March Artifact of the Month: Correspondence between Clyde Kilby, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Today the Wade Center holds an abundance of resources, but the collection’s beginnings were modest and its future acquisitions rested on some key connections established by founder Clyde S. Kilby. Two of these relationships were with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The correspondence they shared with Kilby remains at the heart of the Wade Center’s materials and represents some of our earliest accessions. The March “Artifact of the Month” highlights these two letter collections, and continues the celebration of the Wade’s 50th Anniversary year with a look back at these remarkable documents and the relationships they illustrate.


Clyde S. Kilby first encountered the work of C.S. Lewis around 1943 in a book titled The Case for Christianity, which contained content from some of Lewis’s BBC Radio talks later brought together under the title Mere Christianity in 1952. Kilby reflects in his personal history of the Wade Center on that first reading: “I bought the book and read it right through feeling almost from the first sentence that something profound had touched my mind and heart.” After reading more books by Lewis and becoming greatly interested in them, Kilby decided to write to Lewis on December 17, 1952 asking if he could schedule a visit with him during his upcoming trip to England in the summer of 1953. Lewis accepted Kilby’s request, and they met at Lewis’s rooms in Magdalen College, Oxford on July 1, 1953.

Envelope from Lewis to Kilby, sent February 11, 1957.

The memorable visit with Lewis is recalled by Dr. Kilby in Wheaton College’s Kodon magazine (December 1953, Vol. VIII, pp. 11, 28, 30). They discussed sixteenth-century literature, the Renaissance, and the relation of Christianity and art, which was, in Kilby’s words: “one of the main questions I wished to ask Mr. Lewis.” When asked if Lewis had any plans to visit America, he said he had no intention of doing so until his retirement (Lewis never did visit the United States). Kilby summarizes his time with Lewis at the end of the article by saying: “in all his talk there is an incipient good humor and genuineness that makes a conversation with him a real pleasure.” (28, 30)

Kilby continued his conversation with Lewis through a series of letters between 1953 and 1962. These fourteen letters, and Kilby’s article, are available for viewing in the Wade Center Reading Room; they include a discussion, amongst other topics, of Lewis’s book Till We Have Faces; scripture; recommendations of reading material; and news of Joy’s health, Lewis’s wife who was battling cancer. One memorable quote from Lewis’s February 10, 1957 letter to Kilby begins:

Dear Professor Kilby — An author doesn’t necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else, so I give you my account of TWHF [Till We Have Faces] simply “for what it’s worth.” …

Intrigued yet? Visit the Wade Center to read more, or find the letter in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis edited by Walter Hooper.

Following Lewis’s death in 1963, Kilby maintained a lively correspondence and friendship with Warren H. Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s brother, which lasted until Warren’s death in 1973. Warren willed a variety of materials to the Wade Center, including his own personal diaries, excerpts from which were later edited and published by Clyde S. Kilby and Marjorie Lamp Mead in the book Brothers and Friends.


Clyde Kilby’s first visit with Tolkien was late in the afternoon of September 1, 1964, on one of his many trips to England from 1953 to 1979. Kilby had read, and duly admired, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and was keen to try and meet its author. After receiving encouragement from Dr. Robert E. Havard, Tolkien’s personal physician and fellow member of the Inklings, Kilby walked up to Tolkien’s front door and received a warm and cordial greeting. They shared two enjoyable visits in 1964 before Kilby’s return to the United States.

Envelope from Tolkien to Kilby, sent December 3, 1967.

After this first meeting, a correspondence between the two professors began, with the first letter from Tolkien written on November 11, 1964, and the last written on March 8, 1973. The Wade Center has fourteen letters from Tolkien to Kilby, only a few of which have been partially published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien.

