Guest Post: Joel Heck on Researching at the Wade

This post features some reflections by Dr. Joel D. Heck, a C.S. Lewis scholar and regular researcher at the Wade Center. Joel shares about what it is like to research at the Wade, and what projects he is currently working on. Joel also has an archival collection at the Wade Center containing materials he used for his book, Irrigating Deserts: C.S. Lewis on Education (Concordia 2005).

Dr. Joel D. Heck

Dr. Joel D. Heck

The Wade Center has become my summer home for a couple of weeks each of the past several years, while working on various research projects. My wife Cheryl and I travel from Austin, Texas, to the Midwest to see family and include Wheaton, Illinois, in our stops. The holdings in this research center are unparalleled, many of them unique, and they cover virtually everything and anything that a researcher might want to delve into regarding one of the seven Wade Center authors. While there are many online resources available to anyone, these firsthand resources make it worthwhile to take this trip.

My interest is C.S. Lewis, as well as the other six authors to the extent that they intersect with Lewis. Among the many holdings of the Wade Center are a copy of virtually every book or article ever published on Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, Owen Barfield, and George MacDonald as well as many letters, diaries, and other written records that have never been published. In fact, I don’t spend a lot of time with published materials. My focus has been especially in the unpublished materials, specifically the diaries of Warren Lewis (the brother of C.S. Lewis), the diaries and letters of Arthur Greeves (C.S. Lewis’s lifelong friend), the Stella Aldwinckle Papers (the co-leader of the Socratic Club with C.S. Lewis), and the massive Lewis Family Papers (an 11-volume collection of letters and diary excerpts from the Lewis family from 1850 to 1930). All of this is well catalogued at the Wade Center, searchable online (i.e. the bibliographical information, not the full text), and available to researchers on site.

Some readers may know the reason for my particular interests. For the past several years I have been putting together a historical resource for students of Lewis, entitled “Chronologically Lewis.” This resource contains a day by day (sometimes even hour by hour), month by month, year by year chronicle of every known event in the lives of C. S. Lewis and his brother Warren. I remember asking Peter Schakel, another Lewis scholar, in the Kilby Reading Room at the Wade if he knew whether there were a resource like this that brought together the many different historical pieces of information into one centralized place. He said that he didn’t think so, and at that time I decided to go forward with what has become a 435,000-word and 685-page document, all of it based on sixty-plus different books and articles. And it’s growing.

IrrigatingDesertsThe Wade Center has also been quite helpful in other work I have done, including assisting in the reprinting of The Personal Heresy (a little known dialogue between C. S. Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard), the Socratic Digest (a record of the meetings of the Socratic Club between 1942 and 1952), and my own Irrigating Deserts: C. S. Lewis on Education (which received the 2004 Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant from the Marion E. Wade Center). The Wade Center’s resources have also helped me with a new project I’m working on, a book entitled C.S. Lewis, Atheist.

I can’t write about the resources of the Wade Center without writing a few words about the kind, friendly, and professional staff. From Laura Schmidt (my Wade Center MVP and usually my first contact) to Marj Mead to Kendra Juskus to Shawn Mrakovich to Elaine Hooker, each person handles herself and her responsibilities with care and efficiency. That makes it easy for me to plan my next visit in the coming summer.

Dr. Joel Heck serves Concordia University Texas as Professor of Theology. He teaches courses in Old Testament, New Testament, Reformation history, and C.S. Lewis. He is the author or editor of thirteen books, most recently a reprint of the Socratic Digest, and he maintains a C.S. Lewis website at He is currently working on a book to be entitled, C.S. Lewis, Atheist. He and his wife Cheryl have three grown children and live in Austin, Texas.

October Artifact of the Month: G.K.’s Weekly

GKs-WeeklyOur October Artifact of the Month features the newspaper GK’s Weekly, a periodical that G.K. Chesterton edited, contributed to, and even bears his name in the title. Original issues of the paper are rare, but the Wade Center owns a complete run which visitors can access by request in the Wade Center Reading Room, along with a contents listing for every issue. Exploring the paper offers a unique view into the context of British society in the early 20th century, as well as the mind of G.K. Chesterton.

