Clyde S. Kilby's Summer (1966) with Tolkien

Extollager

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The American college professor Clyde Kilby (1902-1986) met Tolkien in 1964 and in 1966 spent the summer in Oxford, seeing Tolkien two or three times a week for one to three hours at a time, giving the 74-year-old Tolkien encouragement that The Silmarillion was indeed worthy of publication, but not succeeding in getting Tolkien truly committed to preparing a submiittable manuscript. Kilby told the story in Tolkien and The Silmarillion (1976), which is basically reprinted in a new book, A Well of Wonder: Essays on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings. Kilby's portrait of Tolkien is vivid and entertaining. They hit it right off although I wonder if Kilby would have committed to the summer if he had known how little they would have to show for it. Whether you get a used copy of the 1976 book or get hold of the 2016 book, you should treat yourself to these pages if you are at all interested in Tolkien the man. The 2016 book contains some very well-grounded discussion of Tolkien's fantasy. Tolkien was a key figure in the promotion of Tolkien in the 1960s and 1970s in America, giving the keynote address -- which I take it is what's reprinted in the 2016 book as "The Lost Myth and Literary Imagination," previously available in print, so far as I know, only in an obscure journal -- at a 1968 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee conference on imaginary worlds, I suppose one of the first academic-type gatherings on sf and fantasy.
 

Son of Valhalla

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I, uh, I haven't even read the Silmarillion yet. I swear, every series that is out has so much lore that I don't know where to start... so I'm pretty sure I'll be starting with Tolkien. That said, Tolkien does have an interesting backstory and life. Maybe the essay collection you mentioned is worth checking out.
 

Extollager

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Reading Kilby could give you a sense of the fascination that was felt prior to the release of The Silmarillion.

But really, what I'd recommend is that someone start with what was availble in Tolkien's lifetime. Read the LOTR appendices. Read the tantalizing paragraphs in The Road Goes Ever On. Also read what Tolkien "leaked" in letters, such as a famous one from 1951 to Milton Waldman. Check out the long interview with Tolkien in Niekas #18, by the way. You can get a sense of what we had to go one back in the day (and no, we didn't have Waldman's letter till the Tolkien letters were published around 1982.)

https://efanzines.com/Niekas/Niekas-18.pdf

Don't know what other series you might have in mind, but I would think your time with Tolkien's would be a good investment.
 

Extollager

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Hugh, I warmly recommend this next one. I'll include the more Tolkienian portions of my review.

Days of the Craze #25: CLYDE S. KILBY’S SUMMER WITH TOLKIEN

by Dale Nelson

A review of A Well of Wonder: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings by Clyde S. Kilby, edited by Loren Wilkinson and Keith Call. Brewster, Mass. and Barga, Italy: Paraclete Press, 2016. xv and 348 pages. ISBN 978-1-61261-3. $28.99.

I like several things about this compilation of articles by Clyde Kilby (1902-1986), English professor and founder of Wheaton College’s Wade Collection. Kilby’s critical observations retain value. As a chronicler of the 1965-1969 “hobbit craze,” I welcome the gathering in one book of notable material from that era when Tolkien was still living but not well known as a person, especially to Americans, and whose First and Second Ages were visible only in glimpses, such as those provided by the appendices in The Return of the King. I like also the design of the present book and appreciate the indexes of persons and subjects.

About a hundred pages or a third of the book is devoted specifically to Tolkien, beginning with Wilkinson’s introduction of the section. He was a student of Kilby’s at Wheaton College in 1962, enrolled in a course on Romantic poetry, in which the professor referred to Tolkien’s fantasy but didn’t seem well acquainted with the books yet. Wheaton’s library owned the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings and Wilkinson read The Fellowship in spring 1964, but the other volumes were checked out. Traveling with the college track team, Wilkinson would seek the books in the libraries of other colleges, but none owned them. That year, he ended up ordering eighteen hardback sets of LotR from Blackwell in Oxford. Word was getting around about Tolkien’s fantasy, but it wasn’t till the next year that the three LotR books appeared as American paperbacks. (Perhaps I should spell out the fact, for readers in their thirties or younger, that in the mid-1960s there were no online catalogues – as the word was likely to be spelled then – such as WorldCat whereby a researcher could easily find out which libraries owned a given book. There wasn’t even a National Union Catalogue that researchers could page through, to see which libraries owned a book; that wasn’t published till 1981. I suppose that interlibrary loan – when it was available – must have been a time-consuming business. Valuable indeed would be an ILL librarian who had a good idea of which libraries to query first, as most likely to own a book, using the telephone or U. S. mail.)

