The following text starts by explaining that Niggle (“he”) is unable to make up a plan how to complete his job. His job is to fix a magical country, to complete it as far as possible. The text is from a short story by Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle”.

He sat down under a very beautiful distant tree – a variation of the Great Tree, but quite individual, or it would be with a little more attention – and he considered where to begin work, and where to end it, and how much time was required. He could not quite work out his scheme.

"Of course!" he said. "What I need is Parish. There are lots of things about earth, plants, and trees that he knows and I don't. This place cannot be left just as my private park. I need help and advice: I ought to have got it sooner."

The bold part might refer either to the past or to the future, as far as I can see. So, either it means “I should have understood it earlier”, or it means “I hope to get help as soon as possible”.

I like the second meaning better: if he regrets that he didn't do enough to know how to do his job, he could not work, yet he starts to work right away; contradiction. But this guide says that the second meaning is linked with some kind of expectation, which is non-sensical in the country: its gods know better whether to send Niggle help or not. They did send him Parish, as the story says later, but there was no requirement (from Niggle's point of view, as he seems to say later).

So my question is: if Niggle does not expect anything, could he still use this construction in reference to the near future? Did he use it in this way? Obviously, if the answer is “no”, then I must rethink what I think of the story. Perhaps Niggle did have an idea of the laws by which the local gods abide…

1 Answer 1


He is not talking about the future, but rather about the past. Properly rewritten so as not to be "in character" with the vernacular of the original:

I need help and advice; (in fact,) I should have gotten it sooner.

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