G.K.’s Weekly was a British newspaper headed by G.K. Chesterton from 1925 until his death in 1936. Chesterton was already an experienced journalist and had managed a previous paper called New Witness leading up to the launch of G.K.’s Weekly. The paper contained commentary on political, cultural, and social issues, as well as poems, cartoons, and fiction. The variety of content is difficult to categorize, as difficult indeed as it is to define Chesterton himself. His distinctive style is noticeable throughout. Along with Chesterton and a dedicated small staff of workers for the paper, other contributors included Ronald Knox, J.B. Morton, Walter de la Mare, Patrick Cahill, G.B. Shaw, Maurice Baring, Hilaire Belloc, Eric Gill, and Vincent McNabb.

In a period of severe economic, social, and political upheaval in Britain’s history, Chesterton viewed his work as a writer and a journalist as a way to champion the rights of the common man, and push against the ills which he believed accompanied the rampant urbanization and industrialization prevalent in Britain at the time. The Weekly served as the perfect platform from which to promote these goals. Distributism, the ideology at the heart of G.K.’s Weekly that was shared by Chesterton and others, focuses on private ownership, the value of small businesses, disengagement from usurious financial practices, governance within local communities consisting of families and small business owners (rather than by large government), and distribution of property in the widest possible way.

G.K.'s Weekly: A Sampler. Edited with an Introduction by Lyle W. Dorsett. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1986. Mention this blog post and receive a FREE copy when you visit the Wade during the month of October.Thirty issues of G.K.’s Weekly have been republished in the volume, G.K.’s Weekly: A Sampler (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1986), which is available for sale at the Wade and was edited by Lyle Dorsett, the second Director of the Wade Center. Dorsett writes the following about G.K.’s Weekly in his introduction to the book:

“It is commonly said that there is nothing so out of date as yesterday’s newspaper … [but] for those who know and love the writings of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, this weekly that bears his initials contains some of his scarcest prose, making the reprinting of this weekly paper a service to people who appreciate the late Englishman’s work.”

-Lyle W. Dorsett

As any Chesterton enthusiast can tell you, his writing continues to challenge, delight, and inspire long after the day when G.K.’s Weekly first appeared on the local newsstand.

In celebration of G.K.’s Weekly as our October Artifact of the Month, we are pleased to offer a FREE copy of G.K.’s Weekly: A Sampler to Wade Center visitors who refer to this blog post during the month of October. So be sure to mention this blog post when you visit (sorry, no free copies via mail) and receive your free copy; limit of one per family. Hope to see you soon!

Artifact of the Month: Dr. Clyde Kilby’s Portrait

September "Artifact of the Month" - Portrait of Clyde S. Kilby by Deborah Melvin Beisner, 1987. Oil on canvas with the inscription "Soli Deo Gloria."

September “Artifact of the Month” – Portrait of Clyde S. Kilby by Deborah Melvin Beisner, 1987. Oil on canvas with the inscription “Soli Deo Gloria.”

The September Artifact of the Month is an oil portrait of Wade Center founder Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, painted by Deborah Melvin Beisner in 1987, and given to the Wade by Leanne Payne in 2011. This month’s artifact not only highlights an interesting piece of memorabilia archived at the Wade Center; it also celebrates the legacy of the founder and first director of the Marion E. Wade Center, Dr. Clyde S. Kilby.

Born on September 26, 1902, Dr. Kilby taught English literature at Wheaton College from 1935 until 1981. During that time he was deeply affected by the writings of C.S. Lewis and began a correspondence with him. After Lewis’s death in 1963, Dr. Kilby began to gather together books and papers related not only to C.S. Lewis, but also to six other British authors who were connected to Lewis in terms of literary and spiritual thought. From this modest beginning has grown the internationally recognized research collection now known as the Marion E. Wade Center.

