A Conversation with the One - It started with a single letter from balrog@moria.com. A Messageboard poster, no doubt...

by Whistler

Allow me first to state that I am in possession of physical evidence (never mind what, just yet) that the following account is at least partly factual. I was rather addled (or worse) when most of this business occurred, and perhaps my memory has tricked me here and there. Or maybe not. Believe whatever portions of it please you, and overlook anything that strikes you as bogus. I can promise only that I have attempted to stick to the facts as I remember them.


Be warned! The following post is very long, and very weird. I have not edited it down to an easily digestible size, as I feel that I have no right to do so. As to the weirdness, for that I offer neither explanation nor apology.

Read and judge, O sages of the Council!

**********

(It’s late. I have been working in my studio for most of the evening, lost in the pale blue light of my Macintosh monitor. Time to take a break, I think. Time to check those wonderful, infuriating message boards. What’s the harm in lurking for a moment?)

Me (to nobody):
Same old stuff here. How many times will they make the same arguments?

(Quite a few times, it seems. I make myself a double espresso. Plenty of work remaining, late as it is.)

Me (enjoying a hit of caffeine):
Better check my e-mail.

(Good idea. Maybe I’ve won a million dollars. Maybe hot women are waiting to fulfill my wildest fantasies, VISA and MasterCard accepted. Whatever. )

Me (reviewing the inbox):
What on earth?

(There’s a single letter from balrog@moria.com. Well, there’s a dandy handle! Message board poster, no doubt. Pretty odd. No text. There is only a mysterious attachment, entitled...)

Me:
Khazad-Dûm?

(Sounds pretty ominous. Well, I know better than to open an attachment in an unsolicited e-mail.)

Me:
Yep. Gonna open it.

(Foolishly, I do. EXPLOSION! A ball of flame knocks me into darkness. I fall forever into an inky void, landing at last in a pool of icy water. Icy water?)

Me:
Bad idea. Thank you, mister balrog!

(Stunned and incoherent, I await my certain doom: having survived the explosion, I shall drown. In my confusion, all I can think is that I haven’t returned Dr. Strangelove to Blockbuster.)

(But I don’t drown. I am washed against a large, flat rock. Terra firma. This is good. The more firma, the less terra.)

Me:
Well, that’s it for my fashionable Kmart sweatsuit.

(It certainly is. The Khazad-Dûm explosion has burned it away, leaving me in nothing but shreds of my Betty Boop underwear. Wonderful day to be dressed like an idiot. Well, there’s a bright side: I’m lost in hellish darkness, and probably will never be seen again.)

Me (in a brief coherent moment):
A stairway. Yes. In the book, there’s a stairway. So maybe there’s a stairway leading out of here...?

(There is. Once I am able to stand, I begin to feel my way about the cavern into which I have fallen. I find the stone stairway and begin my ascent.)

Me (groggily, hoping to lift my spirits):
Stairs go ever on and on.
On, till Whistler breaks his neck!
Attercop! Heigh diddle-diddle!
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like you, balrog@moria.com!
Fifteen birds in five fir trees
Don’t like you, either. Tra, la!

(On and on. How many steps? And then what?)

Me (deteriorating rapidly):
...call within the next ten minutes, and we’ll send you Hits Of the Seventies absolutely free. Yes, Virginia, there is a Balrog. I would like to thank the members of the Academy.

(Hours pass. Or is it days?)

Me:
...three cups of sugar, the Professor and Mary Ann. You shall not pass, flame of Onion! I am a servant of the Secret Flies.

(At last I see a light. A crescent moon! I climb, and the moon grows larger. No, it’s not the moon. It’s a sliver of sunlight, shining through a half closed manhole cover.)

Me:
Yes. There’s a manhole cover in the book. I remember it extinctly. It’s made of...mithril and strawberries. Lovely spoons, Lobelia!

(Finally I reach the last step. There’s a ladder! I climb it. Arriving at the final rung, I slide away the manhole cover and crawl, with my last remaining strength, to the surface.)

Me:
The Eagle has landed. I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

(I collapse.)

