Publication Details

Organ, M. K. 2018, 'Tolkien's surrealistic pillow: Leaf by Niggle', Journal of Tolkien Research, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-24.

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Much has been written in regards to the content and meaning of J.R.R. Tolkien's semiautobiographical short story Leaf by Niggle, yet there has been little discussion around its origins (Hyde 1986, Collier 2005, Nelson 2010, Glyer and Long 2011, Hanks 2012, McIntosh 2013, Wilde 2015). The scholarship focusses on autobiographical and everyday aspects, placing it amongst Tolkien's small collection of short stories and alongside works such as Farmer Giles of Ham. Unlike the latter, Leaf by Niggle contains elements which suggest the realm of surrealistic fantasy. This article proposes a connection between Leaf by Niggle as published in 1945 and twentieth century Surrealism (Tolkien 1945). It seeks to clarify the story's singular origin and consider its role as the antithesis of Tolkien's slowly developed narratives, including his monumental Middle-earth saga The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien 1954-5) and the lesser known, though more expansive, The Silmarillion (Tolkien 1977). Within the aforementioned discussions, the dream-like qualities of Leaf by Niggle have generally been sidestepped, perhaps in deference to the author's thoughts on that subject as revealed in his 1939 public lecture on fairy-stories (Tolkien 2008). Leaf by Niggle did not derive from a dream per se, but arose in connection with a sleep episode and the immediate aftermath thereof. As Tolkien awoke one morning, the story appeared somewhat mysteriously - at least to the author - from his subconscious imagination.