Martha Kilby, Marilee Melvin, and Clyde S. Kilby, Summer 1985.

Martha Kilby, Marilee Melvin, and Clyde S. Kilby, Summer 1985.

Dr. Kilby was a well-loved professor at Wheaton, and many students were shaped and inspired by his teaching and his personal mentorship. He and his wife, Martha, regularly welcomed students into their home for meals and conversation, introducing them to their talking pet parakeet and discussing faith, literature, and the imagination, as well as any issues or questions a given student might have. One such student who benefited from the Kilbys’ friendship was Marilee Melvin, now the executive assistant to Wheaton College President Philip G. Ryken and a Wade Center Board member.

Marilee’s mother remembered Dr. Kilby as one of her favorite professors at Wheaton, and during her own time as a student at Wheaton (from 1968-1972), Marilee took Dr. Kilby’s courses on Romantic literature and “Modern Mythology,” getting to know him better and finding her own life and faith enriched by the literature he loved and taught.

“Students tend to love what their professors and mentors love,” explains Marilee. “But in the case of Dr. Kilby’s vision for the Wade authors . . . he was at the cutting edge of studying these authors, and in turn, introducing others to a body of literature intrinsically important for spiritual formation as well as intellectual stimulation.”

As a senior, Marilee began visiting with the Kilbys at their home, and a friendship developed, only growing stronger after she graduated. During that time, Dr. Kilby continued to send her encouraging letters throughout her studies as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and later when she worked in various areas of the United States government in Washington, DC. Today Marilee remembers Dr. Kilby for some of his most characteristic traits and qualities: “His love of the subject matter, which in turn ignited an interest in and love of the material in his students; his cheerful, even cherubic countenance, and joyful heart, that spilled over in positive encouragement; his love of the particular, the real, which revealed his capacity for wisdom as well as his scholarship; and his stopping, literally and figuratively, to smell the roses.”

Marilee was Wheaton College’s vice president for alumni relations for nearly 18 years, and during her time in that position, she “heard many stories from alumni who, as students in trouble of some kind or another, found in Dr. Kilby’s wise and gracious response and help just what they needed.” “Wise and gracious” also characterized the welcome Dr. Kilby gave to students, visitors, and scholars to the Wade Center during his time as its director, and the words still describe the quality of attention and personal investment given to those who enter the Wade’s doors today.

Clyde and Martha with the Melvins, circa 1976.

Clyde and Martha with the Melvins, circa 1976.

Marilee’s friendship with the Kilbys, and her excitement over Dr. Kilby’s founding of what was originally called “The C.S. Lewis Collection,” helped introduce all eight of her siblings to Lewis’s world of Narnia. Marilee’s younger sister, Deborah Melvin Beisner, grew to know the Kilbys through becoming acquainted with them around her parents’ dining room table as the two families spent time together.

After graduating from Hillsdale College in Michigan, Deborah worked in the Wheaton area. She lived a few blocks from the Kilbys and regularly visited with them. She says, “I was fond of walking over to sit amongst his prized day lily collection, imagining eldil, or sharing a meal with Peter Kilby—the parakeet— sitting on the doctor’s thin hair, or listening to him talk in his upstairs back porch library/study. Oh, the magic!”

A visual artist who studied closely with the portrait painter John Howard Sanden, Deborah desired to paint Dr. Kilby and had a photography session with him seated in his porch library in a familiar housecoat, reading his favorite work by C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.

“When I had chosen the final composition from the photographs taken that day, I stretched a canvas and penciled in the outlines,” she explains. “However, my painting career got interrupted with a little thing called marriage, and the unpainted canvas followed us around until my second child was born in September 1986. My baby daughter received a letter from Dr. Kilby . . . welcoming her to the world—the world he left just days later. Now I really wanted to finish the portrait. Our mutual friend, Leanne Payne, agreed to commission its completion, and my husband took time to watch our children while I painted in our laundry room.”

