Professor’s Guest


“How do you do, Professor Tolkien? So very kind of you to receive me. I hope that my visit will not disturb you studies.”

“By no means! Your visit is but enormous inspiration and pleasure. Please, do come in.”

They proceeded to Professor’s detached study – a former garage. Shaking hands became an unexpected experience – long, slender hand of the visitor was surprisingly strong.


Professor Tolkien had been anticipating this visit for a while – for almost two weeks, to be exact.  It all started with a telephone call that rainy October evening. Christopher picked up the receiver, and having exchanged usual greetings called his father.

“A Mr. Greenleaf”, he said in a low voice, putting his hand tightly over the microphone. “He would like to discuss the Red Book with you.”

To discuss the Read Book of Westmarch? What an incredible chance! So far, Professor was firmly convinced of being the only one for many centuries to touch the ancient manuscript. It would be a wonderful opportunity to find someone possessing any knowledge of the matter. To be able to exchange thoughts at last… Was he a fellow-scholar? Hardly, in this case Professor would have known him personally or, at least, have heard the name. Yes, the name – a very common English name, but what makes it sound as a message of long-forgotten joy?

Professor thanked his son and took the receiver. “Ronald Tolkien here.”

“Good evening, Professor. My name is…” a split-second pause “…Larry Greenleaf. I do apologise for disturbing you at home at that hour.”

“No trouble at all, Mr. Greenleaf. What can I do for you? You wish to discuss the Red Book of Westmarch with me, as I understand?”

“I do indeed. A few days ago I have taken the liberty of writing to you, explaining my intentions. I presume that the letter has not yet been delivered, has it?”

“I am afraid not. Unfortunately, the postal service has not been very reliable recently.” Professor made a brief pause. He felt utterly intrigued, nay, enchanted… The sound of this voice - perfectly modulated, rather low… perhaps, a voice of a man in his late thirties – early forties...  And at the same time – so incredibly clear… This Mr. Greenleaf must be a wonderful singer… “I do not see it as a hinder, though. I wonder, Mr. Greenleaf, if I may invite you to my place. A good long talk over a cup of tea... What would you say about the coming week?”

“This is awfully kind of you, Professor, I do appreciate. Still, I am dreadfully sorry. I do not live permanently in Oxford, and in days to come certain matters would require my presence elsewhere. Actually, I am leaving the city in a couple of hours, but I would be back on Nov.3, if the date is not inconvenient for you.”

“Just a moment. Hold on, please…” Professor reached for his calendar, turned over a few pages. “Yes, I happen to be quite free that day. What time would you prefer?”

“Any time at your convenience, thank you.”

“Very well, then. Shall we say – eight o’clock?”

“Wonderful. Once again – thank you very much, Professor.”

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Greenleaf. You are most welcome.”

The letter came next morning. Professor opened it, started reading, expression on his face seemed to shift every minute – confusion, joy, disbelief… Was he becoming insane? He re-read the letter, checked the spelling. Yes, indeed, that is exactly as it would look like… The intuition of one of the most gifted English philologists did not fail…

He came up to his desk and with utmost care opened the ancient manuscript – a bulk, leather- bound heavy book. It was still possible to see that many centuries ago the cover used to be vibrant ruby-red. Professor bent over the yellowish pages and slowly read a passage… 


A small table had been already laid with the tea stuff – a teapot, cups, saucers, butter and scones. The lamp on the desk, the only source of light in the room, was shining softly.

Over tea they exchanged some common pleasantries. Talked about the weather – it was bad, as usual in November.  An hour ago incessant grey rain had gone over into a downpour.

Professor cast a side-glance on the visitor. It was unbelievable … yet true. The proof was here, before him – the strangely spelled letter; the ancient book... and his guest, sitting in the low chair beside him. No other explanation was plausible…

 “Some more tea, Mr. Greenleaf?”

“Yes, that would be nice.” The guest offered his cup. The ring on his finger set with a giant sapphire glinted with a sudden flash of blue light. “Thank you, Professor.”

“Please, help yourself to more scones.”

“Thank you very much, I certainly will. They are indeed delicious.”

