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West Chester University

Fall 2004and
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Spring 2003

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Course Information
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements
  LIT 165 Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assigmments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
  Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
  Notes on 'Before the Law'
  Samuel Beckett Links
  Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
  Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
  Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
  Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
  ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
  DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
  Suggested Readings: Independent Project
  Utopia/Dystopia Links
  Character Analysis: Brave New World
  Analyzing the Brave New World
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on the Brave New World
  A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Dante Links
  Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
  Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
  Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
  Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
  Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
  Introducing Canto I
  Approaching the Divine Comedy
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
  Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
  The Birthmark
  Leaf By Niggle
  Responses to Leaf By Niggle
  'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
  Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
  Analyzing the Mythic Tales
  The Four Functions of Myth
  Myth and Metaphor
  Myth - Links
  Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
  Allegory
  'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
  Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
  Alice In Wonderland
  The Metamorphosis

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
  Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
  Commentary: Following Up Your Response
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources
  What is Argument?
  Parts of an Argument
  Casebook Assignment Sheet
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
  Expressive Writing
  Short Stories About Identity
  Thoughts on Stories About Identity
  Poems About Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Mind-map: Identity

ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
  ENG Q20 Syllabus
  Frederick Douglass Excerpt
  Propaganda Analysis
  How to Detect Propaganda
  George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda Analysis Exercise

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ Responses to "Leaf By Niggle" ~~

Tolkien's fans can be very eloquent when it comes to discussing their favorite author, and one of their favorite stories:

From the folks at TolkienLibrary.com:

"[The] haunting short story, "Leaf by Niggle"...recounts the story of the artist, Niggle, who has 'a long journey' to make and is...an allegory of Tolkien 's life. Written in the same period when The Lord of the Rings was beginning to take shape, these two works show Tolkien 's mastery and understanding of the the art of sub-creation, the power to give fantasy 'the inner consistency of reality.'


From Tolkien fans at Planet Tolkien:

KIM: It's what he was doing with middle earth. Part of him saw the impact that his collective work would have on people as a source of inspiration and healing. But another part of him saw it as putting off the 'inconveniences' of everyday life that everyone thought were so important at the time.

And now, now all we have is that one leaf. that phrase from a passage of what he really saw.. and while it seems like a great body of work, it's only what he was able to put into words.. a small corner of his mind.

*

BEREN: The allegory of "Leaf by Niggle" is life, death, purgatory and paradise. Niggle is not prepared for his unavoidable trip, as humans often are not prepared for death. His time in the institution and subsequent discovery of his Tree represent purgatory and heaven.

But "Leaf by Niggle" is also about Tolkien's profoundly religious philosophy of Creation and Sub-creation. True Creation is the exclusive province of God, and those who aspire to Creation can only make echoes (good) or mockeries (evil) of truth. The Sub-creation of works that echo the true creations of God is one way that mortals honor God.

This philosophy is evident in The Silmarillion -- one Vala, Morgoth, creates the orc race as a foul mockery of the elf. Another Vala, Aulë, creates the dwarf race as an act of Sub-creation that honored God, called Eru in Tolkien's invented mythology, and which God accepted and made real, just as Niggle's Tree was made real.

Niggle's yearnings after truth and beauty (God's creations) are echoed in his great painting; after death, Niggle is rewarded with the realization (the making-real) of his yearning. Or, if you prefer, Niggle's Tree always existed -- he simply echoed it in his art.

On a meta-level, then, Tolkien's Middle-earth is itself a Sub-creation designed to honor the true stories of the world-that-is. Thus, Middle-earth, despite its lack of overt religious elements, is a profoundly religious work.

So, on a final level of allegory, Tolkien himself is Niggle -- and, humorously, in mundane matters as well as spiritual ones. Tolkien was compulsive in his writing, his revision, his desire for perfection in form and in the "reality" of his invented world, its languages, its chronologies, its existence. Like Niggle, Tolkien came to abandon other projects or graft them onto his "Tree," Middle-earth. Like Niggle, Tolkien faced many chores and duties that kept him from the work he loved. And like Niggle, Tolkien was a horrible procrastinator -- late in life, he spent hours playing solitary card games instead of working on The Silmarillion.

Finally, Tolkien himself might have disagreed with an allegorical interpretation. He wrote, in Letter 131 of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, "I dislike Allegory." And in specific reference to Niggle, he wrote in Letter 241, "It is not really or properly an 'allegory' so much as 'mythical'." On the other hand, in Letter 153 he said, "I tried to show allegorically how [sub-creation] might come to be taken up into Creation in some plane in my 'purgatorial' story Leaf by Niggle."

*

SHAYA PUMA: There is an experience I sometimes have with a work of art that I have described (badly) as having my heart filled with love. Closest to describing it is something I read in an Anglo-Saxon language class some years ago. It was a translation exercise, the parable of the prodigal son from the New Testament. When the father sees his wayward son returning he is filled with "mildeheortness" from the words that become "mild" and "heart." (I'm a little uncertain of the spelling.) It is translated as "compassion" but it stays a separate word for me and describes something near compassion and near love, something "too deep for tears."

Anyway, one of the times I have felt that way is reading "Leaf by Niggle" at the line "It's a gift!" It seems to me an almost painful confession by Tolkien about himself. It is someone with a great love of his own creations who is aware of the moral dangers of Pride; W.H. Auden writes somewhere that Pride is the only sin, that all sins are expressions of Pride.

*

From "The Perpetual Three-Dot Column," a Blog by Jesse Walker:

JESSE: By college, my favorite Tolkien tale was not The Lord of the Rings but "Leaf by Niggle," a short story he published first in 1947 and then, paired with the essay "On Fairy-Stories," as the slim volume Tree and Leaf in 1964. Both the story and the essay are defenses of fantasy, and it is the essay that includes Tolkien's famous response to those who deride fairy tales as escapist: "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in a prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?"

As a self-contained argument, the essay is engaging but not really complete. As a companion-piece to the short story, it serves quite well. Faerie, it declares, "holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the Earth, and all the things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, when we are enchanted." It is this realm that the title character creates in "Leaf by Niggle," devoting his spare hours to a vast picture he's painting in a tall shed in his garden. Like Faerie -- or, more broadly, Fantasy -- Niggle's art serves as an escape, a fantastic diversion from a bland and bureaucratized life. While the world around him seems obsessed with trite legalities and matters of state, Niggle passes his time in the act of creation, inventing a new reality that not only is preferable to the world of a "serviceable cog" (Tolkien's phrase), but at story's end is truer than that world as well.

"On Fairy-Stories" declares the chief purposes of fantasy to be recovery, escape, and consolation, and Niggle's painting serves as each. It is a recovery of a clear view, the work of an artist "who can paint leaves better than trees" in a country where the individual leaf is sacrificed to the higher collective order. It is an escape from the "nuisance" of one's "duties" to that order. And it is a consolation, not only for Niggle but, later, for all those who use the world he has created "for convalescence." A theme of the essay reverberates in the story: that the fantasist, at his best, creates something more real than can ever be fashioned by the world's jailers, and that long after all the jails have decayed, Faerie will remain.

In time, my personal art has narrowed down to being now almost exclusively pencil drawings of leaves. I'm not sure where that comes from. I have tried twice to draw a picture of the Mountain seen past the leaves of the Tree. They're pretty enough but eventually unsuccessful.

 

 

 

     

 


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