The completed portrait was graciously donated to the Wade Center by Leanne Payne, the founder and president of Pastoral Care Ministries (now Ministries of Pastoral Care). Today its colors shine brightly from the wall of the Wade’s upstairs seminar room, where Dr. Kilby’s own library and some of his personal memorabilia are displayed—an inviting space where gatherings take place under the kindly smile of Dr. Kilby, and where the “conversation” he began nearly half a century ago continues.

Deborah Melvin Beisner lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, with her scholar/writer husband, E. Calvin Beisner, and is back at the easel now that her kids have grown. She and her husband have seven children and five grandchildren. You can see more of her paintings at

Learn more about the life and legacy of Clyde S. Kilby on the Wade Center’s website.

Upcoming Event: Book Launch of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: Wade Annotated Edition

The cover for C.S. Lewis’s THE PILGRIM'S REGRESS: WADE ANNOTATED EDITION (Eerdmans, 2014)

The cover for C.S. Lewis’s THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS: WADE ANNOTATED EDITION (Eerdmans, 2014)

On Friday, September 19th, at 7:00 in the evening, the Wade Center will welcome Dr. David Downing to its classroom for the book launch of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: Wade Annotated Edition (Eerdmans, 2014). All are welcome to this talk and book signing surrounding this new edition of a C.S. Lewis classic. First published in 1933, the book— modeled after John Bunyan’s classic morality tale, The Pilgrim’s Progress—marked several firsts for Lewis. It was the first book he wrote after his conversion to Christianity, the first book published under his real name, and his first published work of fiction.

The Pilgrim’s Regress can be difficult in places, which has perhaps kept it from becoming as well-known and well-loved as other spiritual classics by Lewis, such as Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. Lewis was aware of some of the points of confusion and obscurity in this work, which is why he personally annotated a copy of the book for a student—Richard Thornton Hewitt—in 1937. That annotated copy was purchased by the Wade in 1987, and it was the starting point for the research Dr. Downing did for this new edition. Among the hundreds of notes in the annotated edition are all of the comments made by Lewis on Hewitt’s copy (unpublished until now) as well as Dr. Downing’s additional clarifications, explanations, and cross-references.

David C. Downing

Dr. David C. Downing

What follows is an interview with Dr. Downing, a Lewis scholar and the R. W. Schlosser Professor of English at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He gave us a peek at what more is in the new edition, how he went about annotating C.S. Lewis, and what he’ll talk about during his evening at the Wade. A reception will follow the lecture, and copies of the Wade annotated edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress will be available for sale and signing by Dr. Downing.

The Wade Center: Please explain a little bit of the story and timeline behind the idea for and manifestation of this annotated edition. When did you begin the project? Did you start your work at the Wade?

David Downing: When my wife and I visited the Wade in the summer of 2012, I told [Associate Director] Marj Mead that I wanted to write an interpretive guide to Regress—translating foreign phrases, identifying allusions, and cross-referencing key characters and themes with Lewis’s other books. When Marj heard my idea, she got a twinkle in her eye and said, almost in a whisper, “There is something you ought to see.” I thought she was going to take me to the wardrobe and show me a trap door that actually leads to Narnia. But instead she handed me an early edition of Regress with several dozen notes in Lewis’s own handwriting—citing Bible verses, identifying the models for various characters, and giving hints about difficult passages. Lewis had apparently taken the time to add these notes for a student of his who must have felt he was missing a lot when he tried to read the story on his own. Marj said that she and Jon Pott at Eerdmans had talked about producing a new annotated edition of Pilgrim’s Regress, placing Lewis’s own notes beside the text and adding other interpretive aids. So I combined Lewis’s handwritten notes with some excellent print and online sources identifying all the book’s quotations and allusions, adding my own explanatory and interpretive remarks. The result is a new version of The Pilgrim’s Regress that I think most readers will find much more understandable—both more insightful and more delightful than earlier editions. (I haven’t had time yet to look for that trap door in the back of the wardrobe!)