The correspondence covers a wide range of topics, including notes on Tolkien’s work; comments on Tolkien’s The Smith of Wootton Major manuscript; discussion on the health of Edith Tolkien, Tolkien’s wife; and one of the most exciting events of Kilby’s friendship with Tolkien: a visit in the summer of 1966 to assist in the writing of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Tolkien had worked for years on the content of what later became The Silmarillion, and Tolkien enthusiasts, including Kilby, eagerly anticipated its publication. The work required to get it into a publishable form was substantial, however, and Kilby knew of the difficulty of the task. In a letter dated November 19, 1965, Kilby wrote to Tolkien to offer him any assistance he could provide in helping to prepare The Silmarillion for publication. Among his applicable skills he states that he is “1) a good typist, 2) a bit of a literary critic … 3) an enthusiast for your writings.” Tolkien responds on December 18, 1965:

TOLKIEN AND THE SILMARILLION by Clyde S. Kilby. Wheaton, IL: Shaw, 1976.

TOLKIEN AND THE SILMARILLION by Clyde S. Kilby. Wheaton, IL: Shaw, 1976.

I was deeply touched by [your letter], indeed overwhelmed by your generosity in offering to sacrifice your precious time (and holiday) in helping me. … [Y]our offer under heads 2) and 3) are extremely attractive. … If I had the assistance of a scholar at once sympathetic and yet critical, such as yourself, I feel I might make some of it publishable.  It needs the actual presence of a friend and adviser at one’s side, which is just what you offer.

The experience with Tolkien over the summer of 1966 is recorded in Kilby’s book: Tolkien and the Silmarillion, which is available along with the Tolkien and Kilby letters in the Wade Center Reading Room. The Silmarillion was published in 1977 by Christopher Tolkien after his father’s death. The third chapter of Kilby’s book was removed before publication at Christopher’s request to avoid revealing too much of the subject matter from the then unpublished Silmarillion. Kilby had also made some factual errors in the chapter given that his source material was based on his memory of oral communication with Tolkien. The third chapter has since been published in its entirety in volume 19 (2002) of VII, the Wade Center’s journal.

These letter exchanges give a unique view into the early days of the Wade Center and the important personal connections established with the authors (and their family and friends) now collected, studied, and celebrated here. They are a wonderful reminder of the past as we look into the future. Come read and enjoy them yourself!

January Artifact of the Month: 1977 Video of Barfield and Kilby

Continuing the celebration of our 50th Anniversary year, we are featuring a video of Clyde S. Kilby, founder of the Wade Center, and Owen Barfield recorded at Wheaton College on November 3, 1977.

The video is an edited version of the full 37-minute recording by Lord & King Associates, which is held at the Wade Center under call number: CSL-Y / VR-16.

In the video, Kilby begins by showing Barfield the Wade’s recently acquired Lewis Family Wardrobe on display in the Wade Center’s Reading Room, which at that time was housed on the 2nd floor in the Nicholas Wing of Wheaton College’s Buswell Library. Although Kilby states that the maker of the wardrobe is uncertain, it was later confirmed that this wardrobe was handmade by Richard Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s paternal grandfather sometime in the 1800s. The wardrobe stood for many years in the Lewis family home of Little Lea in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was later transported to C.S. Lewis’s adult home, “The Kilns,” in England.  Along with Lewis’s writing desk, chair, and dining table, the wardrobe was purchased at auction in Banbury, England, on October 30, 1973 after Warren Lewis’s death.

Kilby then shows Barfield a copy of The Silver Trumpet, Barfield’s fairy tale for children that was enjoyed by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tolkien’s children. The story rests on the fate of the Silver Trumpet, the symbol of hope and the vibrancy of life for a kingdom and its inhabitants.

After being seated by the Reading Room fireplace, Barfield and Kilby discuss Barfield’s decades long friendship with C.S. Lewis. The video concludes with a brief excerpt from the beginning of Barfield’s lecture, titled “C.S. Lewis: Truth and Imagination,” which was given later that evening in Edman Chapel on Wheaton College’s campus. Barfield’s talk, the third annual Wade Lecture, is available on sound recording at the Wade Center, call number: OB-V / SR-11.

