November 26, 2014

A Visit to Tolkien's Desk

Earlier this month my family had to take a trip up to Chicago for one of my brother's hockey tournaments.  While not at the ice rink we tried to find some interesting things to do around town and beforehand I had heard about this Wade Center at Wheaton College that had Tolkien's desk...

     Following C.S. Lewis's death in 1963, an English professor at Wheaton College by the name of Dr. Kilby wanted to honor the author's life and legacy with a collection of his works and personal belongings.  Before long the collection grew to include items owned and/or written by other authors that were influences on Lewis.  Such a collection wouldn't be complete without some reference to one of Lewis's best friends and the man that brought him to Christ, J.R.R. Tolkien.

     Besides collecting many of Tolkien's works and even several of his letters, the Marion E. Wade Center (the new name for the collection/museum) was able to purchase his very own desk-the same desk on which he completely produced The Hobbit and drafted portions of The Lord of the Rings and "The Silmarillion."

All images gathered from sources on the internet
     They have it housed in a small room along with other memorabilia (more on that later) unguarded by any kind of rope, tape, or signs.  The only kind of physical protection is a glass cover on top.  It's a very intimate setting and you can almost feel as if you're really standing in Tolkien's study, ready to hear a new chapter from one of Bilbo's adventures.  As I stood there beside this humble piece of furniture I started going over in my mind all the different stories, original drafts, and notes he made while crafting his mythology.  I was am in the middle of Dr. Rateliff's, The History of The Hobbit and all those images of Tolkien's writing process came back into view as I looked at this desk.  I thought of all the long nights, days, and breaks from teaching he spent toiling over the fine details of the mythology.  Then my mind turned to his academic career.  How many lectures had he written on that desk?  How many papers had he graded?  Just the realization that his most famous works were forged on this desk before my eyes was overwhelming.

     Along with Tolkien's desk, the museum also displays one of his letters and a pen given to him by Humphrey Carpenter (the author of the "official" biography).  Seeing that brought back all those recent thoughts and feelings I experienced while standing by his desk.  What letters or parts of the Silmarillion did Tolkien write with that pen?

     Besides the mentioned Tolkien objects, the museum also hosts several of Lewis's belongings including his very own wardrobe that he played in as a child and his desk.  Having known Narnia much longer than Middle-earth, this was also extremely exciting for me.  Beside the wardrobe on the wall hangs the original map of Narnia drawn by Pauline Baynes, an artist who is also famous for illustrating several of Tolkien's works (e.g. Farmer Giles of Ham and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil).

After taking a final peek at Tolkien's desk and the other items on display it was time to leave.  Instead of stepping through a wardrobe into a snowy wood we had to step back into the bitterly cold, smelly ice rink.

It was an enjoyable visit and if you are a Tolkien or Lewis fan and happen to be in the western side of Chicago I highly recommend you go.  You can find more information about the Marion E. Wade Center at their website here:

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