(I am next aware of...a couch? Yes, I appear to be reclining on a couch. I have been wrapped in a cloth which smells of mothballs. Someone has found me and brought me here, wherever here is. Soon I will open my eyes. Not yet.)

Voice:
An australopithicus? Do you suppose it is an australopithicus?

Voice 2:
It is an enigma. Look! It has the face of an enigma.

Voice 3:
A very handsome face. He resembles...Mr. Niggle, prior to the Norman invasion. The orcs cut his ears off, you know. Served ‘em with horseradish.

(Right. Okay. I’m surrounded by lunatics. Hey, this is just like the message boards.)

Me (with eyes still shut):
Hello, everybody. I hear you. I am now about to open my eyes. If any of you are...oh, monsters or anything, please inform me in advance.

Voice 4:
Sir, you are clearly unaware of the honor which has graced you. We are not monsters. We are (if I may say so) the most sublime entities in all of Creation. Behold us, and despair!

(I behold. I despair. They’re a ragged bunch of creaky old ladies and gentlemen. The youngest appears to be eighty, at least. All of them are dressed in shabby, out-of-style European outfits.)

Me:
Hi. Nice threads. Very...sublime.

Old Man:
Do you not know, sir, whom you address?

Me:
Well, let me see. I’m guessing you’re the Twilight Zone Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

Old Man (after thinking for a moment):
No. That is entirely incorrect!

Me:
Okay, I’m stumped.

(The man exchanges glances with his elderly companions. His eyes ask, what could be wrong with this fellow? Is he blind?)

Old Man:
It is clear that you are not entirely recovered. Otherwise you should immediately recognize us, sir, as the Powers of Arda. In other words, the Valar!

Old Lady (tapping his arm):
And...?

Old Man:
Oh! And the Valet.

Old Lady:
Valier! The Valar and Valier! Get it right, you silly ass!

Old Man:
The Valar and Valier. At your service.

(Yikes! This is seriously scary. I need to get out of here.)

Me (sitting up):
The Valar and Valier. Of course. Obviously! So, I don’t suppose you have a telephone?

Old Man:
We are incommunicado, sir, with all except the One. And who are you?

Me:
Whistler. Call me Whistler.

Old Man:
Nay! For now you are Whistler the White. Behold! We have clothed you in a snowy garment, trimmed with rings of mithril. Seldom were the valiant kings of Noodlenor attired in such finery!

(It’s a wrinkled bedsheet. Noodlenor? Everybody claps.)

Old Lady:
Very pretty speech, love. Introduce us, now, to Mr. Niggle!

Me:
Whistler.

Old Man:
I am Manwë. This is Varda, Lady of the Stars! Here is Ulmo, Lord of Waters. Also Mandos, also Nessa, also Aulë. Here’s Nienna, here is Tulkas, here’s Yavanna, Giver of Fruits...

(This takes a while.)

Varda:
Dear, we have forgotten our manners. It is time to put a kettle on, I think?

Manwë:
So it is. Ulmo! Teatime, there’s a good fellow!

(Ulmo winks and heads for the kitchen.)

Varda:
You haven’t tasted tea, Mr. Niggle, until you have tasted it brewed by a demi-god.

Ulmo (from the kitchen):
Angel, if you please! That is the term I prefer. It is more Judeo-Christian. But a rose by any other name...what? I forget.

Yavanna:
Gathers no moss, I believe. I’d have noticed, if it did.

Nienna:
Spoils the broth. It spoils the broth. Alas! The broth is always spoiled. Always, always!

(Nienna sobs uncontrollably.)

Manwë (to me):
Pardon Nienna. She has been preoccupied with broth since Aulë took her teeth.

Aulë:
Cripes, I didn’t take ‘em all. Only the gold ones. Anyways, they’re mine, you know! Substances of Arda are mine. So mind your own business, Mr. King of the Winds! Or should I say, Mr. Windbag?

Manwë:
Aulë, please! She needs her teeth. You ought to let her borrow them at dinnertime, at least.

Mandos:
Oh, Manwë! Let me thrash him! Give me the word, and I shall reign a dreadful judgement upon him. Why, I shall knock him to the rank of Maia!

Aulë:
Bah! You’re worse than Manwë. Who made YOU a judge?

