Leaf by Niggle: Tolkien on Work

I recently published an essay inspired by JRR Tolkien’s marvelous short story called “Leaf by Niggle.” I hope you can read it … and you can comment here.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Andrew Vogel

    Excellent article of ‘Leaf by Niggle’. I also have read it before and loved the story.
    I hadn’t analyzed it in the direction you did before. I had noticed some platonic elements, but your description as “what we do now is a glimpse of what we will do then” is a much more holistic and appropriate way to understand the story I think. Thanks for writing this.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    Just started a long rereading of Tolkein (starting with The Silmarillion) and books about Tolkien. I am hoping to relish this for the next year or two.
    Getting past Platonism/Gnosticism/Immaterialism is a big step intellectually. Realizing the present world and material things are integrated into the whole, that our faith is spiritual but not immaterial, is liberating. Much that will be in the world to come is already here. I also wrote a book about that (it’s on amazon).

  • RJS

    Interesting article. The idea of a massive continuity between we do now and the future is worth pondering. Among other things if true it means that what we do now is important for more than simply “saving souls.” The job of the Christian is to preach the gospel, make disciples, and enter into the kingdom work/life.

  • Patrick

    Scot – beautifully written. RJS – with you 100% on implications but what becomes fascinating, and practically important, is the question of what sort of ‘massive continuity’ are we imagining? Just how literal do we go? Can we actually say that much in detail about what is continuous and what is discontinuous in the eschaton? Is the value of our work dependent on a high degree of continuity?

  • Ann

    Scot, I appreciated the sense of joy that seemed to radiate through your own writing about such a promise Tolkien presents! Psalm 90:12 comes to mind – “so teach us to number our days that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” What do we build each day? And, how do we “die every day” so that we may be pressing on to the goal in Christ Jesus?
    An excellent interaction w/ how much of Christian thought about after death has been based in Platonism. Thanks!

  • PreacherTeacher

    Darrell Cosden’s “The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work” (Hendrickson, 2006)discusses this concept in a very helpful way. Scot overviewed his book previously on Jesus Creed. In an e-mail conversation with Cosden, he pointed me to “Leaf by Niggle” as an illustration of the point he makes in his book.

  • Rick in TExas
  • Laurel

    What stands out in Tolkien’s story besides the celebration of one’s work is the collaboration of Niggle and Parish. Platonism carries hints of extreme individualism; to bring others to the end of Niggle’s heaven involves too much of the particular material places and interactions of one’s life for the Platonist. Niggle’s art has continuity not only from one world to a greater but also from one person to another; his Tree endures even as it ceases to be his alone.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Here are a few random thoughts from a fairly ignorant person:
    I love “what we do now is a glimpse of what we’ll do then.” It reminds me a bit of C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands saying, “The pain now is part of the happiness then” or something similar.
    I went to read Leaf By Niggle in its entirety at the link some nice commenter provider. My first reaction is that it is not about work at all. J.R.R. Tolkien was, as you probably know, a staunch Roman Catholic, and the story seems to me to be about Purgatory and eventually, perhaps at the very end (or not), about Heaven, or the prospect of what Heaven will be like, once they get beyond the Mountains. Niggle and Parish keep going, again in C.S. Lewis’s words, “further up and further in.”
    I am not Roman Catholic.

  • Aften

    Scot – thanks for your article. I recently wrote a paper for grad school about using this short story to talk about the role of the artist within the church and came to similiar conclusions. I also as a grad school project illustrated the story. I could send you an electronic version if you would like to see it.


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