house repairs takes priority over painting. The Inspector does not care about Niggles artwork and thinks he should use the material to repair the roof instead. This is in fact the law, to take care of each other’s neighbors. The Inspector represents that there is a higher law that one should love one’s neighbors and do for them what we would want them to do for us. As it says in Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Soon a driver comes along to take Niggle on his journey, even though he was not ready. The driver was tall and dressed all in black. This is a representation of death; he shows up not being expected, because death is often not expected. The driver gave him no time to pack before he left. Just as when death comes we do not need to pack or bring anything with us. Niggle was upset that he had not finished his painting when the driver came. This can be true for many that pass away, they still have things they want to do. This is a good example of live life while you can and do not put off tomorrow what you can do today. For you never know what tomorrow will bring.
When Niggle arrives to his destination, he is put to hard work. The hard work causes Niggle to go into the hospital where two voices are discussing his life, and deciding his fate. The voice of the first person is not kind in his words about Niggle. The second voice seems to be kinder with more compassion. The voices and the hospital can be seen as an allegory of purgatory, the voices are a metaphor for God and Jesus. They are discussing if Niggle is ready to move out of purgatory. When Niggle asks about Parish, the voices decide to let Niggle move to the next stage. When he arrives to the next stage he enters through a gate, it is beautiful and sunny as the bible says in Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Niggle sees what he had not finished painting, his tree, and it was now finished! He says this is a gift; quite literally he received his gift.
There are many books and movies that use allegory to tell a story. ‘The Lion King’ is a Disney movie that shows a love story between a father and a son. The movie starts with the song ‘Circle of Life’, this can be thought of as life, purgatory and death. Mufasa the lion father, is killed by Scar trying to save his son Simba. Just as Jesus died for others to save them so they can have everlasting life in heaven. The comparison of ‘The Lion King’ to ‘Leaf by Niggle’ is that because of Jesus’ love for others, just as Mufasa loved his son, Jesus was willing to die to save others and give them everlasting life in heaven. Niggle was saved by the voices symbolizing God and Jesus, just as Simba was saved by his father. Before Simba could be raised to be king, he went to a place that could be thought of as purgatory. When he came back he was raised high and was now king. Both stories show how through purgatory one can have their own personal paradise.
From an allegorical Catholic point of view, ‘Leaf by Niggle’ can be seen as a life, purgatory, and heaven cycle. The journey that Niggle could not avoid, is the journey that no one can avoid’death. Although his kindnesses to neighbors was done out of law and guilt, Niggle thought primarily of himself and his painting. This earned him an extended stay in purgatory. Eventually, his good deeds in his former life and mention of caring for his neighbor Parish, earned him a trip to the ‘next stage’, a kind of personal paradise, heaven.

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