Posts Tagged ‘Leaf by Niggle’

I’ve been on a J.R.R. Tolkien kick recently.  I often read the Lord of the Rings over the holidays; it’s sort of a wintery thing to do.  And once I’ve spent that amount of time in Middle-Earth I don’t want to leave.  I usually end up reading more and more.  I’ll read the Silmarillion and the Hobbit, but for Christmas I hit pay dirt: my wife gave me five Tolkien books.  So I began with relish.

The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, England

Recently, I was reading Tales from the Perilous Realm, a collection of stories that were published in various places in the 30’s and 40’s, and I came upon an interesting passage.  It is well-known that Tolkien was friends with C.S. Lewis.  They were a part of a group of friends and intellectuals who called themselves the Inklings.  For many years they met weekly at a pub in Oxford called the Eagle and Child, or by those who frequent it regularly, the Bird and Baby.  It’s a pretty cool little place (the food is fantastic and the beer quite good!), and these friends would meet to talk, but also to bring their writing projects and talk about them.  They would workshop and criticize each other’s work.  It truly was a case of iron sharpening iron.

Anyway, I was reading a story called “Leaf by Niggle,” found in the book I’m finishing up.  It’s a very interesting story which was apparently a dream that Tolkien had, and when he woke up, he wrote it all down, then went back and edited it up.  He writes, “It really added a considerable attraction to walking in the country, because, as you walked, new distances opened out; so that you now had double, treble, and quadruple distances, doubly, trebly, and quadruply enchanting.  You could go on and on, and have a whole country in a garden, or in a picture (if you preferred to call it that)” (304).

The thing I find fascinating is that I think that here I have found a place where Tolkien’s ideas overlapped with Lewis’s.  Tolkien wrote this story sometime between 1939 and 1942, and it is just the sort of thing that he would bring to the pub for comments and/or criticism, or just to let his friends read it.  I think that these images of a garden that is bigger inside than outside, and a country inside a painting were things the two talked about, perhaps extensively, because they seem to have worked in to the writings of Tolkien here in “Leaf by Niggle” and into Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, written between 1949 and 1954.  In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace are drawn into Narnia through a picture of a ship.  They are sucked into the painting which grows and becomes larger and larger until they are in another world.  In the Last Battle, the entourage walks west and arrives at the garden on the green hill, surrounded by a hedge.  When they go inside, they find that it is bigger inside than outside, and a conversation ensues to that effect.  They talk about the fact that many things are like that: that the further in one goes, the bigger and more real things are.  They call to one another, “Farther up and further in!” and seek the center of the garden only to find Aslan himself.

I like to imagine Tolkien and Lewis sitting together, sipping their beer, reading papers, and arguing about a point of description or discussing these things in a spirited manner.  I think that that pub with those men is one of the top 5 places I would want to visit if I ever was given a time machine.  Ah, how I love ideas!

Isn’t literature grand?

At the Eagle and Child, tossing back a pint.


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