Friday, February 28, 2014

Short Story Club: Leaf by Niggle

 For the February edition of the TUAR Short Story Club

 We are discussing Leaf by Niggle

I hope you will share your impressions of the story if you have read it before.  I don't think I'll be able to do justice to this story, which I really liked and had never read before.  We  have been either traveling or sick for the past month, and are currently up in Oregon, and I am having trouble focusing enough to write the blog post the story deserves.

I thought of starting it this way:
There was once a little man called Niggle homeschooling mom, who had a long journey to make. She  did not want to go..... 
 And so on.   Because I did identify with Niggle, with his great project that subsumed all his other projects, with his soft heart that was not always necessarily kind, with his tendency to idleness, with his essential smallness even while being aware of something much bigger than himself that he wants to accomplish, and the way he keeps postponing his preparations for the journey in order to work on it.

It is hard to read this story as something other than semi-autobiographical and allegorical.    For one thing, there is no type of plausibility built up for the idea of the journey or the voices that decide Niggle's fate.  When something stands in a story like that without explanation, if it is a story written by a craftsman, then that usually means allegory or parable or mythic elements. 

 But allegory and autobiography are  two things that JRR Tolkien tried to avoid, with his idea of sub-Creation as derivative from, but not directly parallel to, the Creation in which we exist.      He wrote of the story in a letter:   "It is not really or properly an 'allegory' so much as 'mythical'." But he also said in another letter "I tried to show allegorically how [subcreation] might come to be taken up into Creation in some plane in my 'purgatorial' story Leaf by Niggle."

When I was reading Tolkien's letters in the summer, I noticed how frequently Tolkien was called away from his duties as a professor and his hobby/ love of writing fantasy by something irritatingly prosaic to do with the house like supervising the cleaning of some drains, etc.     It reminded me of how CS Lewis was at the beck and call for years of the mother of his deceased war buddy Paddy Moore, whom Lewis had committed to treating as his own mother.   

It strikes me there is a purifying, aye, purgatorial effect in these types of everyday commitments.  The artists/literary people who accept no such sort of commitment to the tiresome elements of being a good neighbor usually suffer for it one way or another, either in their art or their lives or both.

Niggle and his neighbor Parish get another chance to do it right and their collaboration eventually makes a better thing than either could have done on their own.

But that is not all there is to the story.    As with all myths and parables it goes beyond the obvious themes.  

Right now as I write this my miracle boy Aidan is trying to get my attention by putting his hands on the keyboard to block my fingers.   Even knowing that Aidan and my other miracle children are my great blessings as well as responsibilities, and my blogging is not primary in this way, I have to hold myself in check to pay him attention and not get impatient with him for interrupting my train of thought.  You see?  I identify with Niggle : ). 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading what you had to say on the story, Willa. I got more caught up on the journey and Niggle's unpreparedness in parallel to the journey we all will take. Niggle was unprepared, but truly how many of us will be! He focused so much on the now, true it was for beauty which would glorify the Creator, but he couldn't lift himself from that to remember the journey he was to take. That I am guilty of more often than not as well.
    Like you said, there are many themes within that go beyond the obvious, but I think with Lent coming up all I could see was the purgatorial theme.
    Thank you, Chari and Willa, for having these discussions and encouragement. You are in my prayers,


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