This article is about the real world.

Leaf by Niggle is a short story written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1938 and 1939 and first published in the Dublin Review in January of 1945. It can be found, most notably, in Tolkien's collection entitled Tree and Leaf. Along with the seminal essay "On Fairy-Stories", "Leaf by Niggle" helps to offers the underlying philosophy (i.e. "creation" and "sub-creation") of much of Tolkien's fantastical writings.

In 1997, Roverandom was included in the official collective publication of Tolkien's short stories, Tales from the Perilous Realm. In 2003, an audiobook of this story and Smith of Wootton Major was released, narrated by actor Derek Jacobi.


An artist, named Niggle, lives in a society that does not much value art. Working only to please himself, he paints a canvas of a great Tree, in the middle of a Forest, with many other trees around as well. He invests each and every leaf of his tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every leaf uniquely beautiful (of course, he niggles over each one!). Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single vast embodiment of his vision.

However, many mundane chores and duties prevent Niggle from giving his work the attention it deserves, so it remains incomplete and is not fully realized.

At the back of his head, Niggle knows that he has a great trip looming, and he must pack and prepare his bags.

Also, Niggle's next door neighbor, a gardener named Parish, is the sort of neighbor who always drops by whining about the help he needs with this and that. Moreover, Parish is lame of foot and has a sick wife, and honestly needs help — Niggle, having a good heart, takes time out to help.

In addition, Niggle has other pressing work duties that require his attention. Then Niggle himself catches a chill doing errands for Parish in the rain.

Eventually, Niggle is forced to take his trip, and cannot get out of it. He has not prepared, and as a result ends up in a kind of institution in which he must perform menial labor each day.

Eventually he is paroled from the institution, and he is sent to a place in the country to work as a gardener in a forest. But he discovers that the forest is in fact the Tree and Forest of his great painting, now long abandoned and all but destroyed (except for the one perfect leaf of the title which is placed in the local museum) in the home to which he cannot return — but the Tree here and now in this place is the true realization of his vision, not the flawed and incomplete form of his painting.

Niggle is reunited with his old neighbor, Parish, who now proves his worth as a gardener, and together they make the Tree and Forest even more beautiful. Finally, Niggle journeys farther and deeper into the Forest, and beyond into the great mountains that he only faintly glimpsed in his painting.


"Leaf by Niggle" has been interpreted as an allegory to life, death, purgatory, and Heaven: 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 followed by paradise. The story also gives insight to Tolkien's religious philosophy of Creation and sub-creation: "true creation" is the exclusive province of God, and those who aspire and create things only make "echoes" (good) or "mockeries" (evil) of the truth - while "sub-creation" of work that echo the true creations of God is a way for mortals to honor him.


Foreign Language Translated name
Afrikaans Blad deur Niggle
Albanian Fletë nga Niggle
Arabic ورقة نبات بواسطة نيععلي
Azerbaijani Niggle tərəfindən yarpaq
Basque Niggle-ren hostoa
Catalan Fulla de Niggle
Croatian List po Niggle
Czech List od Nimrala
Danish Nørkles blad
Dutch Blad van Klein
Esperanto Folio per Niggle
Finnish Niukun lehti
French Feuille, de Niggle
Galician Folla por Niggle
Georgian ნიგლის ფოთოლი
German Blatt von Tüftler
Gujarati નિગ્ગલ દ્વારા પર્ણ
Haitian Creole Fèy pa Niggle
Hebrew עלה לפי ןיגגלי
Hindi णिग्ग्ले द्वारा पत्ता
Hmong Nplooj ntoos los ntawm Niggle
Icelandic Lauf af Niggle
Irish Gaelic Duilleog ag Niggle
Japanese ニグルの木の葉
Javanese Godhong kanthi Niggle
Kurdish Pel bi destê Niggle (Kurmanji)
Latin Folium a Niggle
Latvian Lapas ar Niggle
Lithuanian Lapas, nutapytas Niekelio
Luxembourgish Blat vum Niggle
Macedonian Cyrillic Лист од Ниггле
Manx Duillag er Niggle
Marathi निग्गल करून लीफ
Nepalese पत्ता द्वारा निगले
Norwegian Blad av Niggle
Old English Lēaf to Niggle
Pashto پاڼه د نیګګلې
Persian برگ توسط نیگگله
Polish Liść, dzieło Niggle'a
Portuguese Folha por Niggle
Romanian Frunză de Niggle
Russian Лист кисти Ниггля
Slovak List podľa Niggle
Slovenian List z Niggle
Somalian Caleen by Niggle
Spanish Hoja, de Niggle
Sundanese Daun ku Niggle
Swahili Jani na Niggle
Swedish Blad av Niggle
Turkish Niggle tarafından yaprak
Vietnamese Lá của Niggle
Western Mari Нигглын ӹлӹмӓшӹжӹ
Yiddish בלאט דורך ניגגלע

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