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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #128


[It is easy to see Tolkien himself, with his soaring vision and human failings, in this portrait of an artist struggling to transcend his limitations.] He had a number of pictures on hand; most of them were too large and ambitious for his skill. He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different. There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the tree and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in his other pictures; or else he took them and tacked them on to his great picture. Soon the canvas became so large that he had to get a ladder; and he ran up and down it, putting in a touch here, and rubbing out a patch there.       -J. R. R. Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle,” in Tree and Leaf (1964), p. 101; first published in 1945

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