WC: Can you explain what constitutes an “annotated edition” in this case? What can readers expect to find in this edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress?

DD: In this edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, there are sidenotes in the margins explaining details that readers might not otherwise understand. There are about 75 notes penned by Lewis himself, plus more than 500 additional notes translating foreign phrases, identifying characters, defining unusual terms, and comparing elements of this story to Lewis’s other books. Readers who want to read the main text straight through can do so without distracting footnotes. But those who have questions can glance over to the margin for some extra help understanding the text.

WC: What resources did you use at and through the Wade Center to complete this project?

DD: The key resource I used in this project was a 1937 edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress owned by one of Lewis’s students, R.T. Hewitt. Lewis’s handwritten notes in Hewitt’s copy of the book helped illuminate several passages whose full meaning has eluded most readers, including Lewis scholars. I also found new insights by consulting a 62-page unpublished autobiography that Lewis wrote in late 1930 or early 1931, after he had become a Theist but before his conversion to Christianity. (This fragment has since been published as “Early Prose Joy” in the 2013 volume of the Wade Center’s journal, VII: An Anglo-American Review, where it was introduced and edited by Andrew Lazo.)

WC: What element of this project did you find particularly surprising or engaging?

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, ca. 1940. Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

DD: First and foremost, I couldn’t help but be astonished yet again by the brilliant and capacious mind of C.S. Lewis. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Regress in two weeks while on holiday in Ireland, apparently without access to his own library or to all the other resources available in Oxford. And yet he quotes from dozens of philosophers and literary figures, ancient and modern, sometimes in the original Greek, Latin, French or Italian, sometimes offering his own translations of passages he knew by heart. I filled an entire bookcase in my study with the resources that Lewis apparently carried around with him all the time in his head.

Secondly, I’ve always wondered why Lewis used such a narrow definition of “Romanticism” in the story, associating it almost exclusively with his experiences of Sweet Desire. I have also been puzzled why Lewis’s satire becomes so caustic in his portrayal of the Modernists and the Counter-Romantics. (Lewis himself apologized for the book’s “uncharitable temper.”) But in reading the books Lewis identified in his handwritten notes, I discovered a similarly narrow definition of Romanticism and a very disdainful tone, which I think evoked a similar note of disdain in Lewis’s allegorical rebuttal.

As for “Early Prose Joy,” I found that it shed new light on the characters called the “brown girls,” Lewis’s symbol for lust. Some readers have worried about racial overtones in passages in The Pilgrim’s Regress concerning the “brown girls.” But I think Lewis’s unfinished memoir offers a much clearer explanation of those chapters and their symbolism.

WC: What are your hopes for the publication of this annotated edition?

DD: Whenever I teach a class on Lewis or speak at an Inklings conference, I find that The Pilgrim’s Regress is the book most often mentioned as the one that Lewis fans have never read—or never finished. Too often readers feel enmired in the narrative or they get discouraged by the foreign phrases and technical philosophical terms. I am hoping that this edition will reveal all the insight and humor hidden in a somewhat difficult text. I would like to see a lot of Lewis fans move this book from the Unread shelf in their Lewis collection to the Favorites shelf.

WC: Can you give us a hint of what the theme of your talk will be here at the Wade?

DD: I plan to give a presentation called “Journey to Joy.” This will review the main storyline of The Pilgrim’s Regress, identifying the real-world models for several key characters, explaining some of the difficult passages, and showing all the parallels with Lewis’s later and better-known books, especially Surprised by Joy and the Chronicles of Narnia.

We are grateful to Dr. Downing for this interview and look forward to seeing many of you at the Wade Center at 7:00pm on Friday, September 19th for the book launch of The Pilgrim’s Regress! This event is free and open to the public. Questions? Contact the Wade at 630-517-8440 or

Flyer for the book launch. Please post and share with others.