Mandos:
Eru! It’s my job, you bloody twit!

Ulmo (still busy in the kitchen):
What is your pleasure, Mr. Whistler? Earl Grey, or Darjeeling? Or possibly a nice Formosan Oolong?

Me:
Please! I don’t want any tea. I have to go. Thanks for everything.

(I’m leaving. The bedsheet drags behind me.)

Manwë:
Sir! We have offended you. Please, there is something you should see. I entreat you to remain for just a moment. Will you wait?

(Hey, he’s a nice old guy. It’s the least I can do.)

Me:
All right. I didn’t mean to be abrupt. It has been a hard day. Or a hard week, maybe. I’m very confused.

Manwë:
The Valar are never confused. So heed our counsel, sir, and you will prosper.

Me:
Your counsel? Sure. I’m pretty desperate for advice.

Manwë:
In time. First, you must behold the Great Work which the Valar undertake! Since the foundation of the World That Is, naught of such splendor hath been wrought. Ne’er, sir! Ne’er! And I daresay that Fëanor himself would have straightway forsaken the Silmarils to gain a prize so fair. I daresay further that...

Aulë:
Oh, bother! Shut yer yap, Mr. Windbag, and let him have a flippin’ look, for Eru’s sake!

(Manwë scowls at Aulë and turns to lead me into a tiny room. In the center of the room, there’s a table. On the table, I see the Great Work.)

Me:
A jigsaw puzzle. You’re working a jigsaw puzzle?

Manwë:
Not just any jigsaw puzzle, sir, but the World’s Hardest Jigsaw Puzzle! Look, Mr. Whistler! It says so on the box.

(That’s what it says. World’s Hardest Jigsaw Puzzle, Ages 12 and Up.)

Manwë:
The puzzle is entitled “Hundreds of Puppies.” And let me assure you that the title is accurate! Have you ever seen so many puppies, Mr. Whistler?

Me:
That’s a lot of puppies, all right.

Manwë:
Oh, it is maddeningly difficult. How can one be certain (for example) that the tail of a beagle is not, in fact, the tail of a retriever?

Me:
Must be tough.

Manwë:
Indeed. I should hate to imagine what would happen, if a work of this nature were entrusted to anybody lacking substantial supernatural credentials!

(They are waiting for a compliment. What can I say? I suppose it won’t hurt to be nice. Could they really be the Valar? If so, they deserve a little honor, a little respect. For old times’ sake.)

Me:
Okay. I am certainly impressed, and you’ve convinced me. Even the wisest of the Firstborn, I’m certain, couldn’t handle such a puzzle. You are clearly the Valar...and Valier!

(Everybody cheers. Even Nienna and Aulë are smiling.)

Manwë:
Very good, Mr. Whistler the White! And now, I will offer you the counsel of the Valar. You must seek the One!

(The One? Let me guess. He lives in the trailer park, next to the drive-in movie.)

Me:
The One? Eru? Ilúvatar?

Manwë:
The same. You do not (of course) belong here. And even the Valar are powerless to help you, awesome and majestic though we are. You are quite a special case.

Me:
All right, then. Where do I find the One?

Manwë:
He is due at Bag End within the hour.

(Bag End! Finally, a place I’d like to see.)

Me:
Within the hour? How far is it? Which direction?

Manwë:
The questions are irrelevant. You will surely find it, Mr. Whistler. But we must have our tea, and resume the Great Work. Goodbye!

(There’s a flash of light. I am standing in a desert, alone. This isn’t Bag End, by a long shot.)

Me:
Well, they don’t make Valar like they used to. What now?

(I walk, having no idea which direction will lead me to the One. After a while, I see a hazy shape in the distance. A tree? Yes, but it’s nearly transparent. It grows more opaque as I approach.)

Me:
Curiouser and curiouser!

(By the time I reach it, it is real. A tree. And a hill. And a garden. And a round green door with a handle in the middle.)

Me:
It’s perfect. It’s real, and it’s perfect!

(Perfect? Well, not quite. The garden is overgrown with weeds. The paint is peeling off the green door, and there’s an overall look of disrepair.)

