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 From dissertations to fanzines, manuscripts to oral histories, first editions to unpublished letters, where else can you find such a wealth of resources from such an influential group of British authors?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.”

Remembering Christopher Mitchell


Chris Mitchell, former Director of the Marion E. Wade Center, 1994-2013

It is with great sadness that we announce the unexpected death of Christopher W. Mitchell, Director of the Marion E. Wade Center from 1994-2013. In addition to serving as Director, Chris held the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois from 2006 to 2013.  Many of those who have visited or researched at the Wade Center over the years will recall Chris’s warm welcome and affable manner in discussing any subject, from woodworking to the nexus of faith and imagination. His love for God, family and friends, great literature, and good food was palpable, and his enjoyment of life’s good gifts was infectious.

Wheaton College President Philip G. Ryken reflected that “Chris Mitchell has been a good friend and a constant encouragement. We became better acquainted through some of his visits to Oxford when I was a student there. I know that over the years Chris prayed for God to bless me in life and ministry. He has advanced the kingdom mission of Wheaton College and helped the wider church by serving as a champion for C.S. Lewis and the other Wade authors. We will all miss his teaching and scholarship. But the loss also has a personal dimension: until I see Chris again, I will miss our good conversations.”

Although Chris had retired from the Wade Center in 2013, he remained closely connected to the staff here and engaged with the ongoing scholarship of our authors. He will be dearly missed and lovingly remembered by each one of us and by the many students, colleagues, and friends his lively and gentle spirit touched during his 62 years of life, and most of all by his wife, Julie, and their four children and four grandchildren.


Chris, November 1, 2013

“Dr. Chris Mitchell served ably as Director of the Wade Center,” noted former Wade Director and fellow Lewis scholar, Lyle W. Dorsett. “A theologian by training and a pastor-teacher by calling, Chris blessed everyone associated with the Wade Center as well as those in the fellowship of scholars and readers who love the works of C.S. Lewis. Dr. Mitchell is fondly remembered and will be sorely missed.”

During Chris’s time at Wheaton, he taught courses in theology, and served as Book Review Editor for Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. His publications included numerous articles on the Wade Center authors.  He was currently in the midst of work on a critical edition of C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.

Prior to coming to Wheaton College, Chris served as a missionary and pastor. He received his M.A. from Wheaton College, and a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, where his concentration was Historical Theology.  After his retirement from the Wade Center in June 2013, Chris joined the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University as Professor of Theology.

A memorial service for Chris will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 18 at Wheaton Bible Church, 27w500 North Avenue, West Chicago, Illinois. The visitation will be from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Another memorial service is scheduled for Grace E.V. Free Church, 12717 S. Santa Gertrudes Ave., La Mirada, California, on Sunday, July 20 at 5:30 p.m. Visitation is 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.” – C.S. Lewis 

Tributes page for Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell Photo Gallery

“The Gospel as Fairy-Story: The Literary Art of J.R.R. Tolkien” lecture by Chris Mitchell (audio download)

Need Summer Reading Ideas?

Reading in the Wade’s English garden.

Visitors to the Wade Center often ask: “Where do I start if I want to read books by the Wade authors?” This post will hopefully help in beginning to answer that question, and also give you some ideas to add to your summer reading list. Our seven authors wrote in a variety of genres, but the focus of this list will be on works of fiction. If you want to see lists of other books our authors wrote, the names below link to bibliographies available via the Wade’s website, so check those out too.



Owen Barfield: The Silver Trumpet

A fairy tale for children enjoyed by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Tolkien’s own children. Lewis recounts in a letter to Barfield dated June 28, 1936 that the Tolkien children liked the story so much they were reluctant to return the book to Mr. Lewis, who had lent it to them. The story rests on the fate of the Silver Trumpet, the symbol of hope and the vibrancy of life for a kingdom and its inhabitants.


Father Brown: The Essential Tales by G.K. Chesterton


G.K. Chesterton: The Father Brown Stories

Chesterton’s detection short stories featuring sleuth (and Catholic priest) Father Brown are hailed as classics in detective fiction, and have been adapted into several television productions over the years. They appeared in five original volumes, the first of which is The Innocence of Father Brown, and are available today in various editions. Father Brown: The Essential Tales is a good overview volume to start with to get a taste of the tales. If you are a reader of mystery stories (or even if you are not!), you need to meet Father Brown.


Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis


C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces

Did you know Lewis wrote other works of fiction besides The Chronicles of Narnia? Lewis considered this novel one of his finest books, and wrote it in collaboration with his wife, Joy Davidman. It is a dramatic re-telling of the Greek myth “Cupid and Psyche,” and explores the nature of love in human relationships. If you are looking for a thought-provoking and rewarding read, this is your book.


