Academic journal article Mythlore

A Well of Wonder: Essays on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings

Academic journal article Mythlore

A Well of Wonder: Essays on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings

Article excerpt

A WELL OF WONDER: ESSAYS ON C.S. LEWIS, J.R.R. TOLKIEN, AND THE INKLINGS. Clyde S. Kilby. Edited by Loren Wilkinson and Keith Call. Paraclete Press: Brewster, Massachusetts, and Barga, Italy. 348 pages. ISBN 978-1-61261-862-3. Hardcover. $28.99.

THIS POSTHUMOUS COLLECTION OF CLYDE KILBY'S Inklings essays brings to life the gentle, genial man who created that Rivendell in Illinois, the Wade Collection at Wheaton College. Kilby chronicles his meetings with the Oxford writers, most especially J.R.R. Tolkien, and explores the ideas in their works. In twenty-seven chapters (twelve on Lewis, seven on Tolkien, and one brief chapter each on Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers), he offers lucid and occasionally luminescent insights into their prose. Kilby views them through an evangelical Christian lens, with the benevolent vision of a teetotal tobacco-free hobbit.

Kilby long loomed large in lore of the Inklings. He was the guest of honor at Mythcon I in 1970, and shared the Mythopoeic Society's award for Inklings studies with Mary McDermott Shideler in 1971. "Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams" was the lead paper in the Mythcon I Proceedings published in 1971 (34). The "Mythcon Report" describes him as "a good friend of Tolkien and the only American to have read parts of [then unpublished] The Silmarillion" (59).

In 1965, he founded the Marion E. Wade Center and served as its first director. In 1980, I proposed writing a long profile of him for Mythlore. He replied, saying that his wife Martha suggested he demur and write his own autobiography. In the event, he did not, but A Well of Wonder gives a good sense of the man.

After reading C.S. Lewis's "The Case For Christianity" in 1943, the first part of the later-published Mere Christianity, Kilby subsequently read all of Lewis's works, designed a popular course around the mythopoetic works of Lewis and Tolkien, and began a long-term correspondence with Tolkien that lasted until the author's death in 1973. Kilby's original correspondence with Lewis became the core of a collection of papers on first Lewis and eventually a set of six connected British authors who knew or influenced him: Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and George MacDonald. This grew into the Marion E. Wade Center's formidable collection of manuscripts, first editions, theses, interviews, books, dissertations, and twenty-three volumes of Major W.H. "Warnie" Lewis's fascinating diaries as well as his letters and his eleven volumes of "The Lewis Papers," family journals and correspondence going back to 1850.

According to Well of Wonder, at the time of Kilby's death, the Wade's riches included more than 1,100 original letters to, from, and about Lewis and 850 pages of his manuscripts, including the "Boxen" stories, written and illustrated during his boyhood. Thirty letters to and from Tolkien, twenty letters to, from, and about MacDonald, and 850 letters from, about, and to Williams add to the hoard (303). The Wade also has become the home of such artifacts as the Lewis family wardrobe carved by Lewis's grandfather, famous from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; illustrator Pauline Baynes's original map of Narnia; Tolkien's and Lewis's desks; Sayers's spectacles; and many other items.

Lewis comes first and foremost in this book. One hundred and thirtythree of its 348 pages are given over to commentaries on his works, from "Logic and Fantasy: The World of C.S. Lewis" to "Till We Have Faces." In chapter two, "My first (and only) visit with Mr. Lewis," Kilby recalls meeting Lewis in his Magdalen College, Oxford, rooms in the summer of 1953. Lewis "laughed about idea of the scholar's life as a sedentary one, saying that the physical labor of pulling big folios from the shelves of the Bodleian was all the exercise he needed" (17). They spoke of Palestine, St. Paul, the recently deceased C.E.M. Joad, and the truths to be found in fiction. …

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