Me:
Odd. It wouldn’t be like Sam to let things get so shabby. But otherwise it looks all right. Very hobbit-ish.

(I knock. No answer, but the door swings open on rusty, creaking hinges. I enter. It’s dusty and dark. But I like it. It’s a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.)

Voice (from outside):
Hallo, hallo! Is anybody in there?

Me:
Yes! The door was open, so...

(A human-shaped form passes slowly through the circular doorway. Well, he’s plainly taller than a hobbit! Short for Ilúvatar, though. And on the stocky side.)

Voice:
Splendid! They told me you were here! Very peculiar, what has happened to you. Quite unprecedented.

Me:
Are you...the One, sir?

Voice:
Yes, but only to the Valar and Valier. As their author and creator, it is entirely understandable that they regard me as their deity. Dear, how dusty this place has become! But of course we give little thought to housekeeping.

(Suddenly a beam of golden sunlight streaks into the center of the room, and the speaker’s craggy face is clearly visible.)

Me:
Professor Tolkien?

Tolkien:
Indeed. And you are Whistler the White, he of the wrinkled bedsheet! Most amusing.

Me:
Oh! Professor! This is a very great honor!

Tolkien:
I cannot think why. I should think it a considerable disappointment to one who expected an encounter with Eru himself. But I thank you for your courtesy, however misguided. Have you your pipe with you, sir?

Me:
I don’t smoke.

Tolkien:
Today you shall, and you shall borrow one of these excellent hobbit-pipes. This one was Bilbo's, I think. No! It was left here by Merry. How dreadfully careless he was, to leave it behind! Here, we shall chat until your pipe is extinguished.

(He fills the pipe with aromatic pipe-weed, lights it, and passes it to me. Then he lights his own pipe and somehow fits himself into a hobbit-chair. I am on the floor, looking up in wonder at the great man himself.)

Tolkien:
Well, it has been a long time since I visited Bag End. It is so quiet now! So very quiet.

Me:
Where is everybody? Where are Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and all the rest? Will I meet them? Are they here?

Tolkien:
They are gone, all gone. They left some time ago. They came to me, in a body, and asked to be excused. It was time for that, of course. I embraced them and thanked them for their service. Then I released them and sent them away. Certainly there were tears! But not all tears are evil.

Me:
Sent them away? To where?

Tolkien:
I cannot say. To oblivion, perhaps. Or perhaps to another West of which we do not know. It is an intriguing but unanswerable question.

(There is a long silence. I still do not know where I am, or what is happening, or what it all means.)

Tolkien:
Now, then! Tell me your impression, Mr. Whistler the White, of the illustrious Valar and Valier!

Me:
I’m...afraid to say.

Tolkien:
Nonsense! There is no cause for fear in this place. We are past all fear, and past all care.

Me:
Then I will tell you frankly, professor, that I was extremely disappointed. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. They were old and silly and...

Tolkien:
Utterly pathetic.

Me:
Yes.

Tolkien:
Did they show you that ridiculous puzzle? The one with the overabundance of yapping little canines?

Me:
They did! And it made me ill, to see them obsessed with such an idiotic project. It was just sad, that’s all. Sad and depressing as...heck!

(Tolkien laughs heartily, his bright eyes twinkling. Pipe smoke rings around his snowy hair as though it were a halo.)

Tolkien:
“Depressing as heck!” Well, it is good to hear that somebody (and an American, no less) still makes an effort to keep his language rather less salty than he might. I despise vulgarity, but slang can be charming when skillfully utilized.

Me:
Please! What has happened to the Valar?

Tolkien:
One might observe that they have "hit bottom," I believe! There, now! Another Americanism. Ha, ha!

Me:
Why are you laughing? Is there a joke here somewhere?

Tolkien:
A joke? No, not a joke. But your concern is misguided, sir. You see, but through a clouded glass, as the apostle writes. When you see clearly, you will think differently.

Me:
Can you explain, then, why it isn't tragic that the once-great Valar, the fashioners of Arda itself, have degenerated into doddering, helpless old loonies?