The first Kilby item in the Tolkien section is a short piece from a 1969 issue of the magazine of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. This campus organization, still going strong, was formally established in 1941. IVCF emphasized “safe spaces” for non-Christian inquirers but also, and strongly, the nurturing of the mind – intellect and imagination -- for Christians. Kilby doesn’t oversell LotR as a devotional book. It “seems to have Christian overtones,” but it is “a story to be enjoyed, not a sermon to be preached” – although Kilby says a young Oxford businessman told him that LotR was his Bible, a remark that might not have recommended the work to some readers of the magazine. Kilby mentions C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Williams together; I suppose that, for many readers at the time, this would have been the first time they’d heard of the third author. Two or three remarks about the story are ambiguous: Frodo “carries the One Ring with him, which is his source, if he chooses to use it, of almost unlimited power, and yet at the same time it’s a token to him of his deliverance from evil”; “In the Second Age, another evil wish turned men into gods and they gained everlasting life unworthily and thus caused the destruction of Nύmenor.” Kilby nudges readers towards LotR’s academic respectability by mentioning the dissertations of Mariann Russell and Dorothy Barber and their affiliations. [more to follow]
 

Extollager

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Second of three postings about A Well of Wonder:
In the next piece, we have a chapter from a 1974 book, Myth, Allegory and Gospel, edited by John Warwick Montgomery. This Bethany House paperback was, I believe, the first book devoted to Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams (and Chesterton) that was intended for the general reader. (There’d been a few books for an academic audience.) To place it in context: when it appeared, the popular-level books relating to Tolkien and fantasy were Lin Carter’s Tolkien: A Look Behind “The Lord of the Rings” (1969) and Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy (1973); there was also William Ready’s little-loved paperback Understanding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. Thus the Montgomery book was quite noteworthy, especially if you were a reader unaware of fanzines such as Mythlore, where a lot of good commentary on Tolkien and the Inklings was appearing. In tackling the topic of modern fantasy and myth, the Bethany House book dealt with a topic that was fresh at the time, particularly for readers other than English majors.

Kilby’s essay there, reprinted in the present volume, was “Mythic and Christian Elements in The Lord of the Rings.” Informed not only by a careful perusal of LotR but by his privileged reading of then-unpublished writings, Kilby relates key elements of the whole Tolkienian creation to the concept, expounded by Mircea Eliade in Cosmos and History, of sacred time. The less noble a character is – like the orcs – the less connection a creature has to the pristine primal world; the more noble, the greater; hobbits cherish their homely genealogies, Men recall Nύmenor, and the Elves remember the gods themselves and the light of the Two Trees. Galadriel’s phial entrusts to a hobbit something of sacred light.

Kilby continues with a discussion of specifically Christian elements, citing such now-familiar instances as Gandalf, risen from combat with the Balrog, as like the risen Christ victorious over Satan, the weary Frodo on Mount Doom as like Christ in His Passion, and Aragorn as like Christ the King. He explains the harmony of the book’s understanding of evil with that of central Christian tradition. Kilby can refer enticingly to the time when The Silmarillion will make clear how Melkor/Morgoth is “like” (sic) Satan. Kilby is careful, however, to emphasize that Tolkien wrote “not allegory but myth.” The essay remains a good statement of Christian themes – it’s tuned in to Tolkien’s wavelength and doesn’t overstate the case.
 

Extollager

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Third of three postings about A Well of Wonder:

Third in the Tolkien section of Well of Wonder is the first of five chapters that, all together here, reprint virtually all of Tolkien and The Silmarillion, which was released by an evangelical publisher in 1976 and, I imagine, little noticed. “The Evolution of a Friendship and the Writing of The Silmarillion” is a real prize, one of the best, most vivid accounts we have of the elderly Tolkien. Kilby met Tolkien on 1 Sept. 1964 and was invited back for the 4th, before he would fly back to America. Once settled in what Tolkien said was the room in which LotR had been typed, Kilby found that, when Tolkien grew particularly excited, “he would sometimes come very close to me and put his face almost against mine, as though to make sure the point of some remark was completely understood.” Kilby and Tolkien hit it off right away.

