A Review of
A Well of Wonder: Essays on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings
Reviewed by Warren Hicks
“Clyde Kilby was fundamentally a teaher, but what he had to teach was not a collection of facts, rather, he taught an awed, thankful, and joyful stance toward creation and Creator.” – Loren Wilkinson, from the foreword (.xiii)
A Well of Wonder introduces the reader to the relationships that Mr. Kilby had with Lewis and Tolkien that led him to pursue the project of gathering their papers and that of other of the Inklings into what would become the Marion F. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois. This repository of primary source material including manuscripts and handwritten and typed correspondence among and by Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield and G. K. Chesterton has become the fruit of what Kilby describes as, “nothing less than a movement of the Holy Spirit.”
The collection of essays by Kilby are chiefly focused on his relationship and visits with Lewis, Tolkien and Barfield. These essays in some ways trace the story of the Wade Center and Kilby’s role in its establishment.
The book itself is organized into three sections. The first section is devoted to the Kilby essays about C. S. Lewis. They range in subject matter from “Logic and Fantasy: The World of C. S. Lewis” to a review of Lewis’s acclaimed novel, Till We Have Faces. When reading these essays consecutively they can come to sound redundant with stories told in two or more essays and the same point coming up again and again. When I reminded myself that these represent a broad cross section of Kilby’s thought on Lewis and were written over years and even decades I found the redundancy less distracting. Perhaps the best of the offerings in this section is the narrative Kilby offers about his brief, but obviously powerful meeting with Lewis in his rooms at Magdalen College.
The second section focuses on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien and Professor Kilby’s relationship with the noted philologist. Again, the range of offerings here is varied. As with Lewis, the highlight for me was the personal account of Kilby’s summer spent with Tolkien. I was also surprised to learn of Kilby’s role in the reading, editing, publication of The Silmarillion.
The final section pulls together essays on Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, the nature of myth itself, reflections on the Inklings contribution to the area of Christian apologetics and the establishment of the Marion F. Wade Center.
This is a wonderful collection of essays that sheds light on Professor Kilby’s work and legacy in broadening the appeal and access to these writers and their profound effect on intellectual engagement with the Christian faith alongside a strong case for a closer reading of these authors and a new or deepening appreciation of the power of myth in the human spiritual experience.