In this post, Russian Fulbright scholar Olga Lukmanova shares about her recent work at the Wade Center over the past six months, how her involvement with the Wade began, and her future projects as she heads back to Russia. Olga is the first Fulbright Scholar at Wheaton College, and her main research focus is writing the first Russian language biography of George MacDonald. She was in Wheaton from September 2014 to February 2015, presented lectures on George MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien, in addition to other speaking engagements on campus during her time here. We are very grateful to Olga for sharing her time and talents with us, and wish her the best on her continued work and research.
My first proper introduction to the Marion E. Wade Center and its collection took place four years ago, in 2010 – although I actually remember hearing about the C.S. Lewis collection and seeing the famous wardrobe while it was still in Buswell Library, when I briefly visited Wheaton in 1993. In 2010 I was in the middle of working on my Ph.D. dissertation on George MacDonald’s fairy tales, and a good friend recommended me for participation in Wheaton’s European Summer Study Program, telling me about the Wade Center and its George MacDonald resources. The six weeks in Wheaton and at the Wade during the summer of 2010 became a haven of uninterrupted reading and writing as well as a chance to meet and get to know some very knowledgeable people, including Dr. Rolland Hein, Marjorie Mead, and Laura Schmidt, who pointed me to the right resources and provided much guidance and advice both during the summer and in the years since.
My dissertation was successfully defended in 2012, but my work on George MacDonald continued, and my publisher and I soon realized that, along with writing scholarly articles and translating his books, it would be helpful to produce a biography of MacDonald biography for his readers in Russia – especially given his remarkable life and the importance of understanding his theology and its practical outworking for a deeper appreciation of his books. So when I had a chance to apply for a Fulbright grant for visiting scholars, I proposed writing a Russian biography of MacDonald, and Wheaton College and the Wade Center graciously agreed to host me as a Fulbright scholar. The first question the Fulbright selecting committee asked me during the interview was, “Why do you need to go to America to study a Scot?” My explanation must have been sufficiently convincing, because I was given a grant to spend six months in Wheaton, researching and writing the book.
Well, my six months are almost up: I am returning to Russia on March 1st and back to my university classroom on March 3rd. I am bringing home 360 raw-ish pages of the biography, two large boxes of books (and dozens more on my e-reader), numerous scans of letters, articles, and individual book pages that were simply too many and too rich to process during my stay here, and new ideas as to what and how it should be put into the book as I continue going through biographical materials, family letters, and MacDonald’s texts. During my time in Wheaton I also managed to complete the book and lyrics for the musical ‘The Light Princess,’ based on MacDonald’s fairy tale, so I am looking forward to rehearsals and its final production in July 2015. In addition, I am planning to develop and launch a comprehensive Russian-language website on MacDonald’s life and work, which will feature excerpts from the biography, scholarly and popular articles, family letters and photos, Russian translations of his books (and links to where one can buy them) and many other materials.
I am deeply grateful to the Wade Center staff for their warm welcome, assistance and friendship as well as the chance to share some of what I have been working on with others through the lectures I was able to give here. It was great fun doing research on the history and reception of Tolkien’s books in Russia and sharing my findings and conclusions with the Tolkien Society. All in all, this time at the Wade has been another reminder of just how life-giving and relevant, how brilliant and funny, how deep and compelling these seven authors are and how much they have to teach us (I remember the quiet thrill of looking at C.S. Lewis’ pencil marks in his personal copy of MacDonald’s sermons and feeling quite ridiculously proud of them both). It has also been good to be away from an intense teaching workload and to have the quiet and unhurried time and space to read, think, write, and meet with new and old friends, discussing everything under the sun, from church liturgy to Russian films, to MacDonald’s attitude to animals and theater. I am leaving feeling refreshed, comforted – and most of all, challenged to have faith and trust even when “in the feebleness of foiled effort, it wants yet more faith to rise and partake of the food that shall bring back more effort, more travail, more weariness” (George MacDonald).