Flyer for the book launch. Please post and share with others.

August Artifact of the Month: Translations Collection

Hello_World_In_Several_Languages_3It is obvious to all of us at the Wade Center that our seven authors have garnered great interest throughout the world today. On a daily basis, we enjoy welcoming visitors and answering emails from many countries, but nowhere is this international interest more clearly illustrated than in the Wade Center’s book translation collection; our feature for the August “Artifact of the Month.”

Due to generous donations over the years from scholars, visitors, Wheaton College alumni, and international publishing houses, the Wade Center now has close to 900 volumes in its translation collection. These books include titles by and about the Wade authors that have been translated from English to other languages, and secondary sources originally written in a non-English language. The number of titles available varies greatly depending upon the language, but new ones appear frequently as translators and publishing houses around the world are hard at work introducing additional titles by the Wade authors to their own cultures and languages. Over the summer, for example, some new Romanian translations of works by C.S. Lewis were donated by a Romanian scholar. The Wade Center is also pleased to have a visiting Fulbright scholar from Russia here for six months who will be writing the first Russian biography of George MacDonald.

The number of translations also depends on the popularity of a book. For example, The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, one of his most popular works, has received quite a lot of attention and has been translated into at least 47 different languages. The Wade has roughly between 25-50% of these Narnia translations, varying by each of the seven titles.

The Wade’s translation collection has a diverse amount of languages represented, even if only by one book. The languages at the Wade include: Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech,  Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, French, Gaelic, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukranian, and Welsh.

Who uses the translation collection? International visitors delight in discovering Wade authors’ work in their native languages on the Reading Room shelves, and researchers from overseas often appreciate the ease of reading works in their own language during their studies here. The occasional Wheaton College student may also drop in to read a translation for extra credit in a foreign language class. Many visitors enjoy just paging through the books to see the beauty of the different languages on the printed page, even if they cannot read the languages themselves. Come see them for yourself!

If you have a translation of some work by our authors you would like to donate, such as the Irish Gaelic translation of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, let us know! We would be grateful for your help in building this resource.

Featured below are a handful of cover images from the translation collection. Enjoy!


Spanish edition of THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN by G.K. Chesterton. Barcelona: Ediciones G.P., 1974. Translated by Alfonso Reyes.


Russian edition of LILITH by George MacDonald. Nizhny Novgorod: Agape, 2007. Translated by O. Lukmanova.


Japanese edition of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc. by arrangement with Geoffrey Bles, 1966.


French edition of GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers. Villeneuve d’Ascq cedex: Septemtrion, 2012. Translated by Daniel Verheyde with an introduction by Suzanne Bray.


Croatian edition of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING by J.R.R. Tolkien. Zabreb, Croatia: Algoritam, 1995.

My Career Started with Tolkien: Reflections of a Former Wade Student by guest writer Abigail Nye


Abigail Nye, Wade Center student worker from 2004 to 2008.

Strange though it may sound, I owe my job to J.R.R. Tolkien. I picked up The Hobbit as a seven-year old and was swiftly drawn into Tolkien’s legendarium. I read my father’s paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings to pieces (I don’t think he’s quite forgiven me yet) and moved on to devour The Silmarillion. Unbeknownst to me, my love for Tolkien would lead me to the Marion E. Wade Center.

When I walked into the Wade Center as a prospective Wheaton student, I knew only that it contained more Tolkien and Lewis books than I had ever read. Standing in awe before Tolkien’s desk and the intricately carved Lewis Family wardrobe, I was convinced that I had stumbled upon a magical place. Not until I worked there as a Wheaton student did I realize that the resources on display in the Wade Center Museum and Reading Room were just the tip of the iceberg. From dissertations to fanzines, manuscripts to oral histories, first editions to unpublished letters, where else can you find such a wealth of resources from such an influential group of British authors?

