You’ve seen ‘The Rings of Power,’ but have you heard of this tiny museum housing J.R.R. Tolkien’s treasures?

You’ve seen ‘The Rings of Power,’ but have you heard of this tiny museum housing J.R.R. Tolkien’s treasures?

Wheaton College has an open library commemorating Tolkien and the “Lord of the Rings” universe, formally known as the Marion E. Wade Center, at the college in Wheaton, Illinois. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

WHEATON, Illinois (RNS) — It started with an inkling.

It was the 1950s. Clyde S. Kilby, then an English professor at Wheaton College, had a feeling about a British author he’d been reading named C.S. Lewis — that he was “probably going to be famous one day,” according to Crystal Downing, co-director of Wheaton’s Marion E. Wade Center.

So Kilby wrote to Lewis and started collecting books and letters written by the author. He met some of Lewis’ friends and family.

Years later, he was traveling to England to work with Lewis’ Oxford University colleague J.R.R. Tolkien on “The Silmarillion,” a collection of stories that fill in the background of Tolkien’s beloved “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Decades later, the professor’s collection of letters and books has grown to become the Marion E. Wade Center, one of the foremost research centers not only on Lewis, but also Tolkien and five other British Christian authors who had influenced Lewis’ work.

Now the Wade Center is preparing for an influx of archival materials and interest as Tolkien and his fantasy world of Middle-earth have once again grabbed the spotlight.


RELATED: Tolkien fans hope to turn his house into a ‘Rivendell’ for writers and filmmakers


After years of speculation, the first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” — the multimillion dollar prequel series produced by Amazon Studios and inspired by the appendices to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” novels, debuted Thursday night (Sept. 1) on Prime Video, Amazon’s streaming service.

“Tolkien probably would never have gotten published if it weren’t for Lewis,’” Downing said.

“And, of course, Lewis wouldn’t be famous if it weren’t for Tolkien because Tolkien is the one who convinced him he could be a Christian.”

The Wade Center can feel like the evangelical Christian college’s best-kept secret, housed in a cozy building that looks like a stone English cottage nestled into Wheaton’s suburban Chicago campus.

Laura Schmidt, archivist and Tolkien specialist at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

Laura Schmidt, archivist and Tolkien specialist at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

But Laura Schmidt, archivist and Tolkien specialist at the center, said, “Tolkien knew about Wheaton College. He knew about the Wade Center.”

Pre-pandemic, the Wade Center welcomed about 10,000 people a year, ranging from elementary students from Chicago-area school districts to scholars from around the world.

Its archive includes books belonging to authors Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams (including more than 2,400 from Lewis’ personal library alone). It also includes original manuscripts of their work, letters they wrote and oral history recordings of people who knew them.

Among its treasures are rare, autographed first editions of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit,” all featuring cover artwork designed by the author himself.

Marion E Wade Center, home to the Tolkien Library, is housed on the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

Marion E Wade Center, home to the Tolkien Library, is housed on the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

An exhibit in the museum shows how those covers have changed over time, from Tolkien’s artful eye of Sauron circled by Elvish script to a 1980s paperback featuring an Olan Mills-style portrait of the dwarf Gimli and elf Legolas with flowing, romance-novel hair.

Another exhibit atop the dining room table from Lewis’ house displays merchandise that accompanied the popular “Lord of the Rings” films released in the early 2000’s and more recent films based on “The Hobbit.” There is a Lego scene of The Shire; a letter opener made to look like Bilbo Baggins’ Elven sword, Sting; even a board game.

The museum also features the small, nearly hobbit-sized desk at which Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” and much of “Lord of the Rings,” as well as the dip pen he used to write, slightly melted on the end he used to tamp his pipe tobacco. Its most popular attraction, though, is the wardrobe carved by Lewis’ grandfather that inspired his beloved children’s story “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Yes, there are fur coats inside.

On Tuesday, scholars from Ireland and Australia perused texts in the reading room, home to at least one copy of every book published by the seven Wade authors, as well as nearly everything ever published about them.

Meanwhile, across campus, members of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society shared their plans for watching “The Rings of Power” while manning a table at Wheaton’s club and ministry fair. The series had yet to premiere, and members were feeling both excited and apprehensive.

Elizabeth Church, president of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society, was one of several students helping to run a booth about the club at the school's Ministry and Club Fair. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

Elizabeth Church, president of the Wheaton College Tolkien Society, was one of several students helping to run a booth about the club at the school’s Club and Ministry Fair. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Tolkien Society President Elizabeth Church said that what drew her to Tolkien’s stories was the “found family aspect.” In the “Lord of the Rings” series, the Fellowship of the Ring brings together hobbits, elves, dwarves, humans and others for a single purpose: to destroy the one ring and defeat evil.

Church has found a similar family in Wheaton’s Tolkien Society, she said.

“We’re very much like the fellowship in the books in that we are a ragtag bunch of people who come together for one goal, which is to be a fellowship,” the senior said.

