Friday, February 1, 2013

Leaf by Niggle

Tolkien has much to teach us about the pursuit of the impossibly grand endeavor.  He had begun work on The Lord of the Rings but was now at an impasse.  As Tim Keller writes in his introduction to Every Good Endeavor:

“The project required creating at least the rudiments of several imaginary languages and cultures as well as thousands of years of various national histories—all in order to give the narrative the necessary depth and realism that Tolkien believed was crucial for the tale to be compelling.”   

Can you imagine the challenge?!

“World War II had begun, and though the fifty-year-old Tolkien was not called into the military, the shadow of war fell heavily on him. He had experienced firsthand the horror of World War I and had never forgotten it. Britain was now in a precarious position, with invasion imminent. Who knew if he’d survive the war even as a civilian?

“He began to despair of ever completing the work of his life. It was not just a labor of a few years at that point. When he began The Lord of the Rings, he had already been working on the languages, histories, and stories behind the story for decades. The thought of not finishing it was ‘a dreadful and numbing thought.’”

And then Tolkien awoke with another story in mind.  He wrote Leaf by Niggle effortlessly, sent it to a publisher, and it was accepted.  "It broke through his writer's block, and he went back and wrote The Lord of the Rings very quickly after that." (Keller, "Why We Need Artists" essay in It Was Good.)

Impasse over, Tolkien completed not only a masterpiece of literature, but a defining movement in film-making and culture for our time--and we are talking about a global phenomenon.  Many can recite its lines, and know its characters' names.  Who knows the effect of this series on our cultural psyche?  Images of heroism, friendship, and honor are juxtaposed with the vilest evil, war with demonic or dead creatures, and mind-warping lust for power.  Imagine if Tolkien had caved in on his attempt to write the impossible?

How did Tolkien finish?  Ahhh…but that begs another post…I’ll see you next week!

In the meantime, you can download a free version of Leaf by Niggle here.  Enjoy!

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