Monday, May 23, 2011


So, today came the long-awaited arrival of the newest volume of VII, the Wade Center's journal focusing on the seven authors to whom the Wade center is devoted (Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Sayers, Barfield, Chesterton, & MacDonald). I'm particularly pleased to see it, because it includes a piece I edited: Clyde Kilby's guest-of-honor speech at the 1983 Marquette Tolkien Conference. Essentially this is a memoir of his summer working with Tolkien, which focuses mainly on his belief on why Tolkien never finished THE SILMARILLION. I heard Kilby deliver it at the conference, and it wd have been a key part of the published proceedings, but a string of delays eventually forced cancellation of that project. Too bad. But at least now this one piece has finally made it into print. Now if we can only get Paul Kocher's essay into print as well . . .

From my personal point of view, as a student of the history of fantasy and Tolkien's role in the creation of fantasy as a modern literary genre, the most interesting point was Kilby's revealing that one of the books Tolkien loaned him to read as preparation for working on THE SILMARILLION was Lord Dunsany's THE BOOK OF WONDER [1912]. One discovery that was new to me, not having been mentioned in the lecture itself but jotted on one draft, was learning that Tolkien also recommended Sheila Kaye-Smith's THE CHALLENGE TO SIRIUS [1917] as "[the] best novel of the US Civil War". I don't know of any previous evidence that Tolkien knew Kaye-Smith's work; while largely forgotten today (aside from having been mocked by Stella Gibbons' COLD COMFORT FARM) she was famous in her own time both as one of Hardy's heirs and for a famous conversion to Catholicism in 1929 along with her husband (hitherto an Anglican priest).

Quite aside from my own interest in this volume from my own contribution, this issue has much else of interest in it. The lead article prints for the first time what its editor argues is the only part ever written down of Tolkien & Lewis's erstwhile collaboration, LANGUAGE AND HUMAN NATURE. There's also a short biography of Lucy Barfield and two Owen Barfield poems (one never before published)and a memoir of Lewis at Cambridge. So, all in all, a good issue; I'm looking forward to reading the other pieces.



Wurmbrand said...

I'm reading your new article now with much enjoyment. It is interesting to see Tolkien recommending a novel of the Civil War, Sheila Kaye-Smith's The Challenge to Sirius (lovely scientifictional title; could that have been what first caught Tolkien's eye?), to Clyde Kilby.

I wish we had a one-stop-shopping list of the books that Tolkien recommended -- perhaps one list relating to his scholarly interests and one for other matters. As compared to information about C. S. Lewis's reading, we have very little indeed on Tolkien's. When reading Zettersten's book on Tolkien a few weeks ago, I gleaned one title that I don't remember having seen before, The Lost Literature of Medieval England, by R. M. Wilson. (It had a significantly revised second edition and I don't think which edition Tolkien had in mind is clear.)

Wurmbrand said...

I should have specified that Kaye-Smith's novel is about the American, not English, Civil War.

Wurmbrand said...

(Final comment!) Kilby's piece is a moving account of Tolkien's feelings in his final years. I'm very glad that it has been published, and with your helpful notes (a note being the source of the Kaye-Smith reference that I mentioned just now).