The first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” set up an epic battle between good and evil. In one of its opening scenes, a young Galadriel, who will become the elven Lady of Lórien in “Lord of the Rings,” questions how to recognize the light when evil masquerades as good.

The answer comes near the end of the episode: “Sometimes we cannot know until we have touched the darkness.”

Light and dark, good and evil are themes found throughout Tolkien’s work, Schmidt said before watching the new series.

And Schmidt, who advises the Tolkien Society, expects the series to get dark.

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College includes a wide variety of memorabilia including cards, miniature swords and other decorations symbolic of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. RNS Photo by Emily Miller

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College includes a wide variety of memorabilia including cards, miniature swords and other decorations symbolic of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” series. RNS Photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

It’s drawn from writings set before the events of “Lord of the Rings,” when the evil sorcerer Sauron is handing out what Schmidt jokingly called “friendship rings” to men, dwarves and elves that he’ll later use to control Middle-earth. It’s a long time before the conclusion of “The Return of the King,” the final book in Tolkien’s series, when good ultimately triumphs over evil.

Those themes are also part of the reason why the author’s work not only endures nearly 70 years after it first was published, but also has inspired what has been called the most expensive TV show ever made.

“I think that’s going to really resonate with people in this time and era now, because there’s a lot of darkness that we’re trying to figure out. That’s why these books are pertinent to our time, and it’s going to, hopefully, inspire hope in people’s hearts that the fight is worth fighting,” Schmidt said.

“Maybe we’ll get a ‘Return of the King’ in a few years.”

I Killed Borders

I Killed Borders

BYE-BYE BORDERS: The erstwhile retail giant announced last week that it's closing its book covers for good. Stores like this one in Augusta, Ga., began liquidating inventory last Friday. Photo: Newscom.

Last week, I learned that Borders Books and Music is about to leave this earth forever. While I was truly saddened to learn of its demise, there is something I have to get off my chest. So let this serve as an admission of my guilt and an official confession.

I am a murderer. I killed Borders.

First of all, I suppose I should come clean. Borders was not my first “brick and mortar” bookstore experience; I remember spending hours in B. Dalton and Waldenbooks in my youth, as well as Barnes and Noble. And of course there was the Beloit Public Library. But for the last half-decade plus, there has been something special about Borders. Whether it was the proximity to our house, or the convenience of being able to hang out there before and after seeing a movie at the mall, I’m not sure.  But my heart has held a special place for Borders, which by definition makes this a crime of passion.

Borders was where I saw my wife for the first time. We shared a coffee and smiles, and I bought her a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife there. We kissed in the parking lot. Over the years our daughters have enjoyed numerous story-time sessions and have come to view Borders as a shopping destination second only to Target in sheer awesomeness.

We have parted with much coin at our local Borders. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is blood on my hands. I may not have pulled the trigger, but my hands were on the grip. I killed Borders. 

Can I be blamed for falling victim to the seductive wiles of free shipping, unlimited selection, and low price guarantees? I love the indescribable pleasure that my finger feels after I’ve clicked my mouse and made a purchase …

My mistress — let’s not be coy; her name is Amazon — first courted me years ago by offering me half-price DVDs on Tuesdays. Now I consult her for everything; she has replaced Best Buy, Fry’s Electronics, eBay, and, yes, Borders as my preferred shopping destination for the cool stuff that I think I need. I’ve even used my phone to take pictures of books I’ve leafed through at Borders in order to check the price on Amazon.

It’s embarrassing to admit that, but confession is good for the soul, I guess.

When I explained to my 6-year-old about online shopping and Borders’ demise, she asked, “Why would anyone get in their car and drive to the bookstore?” Why indeed.

I mourn the loss of Borders. And as the guilty party, I can only offer my sincere condolences to the victim’s family. I feel, however, that I must also share this troubling fact.

I can’t stop.

While I’m not sure who my next victim will be, I do know that this isn’t over.

This Week’s Pendulum

This Week’s Pendulum


1 U.S. POLITICS NEWT GINGRICH RESTARTING OR SHUTTING DOWN?

A month into his presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich must regroup because his entire senior campaign team has quit. While Senator John McCain did lose his campaign manager and campaign chief strategist, the majority of his staff downsizing was a result of financial woes. Gingrich, on the other hand, has lost his campaign manager, campaign spokesman, New Hampshire based consultant, strategist, South Carolina consultant, Iowa consultant, and additional Iowa staffers due to a difference in opinion about political direction. Gingrich was already under scrutiny because of his anti-GOP comments concerning Medicare, $500,000 Tiffanyís tab and luxury cruise to Greece. His staffís lack of confidence in his political potential is just another sign that Gingrich isnít in this race for the long haul.

2 WORLD BUFFER UP YOUR FOREIGN LANGUAGE SKILLS ON BBC.COM

Americans are known throughout the world for their insensitivity to foreign cultures, and often their disinterest with learning other languages. If you’d like a tool to help boost your foreign language skills and take a step towards slightly improving our foreign reputation, visit BBC.com. They offer extensive tools in all the major languages as well as tools on a vast array of dialects. Their tools include, 12-week email courses, programs, dictionaries, guides and more!

