The Wade Center owns over 2,400 volumes from the personal library of C.S. Lewis. Most of the books were acquired from Wroxton College in 1986, and others have been added from time to time from other donors or purchases. The books offer a unique look into the reading habits, imagination, and mind of Lewis himself, and many of them contain his handwritten notes and markings. Such annotations are a big research draw for Lewis scholars who are able to discern significant aspects of Lewis’s response to his reading; a valuable step beyond simply knowing which titles were on his shelf. Besides the markings, however, are the books themselves as physical artifacts. Observing the different bindings, seeing which ones are worn or barely touched, adds to the stories the volumes tell. In some cases Lewis mentions specific books in his writings, and it is always a thrill for Wade patrons to then hold that same referenced book in their hands.
One such example is Lewis’s copy of Phantastes written by another of the Wade’s authors, George MacDonald. Phantastes is a fantasy novel for adults which follows a young man, Anodos, on his journey of self discovery. In his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology – 365 Readings, Lewis openly states the great influence of MacDonald’s works in his life: “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” His introduction to MacDonald’s works began in 1916 when he picked up Phantastes at a train station bookstall while studying under the private tutelage of W.T. Kirkpatrick prior to his entrance to Oxford University. Lewis recalls the experience in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:
“I and one porter had the long, timbered platform of Leatherhead station to ourselves. It was getting just dark enough for the smoke of an engine to glow red on the underside with the reflection of the furnace. The hills beyond the Dorking Valley were of a blue so intense as to be nearly violet and the sky was green with frost. My ears tingled with the cold. The glorious week end of reading was before me. Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman [edition] in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names, Saxon and sweet as a nut—‘Bookham, Effingham, Horsley train.’ That evening I began to read my new book.” — C.S. Lewis, chapter XI “Check,” Surprised by Joy
Lewis adds this further note in his MacDonald anthology preface: “I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions – the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.”
Throughout Surprised by Joy, Lewis recounts moments during his childhood and young adult years where he has encounters with what he calls “joy” or the German term “sehnsucht,” which includes a quality of longing or desire. Peter Schakel in his book Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis offers the following as a way to better understand Lewis’s concept of joy:
“It is an experience of intense, even painful, but desired, longing, which, after [Lewis’s] conversion, he came to believe was a desire for unity with the divine (though intermediate objects are mistaken for the ultimate object). … [Joy] is imaginative in that it is often set in motion by literature or music, which are the products of the imagination; it involves being transported beyond the physical and emotional to a rapturous state that could take place only in the imagination at an inspired level.” (p. 8) — Schakel, Peter J. Imagination And The Arts In C. S. Lewis: Journeying To Narnia And Other Worlds. Columbia: University Of Missouri Press, 2002.
When he first read Phantastes, Lewis experienced joy or longing as had happened to him often before, but this time he noticed a difference in the quality of the encounter. He goes on to describe it in Surprised by Joy:
“I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos [the main character in Phantastes]. I do now. It was Holiness. … Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert … Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow. … That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.” — C.S. Lewis, chapter XI “Check,” Surprised by Joy
Although Lewis’s conversion to Christianity would not come until many years later, he cites this episode as a major step along the way, and his future reading of MacDonald’s works continued to delight and inspire him.
The following photos are from the interior of the Phantastes volume described above. Visitors to the Wade Center are welcome to request this, and the other volumes from Lewis’s library, for on-site viewing and personal study.