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A Literary Tour of England
Did you enjoy our first stop in Hathersage on this tour of England? If you haven’t read the first blog post in this series, you can check it out here! Our next stop is Oxford, the City of Dreaming Spires.
Oxford is well known for the University of Oxford and its 39 colleges which make up the skyline of towering spires that gives the city its nickname. It is a popular literary destination with connections to fantasy powerhouses C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. If you know where to look, you can also find ties to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Harry Potter, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and more!
Oxford Botanic Garden
A lovely way to start my visit in Oxford was strolling through the Oxford Botanic Garden on the edge of the city center. Enjoy beds of flowers on your way to the Literary Woodland where you can learn how plants are represented in literature. Look closely and you can find the Cheshire Cat hiding in a tree.
If you’re a fan of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, a visit to Lyra’s bench is a must. You can use her description of the garden to find it:
“She led him past a pool with a fountain under a wide-spreading tree, and then struck off to the left between beds of plants towards a huge many-trunked pine. There was a massive stone wall with a doorway in it, and in the farther part of the garden, the trees were younger and the planting less formal. Lyra led him almost to the end of the garden, over a bridge, to a wooden seat under a spreading, low-branched tree” (The Amber Spyglass, page 507).
You’ll know it when you see it thanks to engravings of “L+W” and “Lyra and Will” in the wood panels of the bench, as well as a new, beautiful sculpture of daemons just behind it.
Just across the street from the Botanic Garden you will find Magdalen College. C.S. Lewis taught English literature here for decades. Exploring the campus makes for a wonderful afternoon.
Be sure to spend time on Addison’s Walk, a beautiful path that follows the River Cherwell that Lewis himself enjoyed with friends J.R.R. Tolkein and Hugo Dyson. Lewis even wrote a poem set in Addison’s Walk titled “What the Bird Said Early in the Year.”
I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.
Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas
This year time’s nature will no more defeat you
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.
This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn one year older by the well worn track.
This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.
Often deceived, yet open once again your heart.
Quick quick, quick, quick – the gates are drawn apart.
Bodleian Library: Divinity School and Duke Humphrey’s Library
The Bodleian Library is a popular stop for many Harry Potter fans. I found it to be well worth the small fee for a guided tour. Your tour begins in the Divinity School, a room with high, vaulted ceilings and floor to ceiling windows that just scream “Hogwarts.” It was in fact used in multiple Harry Potter films. Does it look familiar?
My favorite stop on the tour was Duke Humphrey’s Library, the oldest reading room in the Bodleian Library. It is a gorgeous space filled with maps, music, books, and manuscripts. This room was also used for filming the Harry Potter movies as the restricted section of the Hogwarts library.
The Radcliffe Camera
One of the most photogenic buildings in Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera was built between 1737 and 1740 and houses the Radcliffe Science Library. Some believe that J.R.R. Tolkein created the Temple of Armenelos in The Silmarillion with the Radcliffe Camera in mind. Though much bigger in size than the real-life building, Tolkein’s temple is described with some similarities:
“But Sauron caused to be built upon the hill in the midst of the city of the Númenóreans, Armenelos the Golden, a mighty temple; and it was in the form of a circle at the base, and there the walls were fifty feet in thickness, and the width of the base was five hundred feet across the centre, and the walls rose from the ground five hundred feet, and they were crowned with a mighty dome. And that dome was roofed all with silver, and rose glittering in the sun, so that the light of it could be seen afar off; but soon the light was darkened, and the silver became black. For there was an altar of fire in the midst of the temple, and in the topmost of the dome there was a louver, whence there issued a great smoke” (The Silmarillion, Chapter 24).
Want to read any of the books mentioned on our tour through Oxford? The Library has works by J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling and Lewis Carroll available to read online! You can check them out on OverDrive, Libby, hoopla digital, and RB Digital on our eBooks page >
That’s it for our trip to Oxford. Where do you think we’ll go next?