Tolkien:
Sir, I remind you that the Valar are fictional. They live (though barely) only in my mind, and in yours, and in the minds of other readers. You have seen only my personal Valar, and indeed they are less than a shadow of what they have been. They ought to have gone away when Bilbo and the others did, of course. It would have been more dignified. But they are very proud, and are reluctant to surrender to the inevitable.

Me:
Inevitable? Why must your characters fade, and go away? Why do you allow it?


Tolkien:
I do not allow it. I encourage it. It is a matter of evolution, though not (of course) Mr. Darwin’s variety.

Me:
I’m sorry. I mean no disrespect, but...

Tolkien:
...but I disappoint you, as the Valar did!

(There is a very long pause as the professor puffs his pipe, eyes closed tightly in thought.)

Tolkien:
Mr. Whistler, do you know why we dream? That is, why we make stories and poetry and such?

Me:
I don’t know anything. Not today.

Tolkien:
I will explain, if I can. Are you aware that, when a man loses an arm or a leg, he sometimes feels (in his mind and heart) the sensations which the absent limb would experience, if it were still attached?

Me:
I guess I've heard of that.

Tolkien:
Well, sir! Of course you know that I am a Christian and a Catholic, and as such it is my belief that every man and woman is a flawed and incomplete work. Each of us is conscious of realities for which he has no words, and of needs for which he has no name. We feel each day the agony of our incompleteness. We know that we are missing a portion of ourselves. Hence we fashion shadows to fill our empty spaces, to create (as it were) new limbs for those which Melkor has hewn from us. And with those limbs we tread, however unsteadily, on paths which are otherwise denied us.

Me:
Paths to where?

Tolkien:
To Eru, Ilúvatar, Jahweh, Jehovah! At least, that is how it was (and is) for your humble philologist. But now I do not tread those paths unsteadily! And now I do not need the dreams and shadows.

Me:
I see. I think.

Tolkien:
Here is an imperfect analogy: the World That Is began as Eru’s song. The Valar sang this song, but not forever. No, they gained Arda! And Arda was afterward all that delighted them. Born of the song, Arda was nonetheless distinct from the song. It was something more. It was something they could never have anticipated. Yes, and they beheld it with wonder! So it is with me, and with my own poor efforts.

(He blows a magnificent smoke ring.)

Me:
Your efforts aren’t poor. I love your...dreams and shadows, as you call them.

Tolkien:
I am pleased that so many agree. But of course they are only that, dreams and shadows! I have now progressed beyond them, and that is what I mean by evolution. Middle earth is fading for me now because the yearnings which inspired it are yearnings no longer, but splendid (if greatly altered) realities. My good friend Clive, whom you also admire, has often made the same observation regarding his fantastic worlds and planets.

Me:
Clive? Do you mean C. S. Lewis? I always thought he hated that name.

Tolkien:
I believe he did, long ago! But of course one sees things differently here. One is not so easily annoyed. Death, as you call it, is liberating in many ways.

Me:
Death, as I call it? Do you call it something else?

Tolkien:
Well, Death is perceived very differently to one who has attained it. It hardly factors into one’s thinking. Can you say as much, in the place which Mr. Lewis has rightly termed the Shadowlands? I have not thought about Death, sir, for ages.

Me:
You seem to have adjusted pretty well.

Tolkien:
The Elves always coveted the gift of Ilúvatar to Men. And they were wise.

(I am ready to ask the Big Question.)

Me:
Sir, am I...dead?

Tolkien:
You are somewhat dead, but not enough to do you any good. No, it won’t stick. Not at all. But you shall have crack at it again, I shouldn’t doubt.

(Sigh of relief from your humble reporter, who is in no hurry)

Me:
Tell me about Mr. Lewis. Is he in Narnia?

Tolkien:
He goes there at times. I join him on occasion, and I'll tell you that I much prefer its faded state! Once, one could hardly set foot in the place without stumbling, face-first, into an allegory! They popped up like mushrooms. Not at all my sort of environment! But there are no allegories now. No, not even the great talking Lion.

Me:
Even Aslan is gone? I think that’s sad, whatever you say.

Tolkien:
Sir! You must try to understand. Shadows are for you, not for us! You think we abandon our dreams when in fact we embrace them. Mr. Lewis never loved his Aslan more, I think, than when he took his leave of him.

