At any rate, Niggle got no pleasure out of life, not what he had been used to call pleasure. He was certainly not amused. But it could not be denied that he began to have a feeling of – well satisfaction: bread rather than jam. He could take up a task the moment one bell rang, and lay it aside promptly the moment the next one went, all tidy and ready to be continued at the right time. He got through quite a lot in a day, now; he finished small things off neatly. He had no ‘time of his own’ (except alone in his bed-cell), and yet he was becoming master of his time; he began to know just what he could do with it. There was no sense of rush. He was quieter inside now, and at resting time he could really rest.
~J.R.R. Tolkien: Leaf by Niggle
The above quote finds Niggle in Purgatory. He has been there for some time already, and now, after getting over all his ‘I wish I had’-s and ‘I should have’-s and ‘I should not have’-s, after worrying enough about things he could not change anymore, he begins to concern himself with the tasks he has been given in this new place where he now resides, the Workhouse.
It is a passage that deserves a bit of pondering, besides the obvious connection with Tolkien’s own much-discussed issue of keeping deadlines and getting distracted by too many things. If you will, just take the first three sentences and think about them, particularly in connection with what’s going on in the world right now and how life has changed, quite possibly for good. In every situation, there is also an opportunity. One can learn much from Niggle.
At any rate, Niggle got no pleasure out of life, not what he had been used to call pleasure. He was certainly not amused. But it could not be denied that he began to have a feeling of – well satisfaction: bread rather than jam.
Illustrations by Alan Lee