Owen Barfield visited Wheaton College several times between 1964 and 1977, and was the only one of the seven Wade authors to come to Wheaton and see the Wade’s collection. The many interesting connections between Barfield, the Wade Center, and Wheaton College are outlined in a chronology on the Wade Center’s website. The Wade also has three Oral History interviews with Barfield recorded between 1983 and 1985.

As we begin the commemoration of our 50th year, we are delighted to share this video and the intriguing glimpse it gives into the Wade Center’s past. To watch the recording in full, or use any of the other recordings mentioned in this post, please visit our Reading Room. We would love to see you!

Cataloging the Wade: An update from Elaine Hooker

Elaine Hooker, Wade Center Catalog Librarian

Elaine Hooker, Wade Center Catalog Librarian

Wade Catalog Librarian Elaine Hooker shares some of her thoughts and experiences on undertaking the monumental task of cataloging the Wade Center’s collections. Her work will, for the first time in its history, allow researchers from around the globe to access descriptions of what is in the Wade’s holdings.

Since its founding in 1965 by Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, the Wade Center’s collection has grown from 15 Lewis letters into a world-renowned and extremely deep collection of manuscripts (1,600), correspondence (26,500), articles (21,000), and other materials, which include over 18,000 books by and about the seven Wade authors, and several thousand books that the authors themselves owned.

Like most of the best things in my life, my involvement with the Wade Center has been an unexpected gift. Being daily surrounded by the output of seven brilliant minds has formed me in ways I continue to ponder. I find the way that each author’s scholarship influenced the others endlessly fascinating. My sensibilities tend to lean towards the personal and the intimate as shaped by scholarship and the intellect, and I have been struck by how well one can get to know these authors and who they were by their output collected at the Wade, which includes not only various editions of their own works, but books about things that interested them, books they owned, and books written and owned by people they loved. Not only is their work a gift to us, but who they were is a gift to us. And they continue to speak, shape, and influence us today.

My own credentials include a B.A. in English language and literature from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., a liberal arts school about the same size as Wheaton College, and a Master of Science in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This path was born of a desire to use every bit of knowledge I had gleaned throughout my educational career in service to others.

First day of the Wade Center cataloging project, August 2011. Pictured: catalogers Nicole Swanson (nee Long) and Karl Pettitt.

First day of the Wade Center cataloging project, August 2011. Pictured: catalogers Nicole Long Swanson and Karl Pettitt.

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), in order to use a book from the Wade, you had to ask the archivist if the Wade had the item that you needed or wanted. Since the beginnings of the collection, Wade staff have diligently collected and organized information pertaining to the seven authors, but this information wasn’t publicly searchable or accessible off-site. In 2011, the Wade Center began an initiative to professionally catalog the collections according to nationally recognized library standards and make those descriptive records publicly accessible by scholars worldwide. The Wade Center’s first Catalog Librarian, Nicole Long Swanson, set up cataloging procedures and workflows and cataloged examples of various formats of materials, including all materials published prior to 1850.

Coincidentally, I came to the Wade Center in 2012 with a desire to offer my services as a cataloger just as the cataloging initiative was getting started. I began cataloging dissertations, and then continued helping to catalog general materials after Nicole took a new position. Currently, all of the dissertations, large runs of periodicals, all of the archival collections, and approximately 66% of the book collection are cataloged. After the book collection is fully cataloged, we will continue cataloging our audiovisual materials, and offer increased access to our photo collections and other artifacts.

The book "Irene Iddesleigh" by Amanda McKittrick Ros was read aloud at Inklings meetings in C.S. Lewis's Magdalen College rooms at Oxford University. Each reader was to read a selection from the book aloud and see how long they could keep reading without bursting into laughter.

The book “Irene Iddesleigh” by Amanda McKittrick Ros was read aloud at Inklings meetings in C.S. Lewis’s Magdalen College rooms at Oxford University. Each reader was to read a selection from the book aloud and see how long they could keep reading without bursting into laughter.

