Wednesday, July 07, 2010

England 2010 Episode 1: Literary Oxford

Though I knew that Oxford, besides being outrageously beautiful, had spewed forth a bucketful of my favorite writers - Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, even Oscar Wilde. It turns out, that the place was more than just conducive to flights of fancy. In fact, many of the most amazing places and things seem, well, sort of copied.

A most obvious, and non-egregious example of this is the use of the Oxford Botanical Gardens as a backdrop for Lyra and Will's annual non-meetings (its at the end of the Amber Spyglass). I was spending a happy afternoon there, admiring a giant rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) that I had spied through the fence the previous day and had paid admission to admire up close:

When two older gentlemen asked me if I knew where Lyra and Will's bench was. I didn't, but I googled it using my now-unlocked iPhone and a 5-pound SIM card. It was the next bench over, and I asked a nervous looking women editing a powerpoint presentation to get up so I could take a picture:

Another non-egregious example of literary inspiration is the whole of Carroll/Dodgson's Alice adventures, which seemed to take place in the two square blocks between Christ Church College and the River Cherwell. Here is where old Lewis/Lutwidge "happened" to bump into Alice Liddell *every fricken day* after lunch, the old rascal:

Ah, the River Cherwell - sluggish, green, and full of punters at the best of times:

Now, Tolkien, the beloved...may have, in fact, just been a collector of things and not an inventor. Even he admitted that the stories were mostly retellings of ancient Saxon tales - but he also used what was around him in Oxford (the tree that was the first Ent):

And in the Cotswolds (the Gate to Moria - not my photo): (for goodness' sake, there's even a Buckland in the Cotswolds).

The real thing of Oxford, though, is that it really does provide the perfect backdrop for these wonderful flights of fancy. Just walking through it, it strikes one as a dreamy and unreal sort of locale, from which one might believe any number of impossible things.

The view from our front door:

Christ Church Gardens:

The view from dusty paths into cool green courtyards:

Old stone everywhere:

And only a few smarmy bastards in the pubs: