Clyde Kilby (1902-1986) joined the faculty of Wheaton College in 1935. He eventually earned a PhD degree from New York University (academia was a bit different in those days). He became the chairman of Wheaton’s English Department in 1951, a post he held until he retired in 1986. A few months after he retired, he died in Mississippi.
Kilby may had far more to do with our understanding of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their circle called the Inklings that we realize. It was Kilby who found a way to meet Lewis in the 1950s and Tolkien slightly later. It was Kilby who helped Tolkien with The Silmarillion, and played a role in its publication after Tolkien’s death. It was Kilby who started what became the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton, which was only a few manuscripts at its inception but is now a major center of documents and research for seven British authors: Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, George Macdonald, and Charles Williams.
And now a considerable number of Kilby’s essays have been edited and collected by Loren Wilkinson and Keith Call and published under the title A Well of Wonder by Paraclete Press. An added bonus is an introductory poem by Luci Shaw, who was a student of Kilby’s at Wheation.
The essays are divided into three parts – those about Lewis, those about Tolkien, and those relating to the Inklings, especially Owen Barfield and Charles Williams, and one non-Inkling, Dorothy Sayers. The essays were published in a variety of different publications.
In 12 essays on the author of such varied works as The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia, Kilby describes his one and only visit with Lewis; his world of fantasy; Lewis’s theology (and his theological critics); the critical roles of imagination and joy; and other subjects related to the “witness of literature.” (The role of fiction and literature is a major theme in all of the essays here.)
The seven essays on Tolkien focus on story and myth. Kilby describes how he met Tolkien and how the two came to work together on The Silmarillion. The essays cover a number of literary subjects – the idea of “lost myth;” how The Lord of the Rings includes both mystic and Christian elements; and several others.
The final section on Sayers and the Inklings provides a wonderful introduction to Charles Williams and his writings, especially his novels (some of the strangest written in fiction generally); understanding who the Inklings were and more importantly what they were not; and how the Marion Wade Collection came to be.
Kilby was the author of several works about Lewis and Tolkien, including The Christian World of C.S. Lewis (1964); Tolkien and the Silmarillion (1971); Images of Salvation in the Fiction of C.S. Lewis (1978); and Brothers & Friends: The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis (1983). He served as editor for C.S. Lewis: Letters to an American Lady (1967). And a companion volume to A Well of Wonder, The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics, was also published in 2016. Kilby also published Minority of One: A Biography of Jonathan Blanchard (1982).
For even general readers of Lewis and Tolkien, A Well of Wonder is filled with insights from a scholar who knew and studied both men up close.
Top photograph: From left, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.