3 BOOKS PRICE OF KINDLE EXPECTED TO DROP BY CHRISTMAS

If you’ve been thinking of buying a Kindle and joining the E-Book craze, you may want to hold off for a bit. The Kindle is rumored to be under $100 by Christmas based on the success of the product thus far. Analyst Mark Mahaney predicts that eBooks will surpass print book sales in 2-3 years. Kindle sales are already up 200% from last year. I do not currently own a Kindle, but may look into a purchase if the price drops as expected.

4 MUSIC WHY RAPPERS SHOULD REFRAIN FROM POLITICAL STATEMENTS

Ever since Kanye’s “Bush hates Black people” outburst, rappers have had a bad rep for their political correctness. It looks like they’ve done it again, this time the culprit is Lupe Fiasco. Not only did he say that “the biggest terrorist in the United States is Obama,” but he followed that up with a more intelligent reason for not voting, “It’s meaningless.” (INSERT ‘BOO’ HERE) Why Mr. Fiasco do you feel that politics is a viable platform for you? I’d prefer the next time a pop artist picked up a book, that they chose not to make their “enlightenment” public. Who do you think will be the next culprit?

5 EDUCATION SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE CLASSROOM

Today’s youth are living in an era where there is not only a dependence on technology, but also a dependence on social media. Love it orhate it, social media has changed the way we interact and it is here to stay. As a result, L.A. based teacher, Enrique Legaspi, has incorporated the use of Twitter in his 8th-grade history class. Instead of raising theirhands, students tweet their answers. Some may find this use of technology in the classroom disturbing, but with 8-18 years old consuming ‘10 3/4 hours worth of media content everyday’ it might benefit teachers to engage youth in creative ways. Will tweeting the teacher during class become a trend? I think this will become more of a problem than a solution to student participation, but maybe teachers should consider using Twitter for afterschool homework assistance.

6 MONEY STOCKS SUFFER SIX WEEKS OF LOSSES

On Friday, the Dow dipped below 12,000 for the first time in three months. Energy stocks took the biggest hit, after Saudi Arabia reported that it would increase oil output and reduce prices to $99 per barrel. This is the 6th straight week of decline, the longest streak since 2008, and analyst are worried this might be more than the temporary glitch in a stock come-back. Frank Davis, director of sales and trading with LEK Securities, stated that “nearly all (traders are) leaning toward the bear side.”

7 TECHNOLOGY FACEBOOK TO START SCANNING AND IDENTIFYING YOUR PHOTOS

Facebook is changing the way you tag your friends. They will now be able to scan faces in your photos and suggest friends, based on facial recognition. The new feature has people up in arms about the violation of privacy. Facebook has allowed for users to opt out of the feature in their privacy settings. Google had planned to release an application that would allow someone to “Google” them from a picture and find out their information. They later decided not to release technology in that capacity, due to privacy issues, and has used it for less invasive technologies.

8 TV KEKE PALMER STARS IN NEW FILM FOR TV DIRECTED BY NICK CANNON

Keke Palmer will play an international pop star named Kadee Worth in Rags, an upcoming film on Nickelodeon. The movie is a modern-day fairy tale that centers on Charlie Prince, an orphan played by Max Schneider, who lives with his evil stepfather and dreams of being a singer. When Kadee finds Charlie, they work through their differences to gain a  new perspective on their worlds and an appreciation for each other.

  

9 MOVIES WILL “MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS” BE A HIT OR GET AN ICY RECEPTION?

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a family comedy starring Jim Carey and based on the children’s book Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater. The movie is about the workaholic Mr. Popper and his journey to truly understanding the important things in life. While, the film sounds awfully similar to Carey’s Liar, Liar, this production is unique because Carey shares the screen with real Emperor Penguins. Mr. Popper’s Penguins opens Father’s Day weekend and appears to have humor for the whole family, so this may be the flick for dads and their kids. While the plot is sure to be predictable, the knowledge that it features real penguins gives the film bonus points in my book!

10 CELEB IS TRACY MORGAN ASKING FOR TROUBLE?

You think Tracy Morgan would have taken a hint from the “Kobe Bryant homophonic slur incident” and subsequent NBA public service announcements and just avoided saying anything about the LGBT community.  But he didn’t, and now Morgan is apologizing to “the gay & lesbian community for [his] choice of words at [his] recent stand-up act in Nashville.” In his apology, the comedian and 30 Rock actor, says he is not hateful and is “an equal opportunity jokester.” While everyone is entitled to their opinion, Morgan took it a step too far. It is reported that he said if his son were gay, he’d better come home and talk to him like a man or he’ll “pull out a knife and stab that little nigger to death.” The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is condemning Morgan for his remarks. The alliance has asked that 30 Rock investigate and Morgan remove the remarks from his routine. If Morgan doesn’t do something drastic, his career could be in jeopardy.