On Friday, I received horrific, shocking news. My friend, colleague, and adviser Chris Mitchell had died suddenly on Thursday. Here is the news on Biola’s website; he had just recently moved from Wheaton to Biola to teach at the Torrey Honors College there. Here is the news on the Wade’s website; Chris was the director of the Wade for many years, and that’s where I met him.
I called him my “friend.” I only met Chris twice in person, had one long phone conversation with him, and exchanged emails — and yet I considered him a friend and mentor. When I got the news, I was just about to email him to ask him if he would write a back-of-the-book blurb for The Chapel of the Thorn. I was thinking about talking to him for advice on my Inklings and King Arthur work. He was an amazing person. His sweet love for everyone made a beautiful atmosphere around him. Let me tell you about our interactions, in order to give you an idea of how wonderful he was and how much his loss means to the world of the Inklings, to young scholars, and to his students.
First, when I was visiting the Wade back in 2011, he took me out for lunch at a lovely Vietnamese restaurant. The food was amazing; Chris gave me recommendations about what to order. He was friendly and cheerful all the time, chatting about my life (education, residence, family) and my future prospects. He gave the impression that he was as committed to my academic success as I was, and would do anything he reasonably could to further my career. So over that lovely lunch, we made a plan for realizing my dreams and goals. Then he supported my efforts over the next couple of years, advising me over email, making phone calls to influential people, and writing letters of recommendation. While our dream did not work out, its failure was entirely my fault, not his. He secured me the position I wanted, although I was not then able to take it up. And even after I (arguably) disappointed him, he continued to advise me.
That’s where our second and third interactions come in. When I visited the Wade again in 2012, we met in his office and talked for a long time: about my ongoing career struggles, about the C.S. Lewis Journal (he served on the Editorial Board), my work on Charles Williams, whether I was ready to apply for a Kilby Research Grant, and so forth. I am sure he did the same for nearly every Inklings scholar who passed through the Wade.
Then, finally, when my last-ditch effort came to secure a traditional academic career, we had a long phone conversation in which he shared all the ideas he could come up with. He was supportive and kind: a cross between a colleague, a brother, a father, and a friend.
I relate all this partly for my own sake–to remember someone I loved and admired–and also to point out some of his greatest strengths. Chris was a master of networking and mentoring. Every time I talked to him, I went away with a list of names of possible contacts. He loved connecting people to each other and to resources. He was arguably the center of the Inklings world until his move to Biola. (There are a few other such kind and intelligent people at or near the heart of Inklings, studies, too, notably his Associate Director at the Wade, Marjorie Mead, and Judith and Brendan Wolfe at the Journal of Inklings Studies). I don’t know who will step in to take care of younger Inklings scholars the way he did, making sure that we have the resources and networks we need. And his students will suffer his loss sorely. And of course, more than anyone, his family must be in deep agony. If he was half as kind a husband and father as he was a teacher, scholar, director, mentor, and friend, his loss is very very great indeed.
Here is a podcast William O’Flaherty has put together with comments from Chris’s friends to honor and remember him.
Here is a list of videos where you can watch some of his lectures.
Here is a remembrance by his friend Wesley Hill, and here’s one by Lewis scholar Andrew Lazo. Here is one by Jenna Bartlo that includes comments below by Luci Shaw, Douglas Gresham, and others. And here is one by John Rateliff, a noteworthy Tolkien scholar. Here his church remembers him and includes a link to a sermon Chris preached.
All I can think when I read these posts is: I hope Chris felt as loved during his life as he would feel now if he read these posts. Or maybe he is reading them, and that is part of the joy of Heaven.