Since joining the initiative, I have delighted in daily discoveries–from doodles penciled by G.K. Chesterton in the margins of his schoolbooks, to the book the Inklings read to each other until they burst out laughing. I’ve seen annotations in the back of A Grief Observed showing Clyde S. Kilby figuring out that N.W. Clerk was a pen name being used by C.S. Lewis before this was publicly known. And I’ve seen the map plotting out Kilby’s travels through England to meet with the players in these stories that led to important connections and acquisitions in future years.

Dr. Kilby's copy of "A Grief Observed" (Greenwich, CT: Seabury Press, 1963). Here he has written the reasons for (right page) and against (left page) C.S. Lewis being the author of the book before the fact was publicly known. "N.W. Clerk" was a pen name Lewis used.

Dr. Kilby’s copy of “A Grief Observed” (Greenwich, CT: Seabury Press, 1963). Here he has written the reasons for (right page) and against (left page) C.S. Lewis being the author of the book before the fact was publicly known. “N.W. Clerk” was a pen name Lewis used.


Map of England used by Dr. Clyde Kilby for his travels making connections on behalf of the Wade Center. National Atlas: Road Maps & Town Plans-Great Britain. London: George Philip & Son Ltd., 1968.

I’m thrilled that such discoveries can now be more easily shared by researchers worldwide. My thesis in library school was about information-seeking behaviors. Sometimes researchers know exactly what they want and are easily able to identify who has those resources. But as an information professional, I have learned much about the equal importance of other techniques, often compared to pearl gathering, or following the “bread crumb trail” left by other researchers. Professionally cataloging the Wade Center’s collections exponentially increases the ways in which researchers can interact with and glean information from the collection.

As we near 2015, I can finally see an end of this project on the horizon. And yet, I sense that this end is just the beginning of one discovery leading to another and another for myself and for those who find themselves drawn into the ageless story woven by these creative and faithful writers.

Elaine at work examining a volume with Sarah, a Wade Center volunteer.

Elaine at work examining a volume with Sarah, a Wade Center volunteer.

September Artifact of the Month: Dr. Clyde Kilby’s Portrait

September "Artifact of the Month" - Portrait of Clyde S. Kilby by Deborah Melvin Beisner, 1987. Oil on canvas with the inscription "Soli Deo Gloria."

September “Artifact of the Month” – Portrait of Clyde S. Kilby by Deborah Melvin Beisner, 1987. Oil on canvas with the inscription “Soli Deo Gloria.”

The September Artifact of the Month is an oil portrait of Wade Center founder Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, painted by Deborah Melvin Beisner in 1987, and given to the Wade by Leanne Payne in 2011. This month’s artifact not only highlights an interesting piece of memorabilia archived at the Wade Center; it also celebrates the legacy of the founder and first director of the Marion E. Wade Center, Dr. Clyde S. Kilby.

Born on September 26, 1902, Dr. Kilby taught English literature at Wheaton College from 1935 until 1981. During that time he was deeply affected by the writings of C.S. Lewis and began a correspondence with him. After Lewis’s death in 1963, Dr. Kilby began to gather together books and papers related not only to C.S. Lewis, but also to six other British authors who were connected to Lewis in terms of literary and spiritual thought. From this modest beginning has grown the internationally recognized research collection now known as the Marion E. Wade Center.

Martha Kilby, Marilee Melvin, and Clyde S. Kilby, Summer 1985.

Martha Kilby, Marilee Melvin, and Clyde S. Kilby, Summer 1985.

Dr. Kilby was a well-loved professor at Wheaton, and many students were shaped and inspired by his teaching and his personal mentorship. He and his wife, Martha, regularly welcomed students into their home for meals and conversation, introducing them to their talking pet parakeet and discussing faith, literature, and the imagination, as well as any issues or questions a given student might have. One such student who benefited from the Kilbys’ friendship was Marilee Melvin, now the executive assistant to Wheaton College President Philip G. Ryken and a Wade Center Board member.

