Wheaton’s Wade Center: Where Middle Earth and Narnia Meet
By Jennifer Young
The Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College may be far from any reader’s notion of Narnia or Middle Earth, but somehow some very famous literary relics have wound up in its possession: Tolkien’s desk and Lewis’s family wardrobe.
The desk on display at the Wade Center is precisely the one where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and substantial portions of The Lord of the Rings drafts. According to the museum, Tolkien’s desk was a gift purchased by his wife Edith in 1927. He wrote, typed, revised, and illustrated at this desk until 1971.
In 1972 after the death of his wife, Tolkien sold the desk and donated the proceeds in his wife’s honor to the Oxford-based Help the Aged Housing Association. A private collector made the purchase but then the desk went up for sale again. The Wade Center made the purchase and brought it home to Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
But Tolkien’s desk, the witness of so much literary genius, was not the first important literary acquisition for the Wade Center. In 1973, the center managed to procure the desk, chair, and family wardrobe belonging to C.S. Lewis. Lewis used the desk and chair in his Magdalen College rooms at Oxford University. He taught there between 1925 and 1954. It’s thought that the wardrobe is the same piece to have inspired his great work, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
The Wade Center is a unique institution. Its mission is to promote the “ relevance of seven British Christian authors,” including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, and others.
The center celebrates these authors’ contributions to literature as well as their “distinctive blend of intellect, imagination, and faith.” The center collects artifacts pertaining to these authors but also supports artistic endeavors inspired by these seven writers and assists biographical scholars as well.
In addition to other unique holdings such as Tolkien’s pen, the center features special libraries associated with its showcased authors. For instance, the Tolkien library includes volumes owned by the writer like The Infidel Grape: An Anthology in Praise of Wine and The Abolition of Man written by none other than C.S. Lewis.
The Lewis library collection at the Wade Center is far more extensive with some fragile items currently undergoing preservation treatment. When you visit, however, you’ll find a wide range of Lewis-owned volumes such as the works of Jane Austen and The New Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum.
If you or your children are fans of Tolkien and Lewis, consider making a visit to this unusual center. It’s not every day you can come into such close contact with a wardrobe portal to another world or a desk where Gollum, Bilbo, and Gandalf were born.