Me:
This is too much. My head is aching.

Tolkien:
The pipe-weed, perhaps? One must get used to it. That's fine Longbottom Leaf, you know. Or the shadow of it, rather. Perhaps you would care for a bowl of ent-draught? There is only a little left, but you are welcome to it.

Me:
Oh! Yes, by all means!

(Seemingly unbidden, a figure emerges from the shadows, carrying a bowl.)

Tolkien:
This little fellow is my only remaining Middle-earth companion. I do not know his name. And he will be leaving soon, I think. Then I shall shut the green door of Bag End...and I shall not return.

(Is Tolkien’s companion a hobbit? I take a closer look.)

Me:
Jiminy Cricket! Gilthoniel O Elbereth! An orc! He's an orc!

Tolkien:
A little one, yes. Do drink heartily, now, and you’ll feel better.

Me:
But...an orc! How can there be an evil creature in this, of all places?

Tolkien:
Evil? Only evil minds fashion shadows that are genuinely evil. Evil is defined by the heart's intentions. And mine were never evil, I hope.

Me:
Then everything in Middle-earth is actually good?

Tolkien:
Not within the context of the narrative, of course! Within that context, the concepts of evil and good are mutually exclusive and clearly defined. I am happy to have made no contribution to the amoral and nihilistic mentality which permeates your wretched popular culture!

Me:
No one accuses you of that, I’m sure.

Tolkien:
Kindly recall that I depicted evil only for the purpose of illustrating, and indeed celebrating, goodness. Never did I shamefully dangle the forbidden fruit of Eden (so sweet, and so desirable!) before my readers’ eyes. I allowed it first to rot, and afterward invited my readers to inhale its putridity.

Me:
Mordor stinks, all right.

Tolkien:
Ah, but I have wandered off-topic. We were discussing the orc! I call him good because he served the story, which served its creator, which served (I hope) its creator’s Creator. And he is now, at any rate, retired from the service of the Lidless Eye. So drink, and be renewed!

(I accept the bowl, forcing myself to smile politely at the orc. He bows and quickly exits. I sample the ent-draught, which is delicious but impossible to describe.)

Me:
Oh! That’s good! That’s really good!

Tolkien:
There is nothing better. And now you are refreshed, and must ask whatever questions will complete this remarkable interview. There is a gathering of Inklings today, and my time here is short.

Me:
I don't know what to ask. I wouldn't even know where to start.

Tolkien:
You could start anywhere. I have learned the mysteries of time and space, and seen the face of God. But you are not ready for such revelations, I think! So perhaps you should ask about something more mundane. Ask (if you like) about Mr. Peter Jackson’s cinematic magnum opus.

Me:
The movie? You know about the movie? How about a brief review of the work so far? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Tolkien:
No thumbs at all, if you please! No, the cinemaniacs (to coin a term) will do what they will do, and it will mean precisely nothing in eternity. However, I will endeavour to make such observations as I might have offered, once, as a flesh-and-blood creature of the Shadowlands.

Me:
Please.

Tolkien:
I will say first that I should have been shocked, and indeed appalled, by the expenditure of such an inconceivable sum upon a mere entertainment. Of course, I should have spoken as a humble academic for whom even moderate sums were at times inconceivable. So let us look beyond that.

Me:
Fine with me.

Tolkien:
Let me see. I daresay I should have approved of the hobbit-holes, and of the styling of the splendid Gondorian helmets. Also I should have rejoiced to find no evidence of Disneyfication.

Me:
Yes, you had a "heartfelt loathing" for Disney.

Tolkien:
Indeed. Though nowadays I find him a pleasant fellow, aside from his appalling taste in Dwarves. I have called him a Philistine, but dear Mr. Lewis (as you may recall) said as much of me.

Me:
He did? Seriously?

Tolkien:
Ages ago, he described as uncivilized anyone who loathed to read the same book twice. This was a reference to me! I was a philologist, a papist and (to him) the cultural equivalent of an orangutan. Three unpardonable flaws. Splendid man, wrong about practically everything and utterly charming.