During my four years working there, I transcribed selections from Lewis’s letters and oral histories on Sayers. I learned how to describe archival collections as I updated the Wade Center history records. When supervising the Reading Room on the weekends, I attempted to explain the vast array of collections to visitors, but even four years isn’t enough time to become an expert on everything the Wade Center holds.

I was drawn to the Wade Center because of my love for J.R.R. Tolkien, but my attention was soon captured by the ways in which the Wade Center and its staff present their resources to the world. Too often archives are thought to have—to borrow an image from Tolkien—Smaug-like archivists jealously guarding dusty collection hoards. Thankfully, the staff at the Wade Center are not dragon-like; on the contrary, they approach their work with the cheerful goodwill of hobbits—eager to share their treasure with all who come.

I learned that significant effort goes into preparing documents before a researcher ever arrives. The Wade Center is loved by scholars not just because of the fine collections, but because the archivists and student workers have invested many hours into preserving the original documents, organizing them, and describing the contents of collections. The work can sometimes be a daunting task, but that labor is rewarded when researchers make crucial discoveries because the preparation was done well.

Researchers in the Wade Center Reading Room.

Researchers in the Wade Center Reading Room.

When I first visited, I was daunted by the usage policies for Reading Room users, though I soon learned the purpose behind them. When, for example, researchers are asked to leave their food and drink outside the Reading Room, the reason for the request is to preserve materials and promote access for future generations of visitors. If a latté is spilled on an original Chesterton manuscript, that manuscript can’t be replaced; everyone loses the chance to see and enjoy it.

The beauty of the Wade Center is that it is accessible to everyone. Now, as an archivist myself, I know that in some countries, only serious researchers are allowed to use archives and often they are required to present a letter of introduction from an academic sponsor. Not so at the Wade Center; it is freely open to the public and offers something for everyone: young or old, casual fan or dedicated scholar.

What started in me as youthful enthusiasm for the beauty of fantasy turned into a passion for preserving history, for providing access to the unique voices captured in archival records, for promoting critical thinking through the study of primary sources. My experience at the Wade Center led me to the conclusion that I, too, needed to become an archivist. I now work at a university archives, teaching students to think critically as they explore the raw materials of history. In many ways, I owe my work to the Wade Center for sparking that passion, and to Tolkien for leading me to the Wade in the first place.

About the author: Abigail Nye is the Reference and Instruction Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She holds a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Wheaton College and an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She worked at the Wade Center as a student worker from 2004 to 2008.

July Artifact of the Month: George MacDonald’s Personal Book-Plate

MacDonald's Book-plate

The MacDonald book-plate, which includes the family motto: “Corage! God mend al!” (an anagram of ‘George MacDonald’).

George MacDonald was a tremendous lover of books, and if you are reading this blog you might belong to a similar camp. Like many book lovers, MacDonald appreciated not only the content of printed volumes but also the physicality of their bindings. This quote from his novel Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood seems to voice his own appreciation spoken through one of his characters:

“I am foolishly fond of the bodies of books as distinguished from their souls, or thought-element. I do not say I love their bodies as DIVIDED from their souls; I do not say I should let a book stand upon my shelves for which I felt no respect, except indeed it happened to be useful to me in some inferior way. But I delight in seeing books about me … Nay, more: I confess that if they are nicely bound, so as to glow and shine in such a fire-light as that by which I was then sitting, I like them ever so much the better.” (Chapter 11 – “Sermon on God and Mammon”)

That admiration for their physicality later developed into a passion for book-binding as MacDonald’s son, Ronald, describes in his book From a Northern Window: A Personal Reminiscence of George MacDonald by His Son (Eureka, CA: Sunrise Books, 1989):

“George MacDonald was a man beyond the ordinary deft with his fingers, and fond of practicing the arts they were master of. A good practical carpenter, a workman-like stitcher of leather, with some practical experience, I fancy, in boyhood, of smith’s, or at least farrier’s work, his chief pleasure in this kind during his later years was book-binding; its final phase with him being delicate and loving work in the repair of old books. In one of his later novels, There and Back, there is much space given to this gentle art of book-healing, as he calls it; letting us into the secret of the author’s love and reverence for the bodies of his books, and its source in a deeper love of their spirit.” (46-47)

MacDonald took this love of books a step further by designing his own personal book-plate (shown above), as seen in a few examples of his library books at the Wade Center, and here as our July “Artifact of the Month.”