They became silent for a while, busying themselves with tea and scones. For some strange reason Professor was barely able to hold himself from staring wide-eyed at his guest. Or was it really so strange? Mr. Greenleaf’s appearance was indeed remarkable: he was incredibly good-looking, probably, the most handsome man Professor had ever seen. And very well dressed, but not that sort of flashy, rather vulgar stuff pictured in the magazines. A pair of dark brown slacks and tweed jacket – checked, green and brown; immaculately clean white shirt; no tie – what made this common modern clothes that Professor always hated look like a garb of the kings? 

“I must confess, professor,” the guest broke silence, “that I have been your devoted admirer for quite a long while.” He put his empty cup on the saucer and set it slightly aside with a simple and graceful movement. 

“I am afraid, you are just too kind, Mr. Greenleaf. But I am incredibly pleased to know that you are familiar with my work.”

“Oh yes, I am, though it was brought to my attention in a quite unexpected way. Serendipity indeed. I am not a philologist, you know…” the corners of his lips turned up slightly in a passing smile, “at the least, I did not obtain university training.  But my technician was a former student of yours.”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Greenleaf, I don’t quite catch… Your technician?”

“Yes, my aircraft technician. I was a fighter pilot in the British Air Force during the War, and my technician was a young man called John Dickinson. I wonder if you remember him.”

“John Dickinson?” Professor repeated slowly. “I believe so. Yes, I remember him quite well…” A teacher always remembers his students. Especially someone as bright and industrious as John. Funny and charming boy he was - tall and skinny, very young – probably, still in his late teens and still with a good deal of adolescent clumsiness about him. An inquisitive mind of a real scholar and the unquenchable cheerfulness. “Though I never knew that he joined the army. He had always been one of my best students; he had a passion for languages and he would work hard…”

“He deeply loved his country, Professor. And he was a valiant young man of high and noble heart. And really enamoured of all things technical, though you might not have the possibility to notice it at that time. Unfortunately for him his poor sight prevented him from becoming a pilot, but his technical skills and interest made it possible to join the Air Force as a technician. That was how we met, and quickly became fast friends. He would often tell me about his years in Oxford, and especially about you – you were his favourite teacher, immensely respected. He always kept that sheet of paper from his examination work, where you started translating that famous tale,” the guest stopped for a moment, and then quoted with a soft smile, “in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”

“So it was John’s paper!” Professor laughed. “I remember that very well – I had laid my hands on the Red Book for the first time, and I could not help starting reading, though I had a bunch of examination papers to grade… And before I realised what I was doing, I had started translating Bilbo’s story.  On John’s paper, as it appeared…”

“After your book had been published,” the guest continued, “John would always keep it with him. And he made me read it also. I remember still – it was a very sad day; our raid had gone badly, a few planes in my squadron were lost… and though most returned safely to the base, I was aggrieved; John perceived my mood and tried to cheer me up. Your tale helped indeed; all the more,” he suddenly looked straight in Professor’s eyes with a strange smile, “that I recognised it.”

“Yes, I understand that you might know it before…” Professor felt very awkward, almost silly. Should he keep pretending in order to preserve his guest’s incognito? Or was Mr. Greenleaf’s last remark a clear permission to call a spade a spade?

The visitor interrupted his musing.

“I think, we can as well put this little game aside,” he spoke softly and kindly. “I can see that you have recognised me; I do appreciate your being so considerate, but from you, Professor, I have no secrets. Please, feel free to use my real name.”

“Thank you, I certainly will,” Professor laughed with enormous relief. “So, it is true! But the matter is still beyond me. Legolas Greenleaf, the elf-prince of Mirkwood, one of the Nine Walkers, is here, in my study! It’s astonishing!”

“Yet it is true; though I understand that to you it might seem quite unbelievable.”

“Actually, less unbelievable than it might seem,” Professor has started regaining his composure. “To be quite frank, I had guessed Mr. Greenleaf’s identity shortly after our speech over the telephone, and when I let you in tonight, I recognised you personally.”

“You did, Professor, did you not? Permit me to praise your power of observation. I know by experience, already from Middle-earth, strange as it may seem, that Men are quite unable to recognise an Elf if they have never seen one. But yours is altogether different situation.”

“A Middle-earth experience?” Professor looked so genuinely amazed that Legolas had some difficulty to suppress a smile. “My understanding has always been that Men in Middle-earth, even if they lacked proper knowledge of Elven-lore, were nevertheless capable to recognise a Firstborn.”