Kilby eventually offered his services as a secretary for the summer of 1966, if that would help Tolkien to prepare The Silmarillion for publication at last. Tolkien accepted Kilby’s offer, offering an “honorarium” though he could not offer a room. Kilby arrived in London and met Rayner Unwin, who hoped the American’s assistance might help Tolkien to bring the manuscript to the point of submission for publication. He also begged Kilby to try to get Tolkien to write a preface for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Orfeo. Kilby writes ruefully, “in this I failed utterly. My various reminders and coaxings were accepted seriously, yet at the end of the summer Tolkien almost triumphantly said, ‘Well, I didn’t write it!’” Tolkien was then 74. He turned down Kilby’s offer of putting his papers in order.

Kilby went to the Tolkiens’ home two or three times a week during that summer, for one to three hours at a time, and read manuscripts of the legendarium. Tolkien liked to talk; “always there was an expression of both pose and genuineness revealed like a double exposure.” While Tolkien fretted about the Ace Books reprint (a matter that Kilby rightly felt should be handed over to a lawyer and dismissed from Tolkien’s mind), Kilby noted that some of the Silmarillion materials did not appear to have been looked at in a long time, and that when asked about details of his own legendarium, Tolkien sometimes didn’t have a ready answer. Kilby became convinced Tolkien would never finish The Silmarillion.

Kilby was surely one of very few people indeed who have read Tolkien’s still-unpublished satire “The Bovadium Fragments.” He discusses the dislike that Tolkien, at the time, was expressing toward George MacDonald’s fairy tales. He mentions the possibility, proposed by a third party (Rolland Hein?), that part of what moved Tolkien to talk this way might have been a desire to throw people off the scent, since MacDonald manifestly had influenced Tolkien. Also, I wish Kilby had probed Tolkien a bit and managed to get down to specifics. If Tolkien was objecting to didacticism ruining imagination in MacDonald, was the former thinking of a particular story? One doesn’t think that such outstanding tales as “The Golden Key” and “Photogen and Nycteris” are ruined stories. On the other hand, “The Wise Woman” seems to me, too, unlikable, a botch due to an oppressive and condescending moralizing. Tolkien had been asked to write an introduction to a collection of MacDonald tales and had agreed. Did he perhaps start with, or early on, encounter, the unfortunate “Wise Woman” and become turned off about the whole idea? In any event, the experience was the occasion of Tolkien beginning his own late tale, Smith of Wootton Major, which Kilby read a year before its publication.

The next article, “A Brief Chronology of the Writings,” is obsolete, but at the least of interest because it was an early attempt by a super-fan to get a handle, with the help of published and unpublished remarks of the professor, on when Tolkien started writing his Middle-earth works, also of the geographical correlates between the Third Age and our own.

Well of Wonder’s reprinting of Tolkien and The Silmarillion pauses for the fifth of the section’s seven chapters devoted to Tolkien. “The Lost Myth and Literary Imagination” comes from 1969, the last year of the “Craze” as I’ve dated it for this Beyond Bree series. “Lost Myth” was published that year in the University of Wisconsin’s journal Arts in Society, the issue theme being “Confrontation Between Art and Technology,” Kilby’s article didn’t make it into Richard West’s 1970 Tolkien bibliography that recorded critical works published into early 1969.

Kilby deals here with the contemporary unhappy sense of a disenchanted world. Nature is despoiled because it must serve man – ah, Kilby asks, “But which part of man?” To recover a richer understanding of the world and ourselves, Kilby the evangelical Christian mentions his own practice: “He has “practiced for many years looking upon the morning light as an unmerited and mysterious gift and on life in flora and fauna as worthy of a daily salute and even a bow. … More recognition of mystery and symbol in nature would, I think, contribute to our reacquisition of wholeness.” Next, he subtly invites the reader to find out about Charles Williams’s insights into co-inherence and exchange. Williams, still far less known that Lewis or Tolkien, was an obscure figure indeed almost fifty years ago. Kilby promises that Williams’s insights are conducive to “joy,” rather than the preoccupation of our present thought prison with “pseudo-events” and “artificial” fun. Man himself is a mystery; “by means of imagination man recognizes his real existence and exercises a metaphysical prophecy of things possible to him.”

Several pages of this substantial and passionate essay expound the relevance of LotR to the needs of our time. Kilby says, “No one is less ‘alienated’ than J. R. R. Tolkien. …Though he is not optimistic about our age, he has no existential angst.” “The Lost Myth” appears to be, or to be based on, the keynote address that Kilby gave in May 1968 at one of the first Tolkien-related gatherings to occur in an academic setting, the Secondary Universe Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (I chronicled the conference in Days of the Craze No. 20, Beyond Bree Feb. 2016.) I should think it was an excellent paper for such an occasion.

