One of the largest C.S. Lewis collections in the world is located at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois (located about an hour west of Chicago). This collection officially began in 1965 when a Wheaton College English professor, Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, proposed that the College create one. The collection started out with fifteen letters of correspondence between Kilby and Lewis, but has now grown to include over 15,000 volumes of works. These works are not only by C. S. Lewis, but also by three of his friends who were part of a literary group that he participated in called “The Inklings.” His friends were Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Wheaton’s collection also includes works by the British authors, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, and G. K. Chesterton, all of whom helped influence C.S. Lewis. In 1974, “The C.S. Lewis Collection” of Wheaton College was renamed the “Marion E. Wade Collection” in honor of a businessman and C.S. Lewis enthusiast, Marion E. Wade, who provided an endowment to the Collection upon his death.
I once took a course called “Administration and Use of Archival Materials.” One of the class’ assignments was to interview an archivist, so I chose the archivist of the Marion E. Wade Collection. The Wade Collection’s archivist, Laura Schmidt, is amazing. Not only did she answer all of my questions for the class, but also went above and beyond that. She gave me a detailed tour of the Marion E. Wade Center, which houses the Collection!
The Marion E. Wade Center is open to the public and has free admission. It includes a museum, a library, and an archive. When you first walk into the building, you will find yourself in the museum portion of the Center. The museum highlights the lives of the seven British authors mentioned above by displaying items from its archives in rotating exhibits. However, the Wade Center has a permanent exhibit as well. One noteworthy item in its permanent exhibit is the desk that J.R.R. Tolkien used when he wrote The Hobbit. Another noteworthy item is C.S. Lewis’ desk and chair that he used in his office at Magdalen College in Oxford while he taught English language and literature there. Finally, a wardrobe that belonged to Lewis and was built by his grandfather is also at the Wade Center. However, whether or not this is the wardrobe that inspired the one in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remains controversial. See my post about C.S. Lewis’ home, “The Kilns,” for more information about that.
In addition to a museum, the Wade Center also has a research library inside a beautiful reading room. The library does not circulate, meaning that nobody can take its books home, however, anyone is welcome to use its books while in the reading room. The only requirement for users is that they fill out an application form every year, so that the Center has its visitors’ information on file in case a book ever “disappears.” The Wade Center’s library includes books by the seven authors that it focuses on, as well as biographies and other books that are connected to them, including dissertations.
Although the Wade Center has an archive, it is not typically open to the public. However, when I was interviewing Ms. Schmidt, she was kind enough to show it to me! The archive contains first editions of books written by its seven authors. These include signed copies. Ms. Schmidt made my year when she allowed me to hold a signed copy of The Hobbit as well as a signed copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She told me that original editions of The Hobbit (first published in 1937) are actually rare, because many of them were stored in a warehouse in England that ultimately got bombed during World War II. Other fun items in the Wade Center’s archives include various board games and souvenir toys that are based on The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia books and movies.
I highly recommend the Marion E. Wade Center to fans of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Inklings. While you are at Wheaton College, be sure to also check out the nearby Billy Graham Hall. The first floor houses the Billy Graham Museum, where you can learn about the history of Christian evangelism and its influence on America, while the fifth floor houses the Archaeology Museum. The latter Museum contains archaeological pieces that Wheaton College’s archaeology students found in Israel between 1953 through 1964. Finally, if you stop by Wheaton College’s Meyer Science Center, you can see Perry Mastodon. A mastodon is an extinct animal that was similar to a woolly mammoth, but smaller. In 1963, Judge Joseph Sam Perry, who lived in nearby Glen Ellyn, found mastodon bones in his yard. Wheaton College students helped excavate it, so Judge Perry then gifted it to the College.
To learn about Wheaton College’s connection to the Underground Railroad, read my post about it.
Sources and Further Reading
“Archaeology Museum.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/school-of-biblical-and-theological-studies/archaeology-museum/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“Billy Graham Museum.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/about-wheaton/museum-and-collections/billy-graham-museum/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“The Discovery of Perry the Mastodon.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/community/perry-mastodon/discovery/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“The Excavation of Perry the Mastodon.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/community/perry-mastodon/excavation/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“History of the Marion E. Wade Center.” Marion E. Wade Center. https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/about/history/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“Marion E. Wade Center.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/about-wheaton/visit-wheaton/campus-buildings/marion-e-wade-center/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
Mitchell, Christopher W. “30th Anniversary of the Marion E. Wade Center.” Marion E. Wade Center. https://www.wheaton.edu/media/wade-center/files/about-us/history/30thAnniversaryWadeWeb.pdf (accessed June 26, 2021).
“Perry Mastodon.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/community/perry-mastodon/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“Reading Room Application Forms.” Marion E. Wade Center. https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/collections/use-the-reading-room/application-forms/ (accessed June 26, 2021).
“Research Visits.” Marion E. Wade Center. https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/collections/use-the-reading-room/research-visits/ (accessed June 26, 2021).