Here is the description he sent me: Tolkien’s short story, Leaf by Niggle (a mere 28 pages), presents an interesting narrative on hope. Niggle, the protagonist, is an artist who has discovered his life’s vocation in the painting of a great tree, his magnum opus. It is this project which occupies his thoughts and engages his spare moments, which are all too few. It is a massive project and he makes little headway but he takes joy in it and can envision its completion. Unfortunately, he is prevented from finishing this work by his neighbor, Parrish, who is physically challenged and has a tendency to interrupt- and request his help- so that Niggle never seems to make significant progress on the Tree. But Niggle has another problem; he must make a long journey- one for which he is neither prepared nor inclined to take. All the while, the painting of his Tree beckons and preparation for the journey is delayed until the day when “The Driver” appears to take him on the journey he has avoided for so long. This “journey” motif in the story points to the Christian virtue of hope. Josef Pieper sees hope as the virtue that expresses the status viatoris. This virtue best expresses our fragile condition as creatures “on a journey.” This tenuous existence reflects Aquinas’ idea that hope is the “patient expectation of a difficult but possible good.” That is, we can say four things about hope: (1) it aims at the good, (2) it is difficult to achieve, (3) it is always about the future—since we do not yet possess it, and (4) it is conceived of as “possible.” Implicit in these elements are judgments about our finitude, the “magnetic” nature of the good,” and the need for other virtues such as patience, humility, and magnanimity.
The Tolkien and Friends conference is presented by Urbana Theological Seminary. This is our third meeting and discussing the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.