Monday, January 9, 2017

Clyde Kilby's Collected Essays

So, just before Christmas arrived the new book by the late Clyde Kilby, A WELL OF WONDER: ESSAYS ON C. S. LEWIS,  J. R. R. TOLKIEN, AND THE INKLINGS (ed. Loren Wilkinson & Keith Call; Mount Tabor Books/Paraclete Press 2016). I'd been asked to provide a blurb and had been happy to submit one,* which I'm glad to see they used. Here's  what I said in the blurb:

As the first decades of Inklings scholarship 
recede from living memory, it's good to see 
the papers of an influential critic from that 
period made available again. Kilby is now 
mainly remembered for founding the Wade
Collection, but he was also among the first
to see the Inklings as a coherent writers' group,
and the pieces collected herein make the case
for considering these authors in context
with each other's work. Perhaps the out-
standing piece is his short account of
meeting C. S. Lewis at Oxford in 1953;
published in 1954, this is one of the earliest
memoirs of Lewis to see print, and it's good
for it to see the light of day again after
more than a half-century.

In the current book, this piece appears as Chapter 2: "My First (and Only) Visit with Mr. Lewis", p. 16-19.  The two men met for about half an hour, by appointment, in Lewis's office at Magdalen. Lewis was fifty-four at the time and engaged in compiling the bibliography for his O.H.E.L. volume; he talked about all the exercise he got from lugging folios about and disparaged the idea of naming 'periods' of literature, like "the Renaissance" ("an imaginary entity responsible for everything the modern reader likes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries"). They spoke of Palestine, and Lewis expressed a curiosity over whether the re-establishment of Israel (it having been created as a new nation only six or seven years before) wd mean a rebuilding of the Temple and a restoration of sacrifice.

Questioned about art and Xianity, Lewis pooh-poohed the idea of Christian literature: "He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry" -- that is, that a carpenter might be a Xian but this didn't mean that he produced 'Xian carpentry'. Told of Wheaton College's founder's description of a novel as "a well-told lie", he dissented strongly, saying that "one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper".   They talked a little about the then recently deceased C. E. M. Joad**

Asked when he might come to America, he was emphatic that this cdn't take place before his retirement. As for a specific invitation to come that very summer, he replied "he had to get some vacation then, and a trip to this country [i.e., the US] would be anything but a vacation." He autographed a book for Kilby, somewhat reluctantly (Kilby does not say which one of CSL's bks it was, only that he had brought it with him). When Kilby expressed a wish to hear Lewis lecture, Lewis first said there were no lectures scheduled (presumably the visit took place during one of the breaks between terms) and teased Kilby for being a "professor [who wanted] to hear a lecture while on vacation". They talked a little about metaphor and then Kilby, fearing to overstay his welcome, departed.

In addition to the Lewis piece, the volume also gathers together pretty much all the account of Kilby's meetings with Tolkien that had been originally published in Kilby's little book TOLKIEN AND THE SILMARILLION.*** I haven't gone through and compared to see if all that material is now here, but certainly most of it is, making this essay collection a good place to read an account by someone who had the chance to read virtually all of THE SILMARILLION during Tolkien's lifetime.

There are also a number of essays on Lewis and on Tolkien, largely focusing on Xian aspects or interpretations of their work, as well as an essay apiece on Williams and on Sayers, and at least two on CSL, JRRT, et al being considered together as 'the Oxford Group'

All in all, well worth having on the shelf.  As an extra added bonus, the dust jacket has a nice picture of four Inklings together: Dundas-Grant, Hardie, Havard, and Lewis. It's a well-known piece, but this is the best reproduction of it I've seen, and its presence here is appropriate, given that Kilby was co-author of the book IMAGES OF HIS WORLD, the first to gather together photos of Lewis and his friends.

--John R.

*after all, with the exception of Deborah Sabo I think Kilby and I are the only Tolkien scholars to have been at Fayetteville, Arkansas -- albeit decades apart.

**whom Tolkien once described as 'Joad of Joad Hall', suggesting that his personality bore more than a little resemblance to Kenneth Grahame's Mr. Toad

***herein  titled Chapter 15: "The Evolution of a Friendship and the Writing of The Silmarillion
At thirty-three pages I think this is the most substantial memoir of Tolkien yet published, aside from the FAMILY ALBUM.

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