Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Did you know the Wardrobe Into Narnia is in Illinois?

(Note:  I had intended to post today a compilation of other books along the lines of Mary Eberstadt's The Loser Letters, but this post will have to wait for later, so I can report about finding here in Illinois a great gem of a museum featuring C.S. Lewis, whose Screwtape Letters inspired this genre of epistolary fiction.)

Did you know the wardrobe into Narnia is in Illinois?

I didn't, until my husband took our family on a mid-summer trip to Chicagoland, one of his goals to show us a little-known center at Wheaton College.  A friend had told him that C.S. Lewis' desk and other article belonging to a group of English authors, and he thought this would be a good chance to see the Center.

Of course, we are a huge C.S. Lewis family, having read Narnia multiple times as a family and seen the movies.  We are anxiously awaiting the release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader December 10, and hoping it will be more true to the book than was Prince Caspian.   My husband is a particular fan of G.K. Chesterton, and I have loved Tolkien since I was a teenager.  

But we weren't really sure what to expect at the  Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College.  

I am happy to report that it is really worth a visit for older children and adults, if just to see the famous wardrobe.

The photo is not the best, flash photography not being allowed.    The wardrobe was handmade and carved by C.S. Lewis' grandfather, and is the wardrobe that inspired him in portions of writing The Chronicles of Narnia.  It was bought by the Wade Center at auction in 1973 and has been there ever since.

The Center is devoted to the writings of seven English authors:   Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Charles Williams.  I know and have read all the authors except for Barfield and Williams, and am very happy to discover a few new authors I hope to enjoy.

The center is a small one-room museum (and much larger reading center with much scholarship and papers of the authors).  The museum has information and artifacts from all seven authors.  Most prominent are books and a desk of J.R.R. Tolkein, where he wrote The Hobbit and parts of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy; C.S. Lewis' desk; and the famous wardrobe.

Here is the coolest thing about the wardrobe:  it opens.  My children, who are not particularly adventurous, could not resist trying to open the wardrobe (gently of course!), while my husband and I made jokes about, "Where are the parents of those children trying to get into the wardrobe?"

Inside the wardrobe, as you can see, are fur and other winter coats, and a small sign that reads something along the lines of, "The Wade Center is not responsible for any occurrences if you enter the wardrobe."  

We spent a nice hour or reading about the authors, seeing the displays, including several cases of extremely interesting props from the Disney Narnia movies.  We bought quite a few postcards, notecards and other items from the small giftshop.  All in all, a nice visit and a worthwhile excursion.


  1. The VDT premiere is December 10, not December 15. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0980970/

  2. Thank you! How could I have gotten the date wrong? I will correct it.