(He loathed to read the same book twice? What about ten or twenty times, like most of his fans?)

Me:
Let’s discuss specifics, now, regarding the movie. How do you react to the Arwen expansion? Could Boromir have handled the Ring? There are literally hundreds of questions! Oh! And Bombadil is out, of course. We figure that’s all right, but we’re concerned about the Saruman-kabob. The question is this...

(Tolkien turns his face toward the shadows. He is silent for a while.)

Tolkien:
No, I'm afraid it is useless. I cannot discuss trivialities, however much I try.

Me:
Trivialities? You regard the changes as trivial?

Tolkien:
That is not my meaning. Rather, I mean that I regard this discussion as trivial. The film itself is trivial. Even the books (to me) are ultimately trivial, save for the virtues they celebrate. But that is because they are only a part of my life’s first draft. I have undergone substantial editing. You are addressing my Second Edition, sir! And now I am greatly improved.

(I cannot even formulate a comment. I am just a foolish man, still in his First Edition.)

Tolkien:
The Inklings await. It is time for us to end our conversation. But first, I have a question for YOU.

Me:
For me? Are you serious?

Tolkien:
Entirely. But you may take your time about it. You make take a lifetime, if you wish.

Me:
I may. What’s the question?

Tolkien:
Does a Balrog have wings?

Me:
Ah, you're playing with me now. That's the oldest question in the book. And you're the only one who knows the answer!

Tolkien:
I am not playing at all. And I do not know the answer. If I did, I have forgotten it.

Me:
But it's your story!

Tolkien:
Mine? Have you really missed the point of this discussion? It is NOT my story. Not any more. I have passed on to better things, and have bequeathed it to the world. In all but the legal sense, my work belongs (regrettably, in many cases) to all who will embrace it.

Me:
Even Peter Jackson?

Tolkien:
Even the rather unpopular Mr. Bakshi.

Me:
Ouch!

Tolkien:
Ouch, indeed! Many who love my work do not understand it. Many will prove themselves vulgarians. Many will grind it into fodder for the feeding-troughs of bestial consumerism. Doubtless it will suffer appalling abuses in the years and generations to come. I hear already the beeps and bells and buzzers of Middle-earth computer games. Plastic toys will follow. All dreadful, of course! But quite unavoidable, given the perversity of Man.

Me:
I’m afraid you’re right. As the saying goes, nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public.

Tolkien:
Never. But ultimately nothing can destroy a good story that is meant to be read, not even the moneychangers who (now as ever) are indifferent to the Temple they defile.

(He empties his pipe, and I realize that we are nearing the end of our discussion.)

Tolkien:
Now, sir! Will you return, do you think, to the message boards?

Me:
Maybe. I haven't decided.

Tolkien:
Please convey this message, if you do: tell them, sir, that it will be all right. Tell them that the story will survive in spite of anything, if indeed it merits survival.

Me:
I will.

Tolkien:
Tell them that their dreams are theirs forever, and cannot be tarnished or taken by anyone.

Me:
I will.

Tolkien:
Tell them that I am content to entrust to my readers my literary children. I doubt that any bear, in defending her cub, has done so with greater enthusiasm than they have displayed in defending Middle-earth against detractors, real and imagined.

Me:
Some of them are bears, all right.

Tolkien:
Berserkers, I should call them! And I do admire their passion. I am however disturbed by the near-worshipful attitude which a minority display. Never did I wish to be deified. Had I sought worship, I should be like Melkor. And I should be spending my eternity elsewhere.

Me:
All of us overstate our arguments at times. In the heat of the debate, a “good versus evil” mentality develops. You become God, with PJ as Lucifer. Nobody really thinks that way, of course.

Tolkien:
Let us hope not. Civilized debate is a glorious thing, possible only when accompanied by reason and reasonable courtesy. I strongly disagreed with Mr. Lewis in matters both frivolous and grave. But always we were careful to argue respectfully. I think I should have grieved, in my life, to see my readers (imagining that I would take delight in their fury) carelessly accuse one another of villainy, cowardice, heresy and similarly hateful crimes. I have witnessed all of those crimes. I witnessed them, sir, when the Little Tramp sought to devour my whole continent. The use of such terms, in reference to an infernal motion picture, is offensive in the extreme.

