Visiting Tolkien’s Desk, Lewis’s Pen, and the Narnian Wardrobe
This past weekend, I visited the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Wheaton, located right outside of Chicago, is the country’s flagship Evangelical university. It’s the school Billy Graham attended and brought to fame. But the Wade Center, hidden in a plain neighborhood, on outskirts of the campus, has become a pilgrimage site for Protestants and Catholics alike.
In the 1950s, Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, an English professor at Wheaton College, began a correspondence with Lewis. They eventually met and became friends, and after Lewis’s death, Kilby began “The C.S. Lewis Collection” to honor the great writer’s legacy.
It included manuscripts, letters, and artifacts belonging to Lewis, and over the years, the collection expanded to include items from Lewis’s Inkling friends, and then from other people who influenced them. The resulting group included seven British authors: Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Charles Williams.
In 1974, friends and family of Marion E. Wade, a local businessman and himself a C.S. Lewis aficionado, established an endowment to support the collection, which was then renamed “The Marion E. Wade Collection.”
For years, the collection moved between various buildings on Wheaton’s campus, but then in 2001, it found a permanent home in the newly constructed Wade Center. Built out of limestone and fashioned after an English manor house, the facility is a haven for Inkling scholars and fans of Narnia and Middle Earth. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that it features C.S. Lewis’s famed wardrobe, the one which likely inspired his Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Walking through the Wade Center museum and library was an incredible treat for this Inkling devotee. Here were some of the highlights:
First look into the museum.
The seven honorees. Top (left-to-right): Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and Charles Williams. Bottom (left-to-right): G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Me standing in front of C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe. I peeked my head in the back, but was afraid to climb all the way in, because…..
Beautiful portrait of C.S. Lewis.
An elegant bust of Lewis. He would have been so embarrassed to know someone fashioned this.
C.S. Lewis’s desk, where most of his non-fiction, Space trilogy, and Narnia stories were composed.
Engraved plate on Lewis’s desk.
C.S. Lewis’s pen. I wonder what brilliance poured from that tip.
Lewis’s teapot, which he used during tea with his brother, Warnie, and friends like J.R.R. Tolkien.
I love this portrait of Aslan.
On November 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, Westminster Abbey will be unveiling a memorial stone to Lewis in Poets’ Corner. A two-day conference and a thanksgiving service will be part of the memorial project. Learn more here: http://bvogt.us/1a81P5c.
Beautiful afghan crocheted by Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis’s wife.
Besides the wardrobe, this was my favorite piece in the museum: J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing desk. It’s where he composed much of The Lord of the Rings and all of The Hobbit.
Engraved plate on Tolkien’s desk.
Tolkien’s pen, given to him by Humphrey Carpenter, who has authored excellent biographies of many of the Inklings.
A hand-typed letter from Tolkien explaining the origins of the Inklings. Click to zoom in and read.
“You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”
A nice display dedicated to Oxford, where most of the authors lived and wrote.
Middle Earth diorama with a flying and fiery Smaug.
This Inkling pipe probably saw many smoke rings in its time.
Dorothy Sayer’s iconic spectacles.
A nice display dedicated to Chesterton’s Fr. Brown mystery stories.
One of the strangest displays was a set of seven baby pictures, each of one of the seven honorees. It was strange because they all looked like girls! For instance, this is C.S. Lewis.
And this is G.K. Chesterton.
And the one on the right is J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Wade Center Reading Room is like heaven for Inkling fans. It contains every book written by The Seven, along with almost every secondary title ever printed.
A look at the other side. I. Want. To. Live. Here.
The entire Chesterton Collected Works from Ignatius Press.
Many Tolkien books.
Beautiful collection of Hobbit artwork.
This book looked really interesting, titled C.S. Lewis vs. the New Atheists. I bought a copy after arriving home. Two of my great interests: Lewis and atheism.
Read Chesterton in your language of choice.
You can even read The Chronicles of Narnia in Japanese!
This sign was posted at the exit of the Reading Room, and it sums up my experience there.