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).
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 My focus has been especially in the unpublished materials, specifically the diaries of Warren Lewis (the brother of C.S. Lewis), the diaries and letters of Arthur Greeves (C.S. Lewis’s lifelong friend), the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.
The 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 www.joelheck.com. 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.