Marilee’s mother remembered Dr. Kilby as one of her favorite professors at Wheaton, and during her own time as a student at Wheaton (from 1968-1972), Marilee took Dr. Kilby’s courses on Romantic literature and “Modern Mythology,” getting to know him better and finding her own life and faith enriched by the literature he loved and taught.

“Students tend to love what their professors and mentors love,” explains Marilee. “But in the case of Dr. Kilby’s vision for the Wade authors . . . he was at the cutting edge of studying these authors, and in turn, introducing others to a body of literature intrinsically important for spiritual formation as well as intellectual stimulation.”

As a senior, Marilee began visiting with the Kilbys at their home, and a friendship developed, only growing stronger after she graduated. During that time, Dr. Kilby continued to send her encouraging letters throughout her studies as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and later when she worked in various areas of the United States government in Washington, DC. Today Marilee remembers Dr. Kilby for some of his most characteristic traits and qualities: “His love of the subject matter, which in turn ignited an interest in and love of the material in his students; his cheerful, even cherubic countenance, and joyful heart, that spilled over in positive encouragement; his love of the particular, the real, which revealed his capacity for wisdom as well as his scholarship; and his stopping, literally and figuratively, to smell the roses.”

Marilee was Wheaton College’s vice president for alumni relations for nearly 18 years, and during her time in that position, she “heard many stories from alumni who, as students in trouble of some kind or another, found in Dr. Kilby’s wise and gracious response and help just what they needed.” “Wise and gracious” also characterized the welcome Dr. Kilby gave to students, visitors, and scholars to the Wade Center during his time as its director, and the words still describe the quality of attention and personal investment given to those who enter the Wade’s doors today.

Clyde and Martha with the Melvins, circa 1976.

Clyde and Martha with the Melvins, circa 1976.

Marilee’s friendship with the Kilbys, and her excitement over Dr. Kilby’s founding of what was originally called “The C.S. Lewis Collection,” helped introduce all eight of her siblings to Lewis’s world of Narnia. Marilee’s younger sister, Deborah Melvin Beisner, grew to know the Kilbys through becoming acquainted with them around her parents’ dining room table as the two families spent time together.

After graduating from Hillsdale College in Michigan, Deborah worked in the Wheaton area. She lived a few blocks from the Kilbys and regularly visited with them. She says, “I was fond of walking over to sit amongst his prized day lily collection, imagining eldil, or sharing a meal with Peter Kilby—the parakeet— sitting on the doctor’s thin hair, or listening to him talk in his upstairs back porch library/study. Oh, the magic!”

A visual artist who studied closely with the portrait painter John Howard Sanden, Deborah desired to paint Dr. Kilby and had a photography session with him seated in his porch library in a familiar housecoat, reading his favorite work by C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.

“When I had chosen the final composition from the photographs taken that day, I stretched a canvas and penciled in the outlines,” she explains. “However, my painting career got interrupted with a little thing called marriage, and the unpainted canvas followed us around until my second child was born in September 1986. My baby daughter received a letter from Dr. Kilby . . . welcoming her to the world—the world he left just days later. Now I really wanted to finish the portrait. Our mutual friend, Leanne Payne, agreed to commission its completion, and my husband took time to watch our children while I painted in our laundry room.”

The completed portrait was graciously donated to the Wade Center by Leanne Payne, the founder and president of Pastoral Care Ministries (now Ministries of Pastoral Care). Today its colors shine brightly from the wall of the Wade’s upstairs seminar room, where Dr. Kilby’s own library and some of his personal memorabilia are displayed—an inviting space where gatherings take place under the kindly smile of Dr. Kilby, and where the “conversation” he began nearly half a century ago continues.

Deborah Melvin Beisner lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, with her scholar/writer husband, E. Calvin Beisner, and is back at the easel now that her kids have grown. She and her husband have seven children and five grandchildren. You can see more of her paintings at

Learn more about the life and legacy of Clyde S. Kilby on the Wade Center’s website.