“Far from always, Professor, let me assure you. Not even in Gondor… However, for me the most shocking experience was the first encounter with Éomer in the fields of Rohan when we tracked our captured Hobbit-friends… I could never forget his words “Are you elvish folk?” You understand, there were only three of us – Aragorn, Gimli, and I, and with Gimli being so obviously a Dwarf… Still, this experience served me well later… Yet if I may express my curiosity – what exactly helped you to recognise me? My voice, apparently?”

“Yes, of course, to begin with. I have never before heard a voice so fair; exactly, as I imagined, an elven-voice should sound… On the other hand, you spoke beautiful English but I completely failed to place your accent; none among those known to me was right. I was at a loss, until I thought of Grey-elven  But this was just a part of the matter. Your letter also…”

“My letter? Was anything wrong with it?” Legolas’ long lashes trembled; to see the unmistakable signs of embarrassment in this calm, immeasurably beautiful face was strangely touching. “Did I err? What a disgrace!”

“Oh no, no, you did not! At least, I would not call that “mistakes”. Just a moment…” Professor stood up, went to his desk and soon returned. Having unfolded a sheet of paper he offered it to the Elf. “Here it is. Stylistically and grammatically your English is impeccable; I would never expect anything else from an Elda… However, rather many words in your letter are misspelled in a very peculiar way – vowels are missing.”

“Yes, I understand,” Legolas almost whispered, bowing his head.

“You never err in meaningful letter combinations,” Professor went on, “and never miss, for example, the mute “e”s, as would be logical to expect from someone whose knowledge is simply inadequate. In most cases these are the vowels “a” and “o” that are missing. In other words, your misspelling points out at a person accustomed to an altogether different writing system – as in the Eldarin tongues.”

“This is incredible,” said Legolas very quietly. “Forgive me, Professor, but how many years, the brief years of mortal Men, have you devoted to the studies of the Eldarin tongues? I deemed you the most learned in Elven-lore and all the matters concerning Middle-earth among the Men living, but I gravely underestimated you.” Suddenly, he stood up, tall and slender, and having drawn himself to the full height, he bowed low before Professor. “Hail, Elf-friend!” he said in a strong and clear voice. “If all the Wise of the Eldar, and all the lore-masters of old, Rumil, and Pengolodh, and Fëanor (a shadow of pain crossed his fair face as he pronounced this name) were assembled together, your place, by right, would be among them. Aiya, ingólemo!”[1]

Professor blushed with embarrassment and pleasure.

“I do not think I deserve these titles,” he said softly, “but I am grateful and honoured. Never in my life have I received such a praise…”

“You deserve the greatest praise imaginable, believe me,” said Legolas. “With but the Red Book to aid… “

“Yes, indeed, the Red Book,” Professor seemed to recover from his embarrassment. “It provided me with superior description of your countenance.”

“I would imagine that,” Legolas suddenly became very tense. “I beg you, Professor, do not deem me uncouth, but I would urge you to show the Red Book to me.”

“With pleasure,” Professor seemed surprised by his guest’s anxiety. “After all, to look at it   was the aim of your visit, was it not?”

“One of my purposes, yes,” Legolas smiled, slightly relaxed. “Primarily I wished to meet you and express my admiration. Now my heart is glad that I was able to do it.”

They stood up and moved over to Professor’s desk piled up with papers and books. The Red Book lay in the middle still opened on the passage Professor had read. He pointed at it to his guest; the Elf leaned over the ancient pages and read with utmost attention.

“You may deem it strange,” he said thoughtfully, “but before I read your translation, “The Hobbit”, as you called it, I never knew that the Red Book existed… “

“How is it possible?” Professor’s glance was full of astonishment.

“This is quite natural, Professor. I knew, of course, that Bilbo and Frodo were writing a diary. However, I never saw Frodo’s work being complete.... In fact, I never met Frodo again after our roads parted at Helm’s Deep… When I arrived to Eressëa, he had already passed away…”

“I think, Frodo was a very good writer,” said Professor, “I would read his tale with extreme pleasure, and his description of you is surpassingly precise and beautiful.”

“Very precise, indeed,” Legolas agreed, seemingly displeased. “Forgive me, Professor, and do not consider this a discourtesy, but I must ask you a favour – to omit my description from any translation you might make. Or, at the least, make it unrecognisable…”

“Why?” Professor would be hardly more stunned, if a lightning had stricken before his feet.

“Because it would severely impair my mission“, answered the Elf simply, “or make it altogether impossible.”