“Book-plates” are labels of ownership which are placed typically on the inside cover of a book. They may simply contain the owner’s name, or may be very elaborate works of art varying in size and detail. MacDonald’s design includes the family motto: “Corage! God mend al!” (an anagram of “George MacDonald”). The saying inspired the naming of the MacDonald house in Boscombe, England: “Corage,” and the house in Bordighera, Italy: “Casa Coraggio.”

Death's Door - William Blake

The etching “Death’s Door” by William Blake, designed to accompany the poem “The Grave” by Robert Blair. Collection of Robert N. Essick. Copyright © 2014 William Blake Archive. Used with permission.

For the book-plate’s imagery, Greville MacDonald, another of the MacDonald children, describes its inspiration in his biography of his father, George MacDonald and His Wife (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1924):

“For as long as I can remember there hung in my father’s study four of Blake’s illustrations to Blair’s [poem] ‘Grave’ . . . [the fourth one is of] the old man driven – the North Wind blowing where it listeth – into his tomb, to find himself reborn into the fullness of youth, with head uplifted to the risen sun.” (554)

Blake’s etching is titled “Death’s Door,” shown here, by kind permission of the Blake Archive. Several other variations of this etching exist as well. Redemption and rebirth were common themes in MacDonald’s writings, and serve as a fitting identifying image to be placed in books which no doubt helped their owner experience those very subjects.

A book containing MacDonald’s bookplate is currently on display in the Wade Center’s Museum. Drop by to see it in person!


Want to know more about MacDonald’s love of books? Here are some additional materials:

Boice, Daniel. “A kind of Sacrament: Books and Libraries in the Fiction of George MacDonald. ” Studies in Scottish Literature. Vol. 27: Issue 1. 1992: 72-79.

The Portent by George MacDonald, quote from ch. VII “The Library” -

“Now I was in my element. I never had been by any means a book-worm; but the very outside of a book had a charm to me. It was a kind of sacrament—an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; as, indeed, what on God’s earth is not? So I set to work amongst the books, and soon became familiar with many titles at least, which had been perfectly unknown to me before. I found a perfect set of our poets-perfect according to the notion of the editor and the issue of the publisher, although it omitted both Chaucer and George Herbert. I began to nibble at that portion of the collection which belonged to the sixteenth century; but with little success. I found nothing, to my idea, but love poems without any love in them, and so I soon became weary. But I found in the library what I liked far better—many romances of a very marvellous sort, and plentiful interruption they gave to the formation of the catalogue. I likewise came upon a whole nest of the German classics which seemed to have kept their places undisturbed, in virtue of their unintelligibility. There must have been some well-read scholar in the family, and that not long before, to judge by the near approach of the line of this literature; happening to be a tolerable reader of German, I found in these volumes a mine of wealth inexhaustible.”

There and Back by George MacDonald, quote from ch. IV “The Bookbinder and His Pupil” -

“Richard, with his great love of reading, and therefore of books, was delighted to learn the craft which is their attendant and servitor. … It had its prime source deeper than the art of book-binding—in the love of books themselves, not as leaves to be bound, but as utterances to be heard. … Love and power combined made him look on the dilapidated, slow-wasting abodes of human thought and delight with a healing compassion—almost with a passion of healing. The worse gnawed of the tooth of insect-time, the farther down any choice book in the steep decline of years, the more intent was Richard on having it. More and more skillful he grew, not only in rebinding such whose clothing was past repair, but in restoring the tone of their very constitution; and in so mending the ancient and beggarly garments of others that they reassumed a venerable respectability.”