The remaining two chapters of Well of Wonder’s Tolkien section return to Tolkien and The Silmarillion. “Literary Form, Biblical Narrative, and Theological Themes” is, Wilkinson says, Kilby’s “extended reflection on the …Christian vision at the core of Tolkien’s whole mythology.” Tolkien himself brought to Kilby’s attention the passage from Cynewulf’s Christ about Eärendel, and told him that the “Secret Fire sent to burn at the heart of the World” was the Holy Spirit. Here Kilby reveals that in 1966 Tolkien asked him to read a “lengthy account,” a “conversation on soul and body and the possible purpose of God in allowing the Fall.” This can only have been the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, that strange and moving piece that Christopher Tolkien supposed was written in 1959, and that was not published until Morgoth’s Ring in 1993: a dialogue that is one of the true gems of the 12-volume History of Middle-earth. I wonder if anyone other than Tolkien himself had read this piece at the time Kilby perused it. Kilby speaks of “parallels” between persons and events in the Bible and in LotR. Elsewhere, I have argued that a key to Tolkien’s imagination is to see the latter as “types.” (See “Typology: The Lost Key to the Religious Dimension of The Lord of the Rings,” Beyond Bree November 2013.) Finally, “Death and Afterlife” speaks of Tolkien’s literary longevity – it’s too soon to say “immortality” – and his affirmation of the Christian hope of eternal life.

There’s a bit more for Tolkien aficionados. In the final section of Well of Wonder, Wilkinson has included “The Forming of a New Friendship,” from Tolkien and The Silmarillion, which is about Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. It notes Tolkien’s eventual denial of having been an intimate friend of Williams.
 

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That review is so long, taking up so much room in the monthly reading thread, that I think it's better off here, Extollager, so I'll move the three posts over with a post there confirming what I've done.
 

Hugh

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Many thanks @Extollager . I had not heard of this. I've just ordered a copy.

I'd thought I was about done with books about Tolkien and was intending to move on to reading the Hobbit and the LOTR (fairly soon, starting with the Annotated Hobbit), but I couldn't resist this review. The crunch for me of course is the amount of time he spent with Tolkien.
 

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Hugh, there's a special interest in reading the better articles on Tolkien published late in his life or shortly thereafter, when not all that much was known about the man and about The Silmarillion and The Akallabeth -- though it was known that those two works did, in some form, exist. I think that a good warmup for (re)reading them is to look over some of those things, and sort of put oneself in the state of mind of being a Tolkien fan tantalized by, and eager for, more lore. I think that it was largely those readers whom Christopher Tolkien was seeking to please when he prepared The Silmarillion for release -- which, at the time, I suppose, no one knew would be just the first of around 15 volumes prepared from Tolkien's Middle-earthly manuscripts. I am glad to have been a confirmed, if immature, Tolkien fan back in those days, who could be intrigued by the little bit in The Road Goes Ever On, etc. It's of course a great thing to become a Tolkien fan more recently, able to revel in literally thousands of pages of the great man's writings that hadn't been published as late as the mid-1970s. But some of that work received fresh appeal when we "go back" to the says of eager hope for more that had not appeared.

One is glad that Tolkien lived to see his work become so popular and to prosper materially by it. And I'm touched by George Sayer's anecdote in which Tolkien says to his schoolmaster friend in kindly wise, I've been a poor man all my life and now I have money -- do you need any?

But, on the other hand, one wonders what might have happened if Tolkien had had plenty of encouragement and some financial stake in going ahead with The Silmarillion without, however, the sense of hundreds of thousands of fans clamoring for it, sending him letters, etc.

My guess, though, is that he would have niggled and dawdled and done wonderful little things and not brought it to completion. If his work had been only modestly popular in his lifetime (+ 1973), his publishers might not have worked with Christopher to prepare the posthumous legacy as soon as they did, even if, after JRRT's death, his work had taken off in popularity. As it is, Christopher got started in good time to prepare a triumphant series of books that many of us will be turning to for the rest of our lives.

Do you know Blackham's three books on Tolkien -- Roots, Oxford, Peril? (My sense is the other two are not as valuable.)

