Review: ‘Leaf by Niggle’ by J. R. R. Tolkien


Niggle is a painter. Not a great one, by any means. Certainly not one beloved by his community. It cannot be said he is even a  dedicated one. More often than not he is doing anything but painting: running errands for his needy neighbor, taking care of this or that around his home, entertaining guests which he had not thought would be such an inconvenience when he initially invited them to visit. 

But when The Driver arrives to take Niggle on his long-expected Journey, Niggle must open himself to all the lessons he had not yet mastered. From new surroundings to new surroundings, Niggle finds himself appreciating the fruits of his hard work and able – finally – to leave the past behind.


I don’t know about you, but reading the name Tolkien makes me feel instantaneously both excited and comforted. It brings back a long spring break during 6th grade when I let The Hobbit completely take over my waking hours, enchanted by Bilbo Baggin’s adventures there and back again. So when a dear friend recently suggested I read Leaf by Niggle, I didn’t wait to find a printed edition. Curled up in bed, with thunder rolling outside and rain drumming on the window pane, I again slipped into the magic of J. R. R. Tolkein’s writing.

Imagine my shock, then, when I was met with the writing styles of C. S. Lewis and John Bunyon, the Great Alagoricists!  Tolkein, who is quoted saying, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations” managed to produce a charming and deceptively deep short story which fits squarely within the genre. I was pleasantly surprised by this break from the author’s favored style*. 

The story itself requires very little work on the part of the reader, fluidly moving from one plane of existence to the next. There are several ways in which one might untangle the allegorical content of the story; rather, there are multiple and simultaneous allegories present. Interpretations range from spiritual –  as a view of Life, Death, and Life After Death – to artistic – as the story of the creative process – to conservationist – as a critique of humankind’s preservation, appreciation, and/or understanding of the arts and history. 

Overall I give this story four out of five. However you choose to read the allegory, you will find thought provoking truths on the subject. My only regret is that I am no longer a 6th grader on Spring Break and free to spend all of my daylight hours reading the rest of the stories contained within the collection. That will have to wait. 


Here you can download a lightweight discussion guide for Leaf by Niggle, as well as some activity suggestions for a more hands-on learning experience.

If you’re looking for similar reads, follow the links below for some suggestions:

  1. The Wise Woman and Other Stories by George MacDonald
  2. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
  3. The Story of a Painter by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

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Happy Reading!
– Bekah

*Quote Taken from J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Rings

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