Week 11: “Leaf by Niggle”


Read Tolkien’s story, “Leaf by Niggle,” in Tales from the Perilous Realm. Then choose one question (or more) from below and answer it. If it has already been answered, you must choose another question. It is best to know the answers to all the questions for class discussion on Monday, but you only have to write out the answer to one.

1) What does the word (here, name) “Niggle” mean?

2) How does Niggle see his life and his artwork? What does he wish for? Do you think JRRT saw himself similarly and wished for the same things? What does the character of Niggle suggest about JRRT as artist and/or writer?

3) Is the description of the tree an allegory? If so, of what? Is the tree a symbol? From your reading of The Lord of the Rings, to JRRT, what do trees seem to symbolize?

4) What is a “parish”? What may Mr. Parish, Niggle’s neighbor, stand for? (Think of the commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”)

5) How does Mr. Parish’s lack of appreciation and affirmation of Niggle’s artistic endeavors affect Niggle? How does this compare to Niggle’s lack of attention to gardening?

6) What does the Inspector of Houses seem to represent, socially speaking?

7) As the story goes on, what do we realize “the journey” really is? Who is the “Driver”? The “Porter”?

8) Think of the traditional Catholic conception of hell, purgatory, and heaven. What might the “Work-house Infirmary” be?

9) What seems to be the role of the Medical Board / Court of Inquiry? What are readers to understand when the narrator says that Niggle “was becoming master of his time” vs. when the Voice that says his heart did not function properly, he wasted his time (“not even amusing himself!”), he never got ready for his journey, and he arrived almost destitute (as the Porter observed, “no luggage?”)?

10) What does the Second Voice’s proposal for “Gentle Treatment” make Niggle feel?

11) What is the “next stage” like? (Think of the world of Platonic forms!) Why does Niggle fall off his bicycle when he first arrives there? What does he say when he sees it?

12) What does it mean that each leaf was “dated”? and “produced in collaboration with Mr. Parish”? What about the birds? Think of the Parable of the Mustard Seed! Is this whole story an allegory … or a parable?

13) How do Niggle’s and Parish’s role change here? Why is that significant?

14) Notice the tonics drawn from the Fountain. What is their effect?

15) When the tree is in full-blossom, a shepherd comes down from the Mountains. He asks, “Do you want a guide? Do you want to go on?” He reveals the name of the place. What is it?

16) “He turned and looked back for a minute. The blossom on the Great Tree was shining like flame. All the birds were flying in the air and singing.” Then he climbs the mountains. What do you think of this moment?

17) What is Councillor Tompkins’ opinion of Niggle? Remember the Inspector of Houses! Why is he sharing his opinion with Atkins, the schoolmaster, do you suppose? What did Tompkins want that belonged to Niggle? … But what is the Second Voice’s opinion of Niggle’s work?

18) What happens to Niggle’s painting on earth? What happens to it in eternity?

19) What is the painting’s new name? What is the significance of this name?

20) What does this story say about the importance of art and artists and their relationship to this world and the next?


Week 10: Creative Project

Princess Mee

Post your reflection paragraph first.

Visual artists, post one clear photograph of your artwork.

Poets, writers, and lyricists, post your original writing if you wish or state after your paragraph that you will email the project to me —

and then, of course, don’t forget to email it!

Week 6: “On Fairy-Stories” and “The Letter to Milton Waldman”


  • How does Tolkien define and explain:
    • fantasy?
    • recovery, escape, consolation?
  • Why is “joy” an important part of defining “fairy-story”?
  • What does Tolkien mean when he says “The Gospels contain a fairy-story” (p. 387)?
  • How does “On Fairy-Stories” help us to understand Tolkien’s eucatastrophic rewritings … and The Hobbit?
  • Consider Tolkien’s “Letter to Milton Waldman” as well. This is essentially the author’s summary of The Silmarillion, which contains many of the legends that form the history of Middle-earth. How can understanding these “back stories” help us to understand The Hobbit?

Week 5: “Pearl,” “Princess Mee,” and Other Poems


  • How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?
  • How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically?
  • Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?
  • What imagery does Tolkien use from “Pearl” in “Princess Mee,” and why is it significant, especially in light of its source?

For more questions to help with close reading, see:
Medieval Pearl – Teaching