This small, handsome paperback represents the first publication of Tolkien’s short-story in its own volume.
Leaf by Niggle, written ca. 1939-42, was originally published in book-form as part of the posthumous Tree and Leaf (1964) and reappeared in Tales from the Perilous Realm and other collections. The story about the artist, Niggle, who is distracted from working on his magnum opus, a monumental painting of a Tree, by his neighbour, the gardener Parish, and by the mundane chores of day-to-day life, was written at a period when work on the invented world of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion was taking up most of Tolkien’s time. Niggle’s Tree grows in complexity much as Tolkien’s Middle-earth project did.
Besides this autobiographical reading of the short-story, Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, in his afterword, also suggests a reading of Niggle’s mysterious journey as a Catholic allegory, supported by Tolkien’s own reference to his “purgatorial story” in one of his letters. Shippey’s afterword is an excerpt from his longer text in Tales from the Perilous Realm.