“Your mission?” Now Professor seemed utterly lost.

“I do apologise, Professor, I must have offered you the explanation from the very beginning. The tale is rather long, but I believe, it must be told.”

“In this case,” said Professor, “I would suggest us having some more tea, and there are scones left.”


They seated themselves comfortably by the tea table again.

“It all started when I arrived to Eressëa,” said Legolas after a short pause. “Gimli was following me, but I came there with heavy heart. Aragorn had passed away, and Merry, and Pippin, and everyone whom I had befriended in Middle-earth. To have mortal friends is hard for the Elves, because you would pass away so quickly, and leave us in sorrow… However, my spirit lifted a little when I saw the beauty of the Elvenhome. We had been waited for – Mithrandir and the Lady Galadriel and Elrond came to meet us, and our meeting was as merry as it only could be. Gimli became completely lost in joy when he beheld the Lady’s beauty, and she smiled at him, and greeted him with sweet words. But he was advanced in years by the reckoning of his race, and the journey had tired him out; so we brought him to the dwelling prepared for us, and put him to rest.”

“Gimli lay in deep slumber till the dusk of the following day, but Elrond told me that there was no need to worry. “This is the way with mortals here,” he said, “first they sleep long and blissfully, and then awake full of life and joy. You shall see our good dwarf in the vigour of his youth, for a while.” He did not tell me then, and I knew it only long after that the life span of mortals, who were ever permitted to the Blessed Realm became greatly diminished.” 

“Yet Gimli was indeed happy there. Despite the words of Elrond I worried at first that he would feel lonely, but he was very well received. Favour of the Lady Galadriel, and his own surpassing skills in work with metal and stone made him renown and respected, especially among the Noldor. He learned the Elven-tongue and understood it well, and though he himself spoke little and haltingly, it never troubled him. “The skill of the dwarves is in their hands and not in their tongues”, he used to tell me, when I tried to persuade him to learn better. “Your people understand me and you understand me, too.” But in truth, to the end of his days I had to speak Westron with him.”

“To the end of his days,” repeated Professor slowly, and a sad and pensive look came into his eyes.

“Yes, and it came too soon, to my great sorrow,” said Legolas. “Though his passing was as blissful as his days in Eldamar were. He simply fell asleep holding my hand, and never awoke. But for me it was a wound to the heart, and it took me many days to recover, even if my friends did their best to comfort me. And they helped me to bury Gimli fitly, in the fashion of his people. Together we hewed a tomb in stone, and covered it with a slab of red granite that we cut and polished.  We also put the runes on it – in the fashion of the Dwarves – Gimli the Dwarf, Fellow of the Ring, Elf-friend.”

“It must have been an arduous work,” said Professor shaking his head. “I do believe that the Elves are the most loyal people in Arda, Marred or not.”

“Thank you, Professor,” answered Legolas. “Yes, I think, we are loyal. But it was not only loyalty, I presume. To do something that my friend would have liked, and to make it beautiful was a way for me to soothe my grief. And I had a very good help and superior guidance – the Lord Finrod worked beside us and instructed us.”

“Finrod?! You mean, son of Finarfin? Finrod Felagund?”

“I had been introduced to him,” Legolas continued, “by the Lady Galadriel. The Lord Finrod was soon permitted to leave the Halls of Mandos, and he ever waited for his sister to return. They had always loved each other dearly… After the fall of Númenor he himself was not allowed to visit Middle-earth and it was a blow for him. When we came to know each other, he told me of his hope, of his dream, if you wish, and then I understood his interest in me.”

“You know, of course, Professor, that Finrod Felagund, apart from being friendly to dwarves, as all the Noldor were, was also named the Friend of Men.”

“Yes, I know,” answered Professor, “he was the first to welcome the people of Bëor, and he lived among them and taught them. And ever faithful to his oath he gave his life to save Beren.”

“Indeed. And it was a deed noble and valiant, renowned in our songs. As for his interest in Men, do you know the reason of it?”

“I believe so,” said Professor slowly, “being wise and generous of heart, he might enjoy helping and teaching.”

“That is true. You perceive his nature amazingly well. When we met in Aman he was pleased to teach and I was ever delighted to learn, so I became his pupil and I owe him much. But forgive me, I digress.”

“The Lord Finrod was ever friendly to the people of Beor, and he would often talk with them. There was a woman among them, renown for her wisdom, and she it was who first told him about the great envy of Men against Elves, and the reason of it - our immortality.”