The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald


George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin

George MacDonald wrote many fairy tales for children, and this is one of his most well-known and loved. This novel-length tale features Princess Irene, Curdie the miner’s son, and their fight to protect the kingdom from some wicked goblins. The book was a particular favorite of G.K. Chesterton and stands as a classic in the fairy tale tradition.


Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night

Sayers is one of two Wade authors who wrote detective fiction (the other being G.K. Chesterton), and she also made a name for herself in the craft with twelve detection novels featuring her aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. In Gaudy Night (book 11 of the Wimsey books, and book 3 of the 4 books featuring Harriet Vane), Harriet returns to her Oxford college to help solve a series of unfortunate events. This book has love, crime, and academia all in one volume.

Want more detective fiction resources? Audio recordings from an earlier detection book group at the Wade Center are available on our website.


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Tolkien’s classic tale for children and adults alike, and a wonderful introduction to his world of Middle-earth. The prelude to The Lord of the Rings in which Bilbo the hobbit, a band of dwarves, and Gandalf the wizard set off to recapture stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. Even if you have read this book before, why not get a refresher read in before the third and final Hobbit film comes out in December 2014?


The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams

THE PLACE OF THE LION by Charles Williams

Charles Williams: The Place of the Lion

One of Williams’s seven novels described as “supernatural thrillers” by T.S. Eliot. In this story archetypes are embodied as gigantic animals roaming the earth, such as the Lion of Strength and the Butterfly of Beauty. Their interactions in the world cause havoc, but also produce engaging insights into the hearts of the humans they encounter. This book was highly admired by C.S. Lewis when he first read it in February 1936, and helped start the friendship between Lewis and Williams.

Remember, these books (and all the others the Wade authors wrote) are available for reading at the Wade Center in the beautiful surroundings of the Kilby Reading Room. Is there a particular edition you are looking for? There is a good chance we have it. Let us know, and we will be happy to pull it for you. Stop by and visit us this summer, either in person or via our online resources.

Happy reading!

June Artifact of the Month: From the Library of Dorothy L. Sayers

Dear readers – welcome to the first post on the blog of The Marion E. Wade Center. We hope to use this site to share more information with you about who we are, what we do, and also offer some in-depth looks at our collections. This month will start a series of posts we are simply calling our “artifact of the month,” when we choose one item per month to feature from the Wade’s vast holding of materials.


Nicoll, Allardyce. STUART MASQUES AND THE RENAISSANCE STAGE. London: George G. Harrap & Company Ltd., 1937

The June artifact of the month is the book Stuart Masques and the Renaissance Stage, which is from the personal library of Dorothy L. Sayers. The Wade Center owns books from the personal libraries of all seven of our authors, and Sayers has one of the larger collections with around 219 volumes. C.S. Lewis’s library takes the prize, however, with 2,491 volumes.

This book has a very interesting history; it was personally signed as a birthday present (given June 13, 1938) to Sayers from the cast members in her religious drama Zeal of Thy House, written for the Festival of the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in 1937. The invitation for Sayers to write the play came in 1936 from Margaret Babington, the Canterbury Festival organizer, at the suggestion of Charles Williams, who was already an admirer of Sayers’s work. The subject of the drama focuses on the story of William of Sens, the architect appointed to rebuild the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral in the 12th century. The play’s first performance was on June 12, 1937 in the Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral, and went on to have other performances in the late 1930s. The actors who signed this book were from the Westminster, Garrick and Duke of York’s theaters on the Zeal tour. Zeal was published in 1937 by H.J. Goulden in a slightly shortened acting edition, and then in a full trade edition by Victor Gollancz that same year.

Stuart Masques and the Renaissance Stage arrived at the Wade Center with other related materials from a Sotheby’s 2000 auction in London. More information about Sayers’s play can be found in the Wade’s Zeal of Thy House archive. There is also a current museum display at the Wade Center about the Canterbury Festival Plays, so drop by and see it in person.

June 13, 2014 marks the 121st birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers, and the 100th birthday of her friend and colleague, Barbara Reynolds, recipient of the Wade Center’s 1st Kilby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Dr. Reynolds will be celebrating her birthday with members of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society (of which she is President) in England, and the Wade Center sends our very best wishes to her.

More images from the June artifact of the month:

Signatures page

Front pages of signatures from the cast of ZEAL OF THY HOUSE, along with a quote from the play: “Such a craftsman! So kind a master!”

Title page



Illustrations in the book.

All images are owned by the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.