At last!  The hour has come for the answering of many questions, the probing of many mysteries left veiled and inscrutable.  For as Book II of The Fellowship of the Ring opens, Frodo is awakening in Rivendell to a new measure of life and health, as if he were coming to life again and being reborn to a higher order of knowledge and duty.  His convalescence takes place under the watchful eyes of Gandalf and Elrond, who are shortly to hold a council.  Many things hitherto unexplained are to be made plain, and the thoughts of many hearts are to be laid bare.

Within his first hour of waking in Rivendell, Frodo and the reader learn several things from Gandalf about the part Frodo has been playing in the cosmopolitan game against Mordor.  Foremost among the revelations is something that the reader already knew:  that the Ringwraiths inhabit a world different from the every-day mortal one, and that Frodo was teetering on the brink of this world until Elrond came to his rescue.  The surprising piece of news, however, is that Ringwraiths are not the only beings to inhabit this “otherworldly” parallel universe.

“Here in Rivendell,” Gandalf tells Frodo, “there live still some of [the Enemy’s] chief foes:  the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas.  They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power.”

The Seen and the Unseen.  Are these, then, the proper names by which to call the Two Worlds?  It’s as if the first world were primarily material, subjected to the five senses, while the second was somehow beyond the material and subject to other modes of perception.  We are reminded of what Strider said before the attack on Weathertop:  “Senses, too, there are other than sight and smell.  We can feel their presence… they feel ours more keenly.”

Yet Gandalf and the Elves perceive the Ringwraiths very differently than Frodo does, even though at the last even Frodo entered the world of the Unseen.  Frodo, on the brink of the Ringwraiths’ world, experiences the wraiths as powerful substances.  Gandalf, however, continues to speak of the wraiths as if they were literally nothing.  “The black robes,” he says, “are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.”  How can Frodo and Gandalf, both seeing the Unseen, see it so differently?

Here, I believe, is another clue to that tangle called “the Problem of Evil” in Middle Earth.  The clue is that we must cast this problem in terms of two different worlds and two different orders of being.  For the Unseen world comprises a higher order than the Seen, and beings who can operate in the Unseen world have, de facto, a sort of power over the Seen world as well.

Let us imagine that certain beings in the Unseen World have become corrupt and evil.  Relative to the uncorrupted beings—good Elves like Glorfindel, Half-Elves like Elrond, wizards like Gandalf—these evil beings seem to have lost something, to have degenerated to the level of shadows and nothingness.  That is why Gandalf can speak of the Wraiths as nothing, and why Glorfindel has no fear of them.  However, relative to the Seen world, these corrupted beings retain their powers.  In fact, their power over the Seen world may still be great, even though they themselves have degenerated as beings within the Unseen world.

That is why Frodo, encountering the Ringwraiths from the vantage point of the Seen, is so easily subject to their mastery; while Glorfindel, revealing himself to them in his otherworldly wrath by the Ford of Bruinen, wreaks fear and havoc on them.  We cannot compare a pea and an apple.  Glorfindel is by all rights the peer of the Ringwraiths in their own world.  Frodo is not.  By the wraiths’ degeneracy into evil, they have made themselves lesser than Glorfindel.  By their nature as great beings, they are still greater than Frodo.