Me:
The Little...oh! I get it. But didn’t you use the term “murder” in reference to the Zimmerman script?

Tolkien:
Ha! So I did! I was (in life) what is called a curmudgeon. Always cross at something! Even so, I despised incivility and intolerance. If either sin is present in my work, I should like to hear the passage cited.

Me:
Well, I’m staying out of this. I have used more than a few harsh words, myself. But I’m trying to reform.

Tolkien:
Do so. Refrain from provocation, sir! And if you are provoked by another, tell him that you have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words until the lightning falls.

Me:
Oh! I will certainly say that!

(He smiles. I can tell he’s still proud of that line.)

Tolkien:
Now, then! Your pipe is extinguished. It is time.

(I give him my pipe, and he places in my hand a tiny object.)

Me:
What is this?

Tolkien:
It is a piece of that idiotic jigsaw puzzle. Half of a schnauzer, it appears.

Me:
You stole it from the Valar?

Tolkien:
I freely confess. It occurred to me that soon they will finish the puzzle. What will happen then? Deprived of their sole intellectual pursuit, they will grow unimaginably weak and complacent. And I retain enough of my former self to wish them, in their proper and inevitable passing, at least a shred of dignity.

Me:
"Do not go gentle into that good night."

Tolkien:
Ah, the drunken Welchman! Yes. My thinking is this: when they discover that a piece of their puzzle is missing, it will stir in them a long extinguished fire. Not (of course) the Imperishable Flame! No, it will be a little fire. But it will be better than no fire at all, I should think.

Me:
They could use a heckuva spark, all right.

Tolkien:
The Valar will set themselves to find the missing piece. They will focus all their energies upon it, and so regain (perhaps) the slightest fraction of their glory. They will view the undertaking as a Quest, I should imagine.

Me:
And you could write a book about the Quest: "The Schnauzerillion!"

Tolkien:
Oh! I shall escape that horrid pun by translating it to Sindarin.

Me:
So...shall I take this half-a-schnauzer with me?

Tolkien:
If you please. As a very little favor to a very old man who has gone beyond the uttermost West, and still has not ended his journeys.

(He turns and exits quietly through the round doorway, shutting it behind him. The light dims dramatically.)

Me:
Professor, wait! How do I get home again?

(The orc reappears, this time laden with a rustic backpack. He wears a little cap with a Microsoft logo. Yes, how appropriate! Being a Macintosh man, I have always regarded that symbol as the new Red Eye.)

Orc:
Khazad-Dûm! You get it? Ha, ha! Baked Apple! Khazad-Dûm!

(He does a little orc-dance.)

Me:
You! It was you! You’re balrog@moria.com!

(He laughs again, then points into the darkness and beckons me to follow. I’ll follow, all right! We rush into the emptiness together. In time his footsteps fade, and I am suddenly aware that he has left me. Somehow I know that he has gone wherever Gandalf and Bilbo and Frodo have gone. And though he is an orc, and the cause of my predicament, I cannot help but wish him well.)

Me:
I wonder how an orc gets internet access?

(Time to move onward. Onward and...ouch! What’s this? Whatever it is, it’s hard and smooth. A wall, perhaps? I push against the surface, and...)

(...a door swings open, revealing my studio! Nothing is damaged. My Macintosh is waiting. I’m home, Auntie Em!)

Me (turning back to examine the mysterious door):
A wardrobe? I’ve been in a wardrobe?

(Yes. A wardrobe, plain as day! A calling card, no doubt, from Mr. Lewis. Pretty clever! I wish I had met him.)

(I am still wrapped in the sheet, and I still clasp the puzzle piece tightly in my palm. What to do now? I am weary of the messageboards. And yet...)

Me:
Hey! Where did I get that Tolkien screensaver?

(Where? I can guess. I sit at my desk. I place the half-a-schnauzer near the keyboard, where I can see it as I type this account of my adventures. I sip my espresso, which is still hot and steaming. And finally I thank the One for sending us, from time to time, a noble dreamspinner whose heart is in the uttermost West.)

Me:
Well, I’m back.


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