About this time of year in 1970, I was a senior at Wheaton College, just about ready to graduate, and I was thinking about what I should do next. Should I find a job as an English teacher? Should I take off with a friend on a traveling adventure? What else could I do?
I decided to have a meeting with my faculty advisor, Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, to talk through some of my options. I wasn’t particularly close to Dr. Kilby. I had taken only one of his classes, Aesthetics, which I had thoroughly enjoyed. I even remember the term paper I wrote for it, about the nature of beauty: Was it in the eye of the beholder? Or was it an innate quality, perhaps created by God? My term paper wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed working on it.
Dr. Kilby agreed with me about the quality of my paper. But he was used to reading the books of brilliant thinkers and corresponding with them. Authors like C. S. Lewis. Kilby’s students were held to a mighty high standard.
While Kilby was a professor at Wheaton, he donated 14 of his letters from C. S. Lewis to the college to begin a research center on the writings of twentieth century British authors. The Marion E. Wade Center grew to include the papers of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as several other writers who had frequently gathered together in Oxford to discuss their ideas.
There’s a reason I thought about Dr. Kilby on Sunday, 52 years after my last conversation with him. On Sunday Mim and I spent a wonderful couple of hours at The Playhouse theater in the Overture Center in Madison watching the one-man play, “An Evening with C. S. Lewis.”
The setting was the living room of C. S. Lewis’ home in Oxford, England. The actor (David Payne, who had written the play) sat in an easy chair next to his desk, and talked to the audience, which he addressed as though they were a tour group of writers from America. He told us about showing his first draft of the “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to his friend Tollers (J.R.R. Tolkien), and how Tollers almost talked him out of publishing it. Later he talked about “The Screwtape Letters,” the first book he published in America. In the second act he talked about his wife, Joy. He married her for the first time as a marriage of convenience (so she could stay in England instead of being deported back to America). Later he realized he loved her, and he married her again – this time for love. After she passed away, he wrote “A Grief Observed” to help him deal with his loss.
DELIGHTFUL is the word I would use to describe the whole conversation C. S. Lewis had with all of us sitting in the audience. We laughed a lot throughout the play. Tears came to my eyes near the end when he talked about his wife passing away. “An Evening with C. S. Lewis” is a very entertaining way to spend a couple hours, and be inspired to spend several more hours reading or re-reading some of Lewis’ books.
The play is no longer in Madison, but if it happens to come your way on tour, I highly recommend getting tickets. David Payne, the writer/actor, has written and performs a couple other plays about C. S. Lewis, and he is currently working on a play about Winston Churchill. I’ll definitely jump at any future chance I may get to see him on stage again.
And my special thanks to Dr. Kilby, for inspiring me to read C. S. Lewis, even if he didn’t help me much in my 1970 request for guidance to a new college graduate. After graduation I decided to look for a teaching job, and I ended up teaching high school English for two years in Plainfield, Connecticut. Although Dr. Kilby didn’t say so directly, I think he would have liked me to go on the traveling adventure instead. Regardless of the path I chose, I know he would be happy now to see me back thinking about his friend C. S. Lewis.