It was 11:00 the other night, and a knock came at my door.  As this was the hour when Elves usually visit me, I was not surprised when I opened the door to find my good friend Hendumaica waiting there.

“Hendumaica!” I cried.  “You are most welcome here!  Come in!”

“A star shines upon the hour of our meeting,” she smiled, covering her heart with one hand.  Then she stepped as lightly as a leaf into my dorm room and sat down in a patch of space not already taken by books or papers or goulashes or kitchen cutlery or laundry or Capelli’s Dizionario di Abbreviature latine ed italiane.  She waited until I had found a seat too, and then she said (with a grave note in her silvery voice),

“Elf-friend, I believe that we have reached a parting of the ways.”

“A what?” I blinked.

“It concerns your weblog,” she said. “I have read your posts on ‘The Shadow of the Past’, and they are as unsound as a hollow elm that loses its leaves in the summer.”

“Uh… you’ve been reading my blog?” I asked.  This was disconcerting.  Elvenhome must have finally gotten the Internet, and the thought of “Common Stories” awash in Elvish comments completely unnerved me.

“You are young and green,” Hendumaica said gently, “and do not remember Frodo of the Nine Fingers.  But even so, you ought to have known from reading ‘The Shadow of the Past’ how much of his character is revealed there!”

“Uh…?” I said.

“Surely Frodo’s speech is not as singular as Elizabeth Bennet’s,” Hendumaica went on, “but John Ronald Reuel Tolkien the Golden-Tongued does not debase the speech of Frodo into a mere goad for a slow tale!”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  And then I remembered:  I had written a post complaining about Frodo not having his own character, and about Tolkien using his questions simply to move the story along.

“It was not well said,” Hendumaica continued, as if reading my thoughts. “Our ways part on this question.  But I would not leave your stray bark to wander in the seas without guiding it back to its haven! Harken to this,” she added, suddenly pulling out a book nearly half her own size, bound in scarlet leather and inscribed with golden lettering.  On the front cover glittered the title The Lord of the Rings.  As she opened it creakily, I could see that the text of the book was written in black ink, with elaborate notations scribbled in silver all over the margins.

“Hear the words of Mithrandir,” Hendumaica said, and in a dramatically silvery voice she started into a passage near the beginning of ‘The Shadow of the Past’ where Gandalf tells Frodo about the real nature of his Ring.  The passage ends with Frodo uttering some exclamations of surprise:

‘How terrifying!’ said Frodo.  There was another long silence.  The sound of Sam Gamgee cutting the lawn came in from the garden.‘How long have you known this?’ asked Frodo at length.  ‘And how much did Bilbo know?’

“Stop!” I interrupted.  “That is exactly what I meant.  Why in the world does Frodo ask those two questions?  Gandalf has just told him about how dangerous it is to own a Great Ring, and instead of asking sensibly about Sauron or Elves or how to get rid of it, he comes out with those two nonsensical inquiries: how long have you known, and how much did Bilbo know?  Tolkien clearly just needed a way to introduce the story of Gandalf’s research, and Frodo’s question was a rather forced way of moving things along.”

“Ah, you mortals!” Hendumaica sighed, shaking her head.  “Do you not understand?  Imagine you were one of the small folk, living in your quiet Shire and knowing nothing of dark things.  You had a close friend who was a wizard; and this wizard knew for more than 50 years that your uncle had a certain ring, and he knew when your uncle gave the ring to you, and he had known for the last 17 years that you were keeping it.  Then one day he suddenly tells you that it is a Great Ring of Power, and that it corrupts all who own it!  Would you not demand to know how long he had known, and why he had not told you sooner?—and whether your uncle could be healed from its evil?”

“Well…” I said.

“Is not Mithrandir’s very honor at stake?  Is not Bilbo’s kindness at stake?  If he had known the evil of the ring and had still given it to Frodo, what great ill Frodo must have thought of him!”

“Y-yes…” I said.  There was silence between us for several minutes.

“You ask,” Hendumaica said, “why Frodo did not immediately press Mithrandir about the Dark Lord.  But why should he?  Frodo knew so little then that it was hardly enough to make him curious.  Do you not see how very slowly Mithrandir brought him to a living awareness of the evil things outside of the Shire?  How slowly Frodo’s questions change from concerns about himself and Bilbo to a real curiosity about the Tale of the Ring, and finally to his great moment of resolve to leave the fields of his people?”

I did not answer.

“Nay, my friend,” Hendumaica said, smiling.  “John Ronald Reuel Tolkien Golden-Tongue was too much a master for such child’s tricks.  Truly, he does not craft the speech to the character as Jane Austen Ivory-Pen does; but he pours enough of Frodo’s spirit into his words for us to mark the changes in him.”

A thought now struck me.

“O Hendumaica,” I said, “thrice-blessed boon of Elbereth, make plain to me now the full meaning of this second chapter in The Lord of the Rings!  You said that Frodo moves on from asking about himself and Bilbo to asking about the greater story.  Now tell me:  Is the point of the whole chapter to show him attaining new knowledge?  To bring him out of his ignorance about himself and the world?”

Hendumaica smiled like the sun breaking through oak leaves on a summer’s day.  “O wise mortal!” she answered.  “The star of Feanor glittered upon you at your birth!  Indeed: Frodo grows in knowledge of himself and of evil.  Mithrandir too grows in knowledge; for he says that You can learn all that there is to know about Hobbits’ ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch.  Even Sam comes to knowledge at the chapter’s close.  Yes, the chapter is about coming to know what levels of knowledge there are.”

“I think I understand,” I said in an awed tone.  We sat talking for some time further, looking at more of the parchments in Hendumaica’s copy of The Lord of the Rings.  At last she rose to go.

“My people and I will read more of your weblog,” she said, “when we can be spared from our work in the trees and the rain.”

“Indeed!” I answered.  “You’ll have to comment sometime, then! … er, in the Common Speech, you know.”

“Comment?  Ah, yes.  I believe a few of our brighter smiths have almost discovered how to do this.  When the secret is made plain, I will surely attempt it.”

I opened the door.

“May a star shine upon your weblog!” Hendumaica smiled, covering her heart with her hand again.

“Come again soon!” I said, giving her a bear hug.  For a second she looked slightly scandalized, but then she smiled again, waved goodbye, and vanished down the hall.

I looked at my digital clock.  It had just struck midnight.