Results for blackham tolkien | Book Depository

There's also Mathison's book:

Tolkien in East Yorkshire 1917 - 1918 : Phil Mathison : 9780956299413
 

Hugh

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One is glad that Tolkien lived to see his work become so popular and to prosper materially by it. And I'm touched by George Sayer's anecdote in which Tolkien says to his schoolmaster friend in kindly wise, I've been a poor man all my life and now I have money -- do you need any?
I was impressed also. Very sweet. The context of the quote seems to indicate that this a genuine offer. I certainly believe it to be genuine.

But, on the other hand, one wonders what might have happened if Tolkien had had plenty of encouragement and some financial stake in going ahead with The Silmarillion without, however, the sense of hundreds of thousands of fans clamoring for it, sending him letters, etc.
My guess, though, is that he would have niggled and dawdled and done wonderful little things and not brought it to completion.
That's my sense from my reading to date (and most authors seem agreed on this). There was just too much to be drawn together, and too many of the distractions of ageing such as health and energy.
I wonder if things could have been different if he had retired earlier, instead of staying on until he reached the official retirement age of 67 (I think I've got that right). If he had realised earlier that he was going to be financially secure, then I think it very likely he would have retired (he alludes to this in at least one letter). He worried a lot about money, as most of us do. I doubt that the last three or four years at Merton were that satisfying.

Do you know Blackham's three books on Tolkien -- Roots, Oxford, Peril? (My sense is the other two are not as valuable.)

Results for blackham tolkien | Book Depository

There's also Mathison's book:

Tolkien in East Yorkshire 1917 - 1918 : Phil Mathison : 9780956299413
(Unsurprisingly) I did not know of these. I've made a note of them. I'm going to move forward to reading the LOTR soon. I may or may not continue reading around Tolkien after that.

I'll probably post separately to ask advice re what edition to get: there are so many, it's confusing. Likewise the "Companions".

Many thanks!
 

Extollager

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Hugh, I've asked someone in a position to know about which LotR edition is best.

The LotR Reader's Companion by Scull and Hammond was great -- I used it when reading the story most recently (2012). They write readably, they're genuine scholars, and they have the trust of Christopher Tolkien.

Bob Foster's Guide to Middle-earth is excellent; CJRT himself uses it!

Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth is well regarded.

Those were the books I packed with my on my last journey into The Lord of the Rings.
 

Hugh

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Many thanks! This is really helpful. I will gather these for the journey.

All I need to do now is to decide what edition of LOTR to buy. It's kind of you to look into which edition is best, but please don't go out of your way. I'm hoping someone will give positive feedback about that three volume set + Companion.
 
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Extollager

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I'm hoping someone will give positive feedback about that three volume set + Companion.
It certainly would be ironic if so meticulous (but readable) a work as the Companion were being packaged with an edition of LotR that was an inferior text.
 

Hugh

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It certainly would be ironic if so meticulous (but readable) a work as the Companion were being packaged with an edition of LotR that was an inferior text.
It would be strange.
 

Hugh

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I'm touched by George Sayer's anecdote in which Tolkien says to his schoolmaster friend in kindly wise, I've been a poor man all my life and now I have money -- do you need any?
I've met someone recently who was taught by George Sayer in the late 1940s. So I asked him about this today. He said that he was a brilliant teacher. He remembers reading "Paradise Lost" through from beginning to end over several evenings with six or seven other boys in Sayer's own house. There'd be an interval halfway through in which they got to drink perry. He also commented that Sayer was a Catholic (like Tolkien of course), and that that was unusual in a Protestant school.
NB: I've never read Paradise Lost.
 

Extollager

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Hugh, what a great way to get to know Paradise Lost.

That's on my mental to-be-read-for-a-second-time list, by the way.
 

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Thank you very much for this recommendation @Extollager. I found this gave me a better understanding of Tolkien and I really liked Kilby’s accounts of his interaction with Tolkien. This was a book I was looking for in that it gives a Christian perspective from someone who actually talked with him regularly over a period of time.
I still don’t have a proper sense of Tolkien’s Catholicism, but I feel certain from reading George Sayer that the Roman Catholic Sacraments, particularly Confession and Communion were central to his personal universe, I just don't have a felt understanding of these as yet.
 
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Extollager

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Just now, Hugh, I was looking for Tolkien's letter -- I think to one of his sons -- about the importance of the Eucharist in his life. I think you've read the letters volume, so you'll have seen it.
 
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