“Felagund could not understand it; yet, debating with her he formed his vision, his great hope – the Arda Healed created by Elves and Men united. For though we are called the Firstborn, and you - the Followers, and we have been long sundered from each other, both peoples are children of Eru, brethren, are we not? The lies of the Great Evil divided us, our roads were separated, but ever Felagund hoped that the day would come when Elves and Men would meet again. He knew that Men were swift in changing their ways; they were capable of evil and follies but also of wisdom and valour. And he hoped that Men’s wisdom would grow and at the end we could understand each other, and heal the wounds of this world together. How and when it would befall he knew not.”

“And so was his interest in me – for I had had much dealings with other races, not only Dwarves and Men, but also Hobbits. They were unknown to him and he delighted in my tales about them; and I was pleased to recall the days spent with my friends.”

“As for Men, I used to dwell in their lands for many years of the Sun, and befriended many of them, and it was in time of peace when no evil stirred dark thoughts in their hearts. And we debated Men and their ways during the ages of Middle-earth, from awakening of their three houses, to the fall of the Númenor, and to the War of the Ring. Elrond was often with us for this matter concerned him closely, and his words were often wise. Still, whatever we might say, one thing was clear – our knowledge of Men and their ways was too limited. And we could not learn better, locked in Aman, as we were.” 

“That time we came to know that the Valar did not forsake Middle-earth, or the World of Men, as it became called, altogether.  Mithrandir was permitted to travel thither, and walk among Men, and gather tidings. But he was not allowed to interfere, or even make himself visible, and he travelled only seldom, and never stayed long in the Mortal Lands. Yet, every time he came back to Aman, he brought news to us, and we believed that the ways of Men were changing.” 

“So, in the course of time we made our decision – one of us should depart from Valinor – flee, in fact, and stay in the World of Men – to walk among them, and watch their ways, and wait – for them to be ready to meet us again.”

“Everyone among us was eager to take this quest upon him, yet it became my lot, for the reasons quite simple. You understand, Professor, that for an Elf it is not always possible to walk among Men without arousing too much suspicion. In this case we were looking for someone who did not differ so greatly from Men. I was the youngest in the years of the Eldar, and I had dwelt longest among Men, and I knew their ways… although many a long year in Eldamar changed me greatly. So, we all agreed that I should go… And here I am, watching and waiting.”

“And what are your conclusions? Arda Healed – do you deem it possible? Can the Eldar return?”

“I cannot say, Professor, forgive me. During my years in your world I have seen signs of great hope… and too many a time I was nearly consumed by black despair… Latest during this Great War… It was terrible, Professor – the evil unimaginable, caused by Men… they followed the ways of Morgoth, I suppose… I deemed my rightful place there, beside the Free Men, against the evil – as many long years before, in Middle-earth. And I came to love your land, Professor, and I was glad when I could stand up for it.”

Professor fell silent bowing his head, his eyes glimmering more than usual in the soft light of the small lamp, his face in deep shadow. Legolas was very quiet in his low chair…    

“I wish to tell you, Professor,” he said at length, “what enormous hope your tale brought me, especially when I knew how immensely popular it quickly became. And then I found out that you possessed the Red Book and would publish more of it. I was excited – and anxious. My misgivings have proven true, unfortunately – Frodo did make my description in his writing. I think you understand why I am so loath to see it published – I cannot take upon myself risks of being recognised. I have been indiscreet already, to my great sorrow – during the war…”

“In what way?” asked Professor with a smile.

“Oh,” Legolas seemed genuinely embarrassed. “While choosing my call sign, I could not help this mischief… It was incredibly silly; I know not what madness possessed me that day. I almost betrayed myself; yet my comrades found it fitting…”

“But what was it?” Professor insisted, thoroughly intrigued.

Legolas sighed unhappily. “Elf. This was how I was called throughout the war.”

Professor burst in laughter.

“Well,” he said at last, recovering his breath, “I do understand that they found it fitting. However, I give you my word – your secret is safe with me. I will either exclude any description of yours from my translation, or change it beyond recognition. But what are you going to do now, if I may ask?”

“I do not know,” said Legolas. “In truth, I made no special plans. I presume, I would continue my quest, but now – with ever more hope…”


[1] Hail, the wisest  (Quenya)