More gleanings from Every Great Endeavor: one day, Tolkien passed a tree near his house, only to find it had been chopped down by his neighbor. He saw it as a visual image of the potential fate of his mythological stories. And then, Leaf by Niggle came to his creative rescue.
“Niggle had one picture in particular that he was trying to paint. He had gotten in his mind the picture of a leaf, and then that of a whole tree…behind the tree ‘a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in all his other pictures, and in order to accommodate his vision, he laid out a canvas so large he needed a ladder. Niggle knew he had to die, but he told himself, ‘At any rate, I shall get this one picture done…before I have to go…’
“So he worked on his canvas…but he never got much done…”
And then Niggle’s time came to die, and he was taken by 'the Driver.'
“Oh, dear,” said poor Niggle, beginning to weep, ‘And it’s not even finished!’”
“Sometime after his death the people who acquired his house noticed that on his crumbling canvas his only “one beautiful leaf” had remained intact.
“After death Niggle is put on a train toward the mountains of the heavenly afterlife...when Niggle gets to the outskirts of the heavenly country, something catches his eye. He runs to it—and there it is. “Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished; its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and yet had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It’s a gift!’ he said.
“The world before death—his old country—had forgotten Niggle almost completely, and there his work had ended unfinished and helpful to only a very few. But in his new country, the permanently real world, he finds that his tree, in full detail and finished, was not just a fancy of his that had died with him. No, it was indeed part of the True Reality that would live and be enjoyed forever.”
I talk about Niggle a lot, to artists and writers, encouraging them to ‘do their own leaf.’ Like Tolkien, I have a Christian view of art and vocation, believing that we each have something—our ‘leaf’—to offer and with which to ‘complete the Tree.’ Tolkien gave us stories that reveal the nature of reality; they are having an immeasurable impact on the whole world in our time. My father’s boatbuilding exercise continues to exert an impact on me, and through me to others. I have no idea who is reading this blog, but my little Cluster Map tells me it’s a global readership! All from ‘niggling’ away at some thoughts and ideas—working my own leaf. I have no idea where this is all heading, but I believe there is a Tree involved at the end…let's each of us continue to 'do our own leaf.'