Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tolkien is the Man

I have now spent two full days in Oxford. I think, looking back on this trip some day, I won’t remember how hot it was but at this exact moment, I am very aware of how incredibly sticky I am at this moment. You might find my surprise intriguing because it is the end of June and one would expect it to be hot. Well, even the people who live here are surprised by the heat. It was supposed to be in the seventies but it’s been in the nineties and humid. It’s not so bad walking around the city because there is usually a nice breeze but inside our non-air conditioned hostel…that’s another story.
However, I am not going to be a whiny American. I can survive without air conditioning for four weeks; I would just prefer to be typing this piece on a bench outside Exeter College. However that’s not exactly safe when I still don’t have my bearings around the city yet and no one else wants to do anything similar. So hot hostel it is.
Today was very surreal. We had our creative writing class in the morning. I sense that we will not be overloaded with writing assignments in there. She is looking for us to write at our own pace, whatever that might be. Since my writing habits are still very sketchy and inconsistent, I’m not sure what that will mean for me.
Then we went to the Bodleian Library and had a special tour through their special collections. I don’t have pictures because they don’t let you take pictures but it was amazing. I saw, firsthand, J.R.R. Tolkien’s original watercolors for The Hobbit. I saw a page that he wrote himself that was from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. We saw his scribbles and personal photographs. All the real deal. We also saw one of C.S. Lewis’ personal notebooks and his version of the map of Narnia. They said that no one gets to look at the originals and even visiting scholars usually only look at copies. In addition, they showed us some early pieces of children’s literature including the oldest hornbook still in existence and an extremely old chapbook. Then we got a special tour through the tunnel that connects the New and Old Bodleians. In the older building, we went up to a special reading room with texts from the 1400s. The room itself was built during Queen Elizabeth’s reign and has remained mostly intact. I cannot believe sometimes that I am experiencing places where King Henry VIII walked or where J.R.R. Tolkien had his lunch. For dinner, we went to The Eagle and Child, where the Inklings (among whom were Tolkien and Lewis) used to meet for breakfast every Tuesday. I had my first plate of fish and chips there and reveled in the glory that is Oxford.
What’s been interesting is how seriously we are being taken by the faculty and staff at these various prestigious libraries and colleges. Children’s Literature is still a growing field in the US, so I still get some raised eyebrows when I say I’m studying it. Even in Oxford they have some issues with its rising popularity as a field of study. Despite the number of famous authors who have studied or taught at Oxford, they still feel that it’s not quite up there with Shakespeare. However, we have had the opposite experience with the people we have met. Yesterday we were taught about how children’s literature was impacted by authors rowing along the Thames, and our tour guide in Oxford proper was able to show us several significant spots among the colleges that we have read about in our various favorites. Today took the cake though because we felt like privileged guests, and the people who lectured for us were incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring. I am so happy that I have had the chance to experience all of this firsthand and it was totally worth the two weeks of craziness that led up to it.
Tomorrow is the rowing museum and tea at a regatta. It’s a Wind in the Willows inspired day and I hope I’ll be able to see more British countryside. Now I have to get some work done for class tomorrow and try to write the beginnings of a fairy tale. I’ll leave you with a copy of what I got to see today:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Computer Difficulties

Current Location: Youth Hostel, Oxford, England

So the bummer of our current accomodations is that we only have wi-fi access in the lobby, and we have to buy stuff from the cafe to access it (one hour per purchased item). We also don't have AC here and it's been rather warm so I'm burning up right now as I type this. Thus, I'll mostly be posting pictures for the next few days until we find ourselves in better circumstances. However, I saw amazing things today and feel very much content with all that I'm learning/experiencing right now.

A fun take on my former Latin duties (Eat Latin, Drink Latin) down the street from our hostel.

Harry Potter's Great Hall (However, before that, it was and is the dining hall of Christ Church College in Oxford).

Alice's Window as part of the stained glass at Christ Church's Dining Hall. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll--the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) was a math teacher at the school and Alice Liddell's (the girl who inspired Dodgson to write down the tales) father was the head of the college.

The steps leading up the dining room that have also been witness to some film crews for the HP films. These are the steps that the students wait on before going into the Great Hall.

Radcliffe Camera (a part of the Bodleian Library). We'll be doing an extensive tour of the library tomorrow and seeing some of their rare book collection (exciting for English majors, not so much for everyone else).

The backside of a T-Rex. It hasn't been all English all the time around here.

Our little boat crew on the Thames.

One of the boats that we took on the Thames.

The Thames at dusk.

The path we took to get to the boat dock.

More pictures to come when this computer stops being annoying.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The 'Shire

Current Location: Youth Hostel, Oxford, England.

I'm here. That's the good news. To be honest, there really isn't any bad news other then the fact that my eyes are worn out from being open for so long and I know I have a presentation to make tomorrow.

However, a good night's rest will fix that. Very soon.

In the meantime, I would like to recount my adventures for posterity. Bryan and I had our tearful goodbye (OK, I was crying and he was looking awkward), and I went through security without being violated by any of the airline folks.

Our Last Picture Together Before the Flight

Then, as I was sitting near the gate, I overhead some kids talking about taking courses in Oxford. I struck up a conversation and found out they were NCSU students who were doing the study abroad option in Oxford this summer. I met a few English majors and we chatted about favorite professors and what we would be studying in Oxford. They were all very jealous of the Pullman meet-up. I also met one of my new colleagues' former students. What's interesting is that this teacher and I had talked about the fact that me and this girl Becka were going to Oxford around the same time...and lo and behold...there she was, sitting by my feet outside gate C23 in the RDU terminal.

Becca and I

On the plane, I sat next to a very nice German woman named Claudia with whom I spent the next four hours discussing American versus German culture. She is a Biologist in RDU and was doing some business traveling but she spoke excellent English and we talked about everything from our countries' different education systems to gun control policies in the US.

At first I was nervous that I would be bored traveling alone but I had some good conversations with a range of individuals and the time went pretty fast. The biggest issue was when I did finally try to get some sleep on the plane. Hands down, international overnight airline travel is impossible. I got about two fitful hours of sleep and woke up in worst shape than before I went to sleep. I don't know what's so hard about making some seats go back just a little further...but I survived and made it to London.

After a really long wait to get through the passport check, I got my bag, put all my belongings on a handy dandy trolley (how HP of me!) and made my way to the bus terminal. I didn't have any issues getting myself on the right bus, getting off at the right stop and walking the couple blocks to the hostel (although I was almost taken out by a street sweeper on my way to the hostel).

Upon arrival I quickly found some classmates and took a nice walk around the neighborhood.

I'm in England! (requiste cheesy England photo)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Last Minute Everything

I would rather not think about all that I have had to do in the past two weeks. Reading over ten novels. Ugh. Already writing a paper. Bleh. Preparing a presentation for the first day of class. Eek.

OK, so I guess I have thought about it a little.

The upside is that tomorrow I get to fly to England. By myself. Surprisingly, for a woman nearing 30, I have never flown by myself. I have always had a friend, a parent or a spouse next to me. So this is a new adventure on many levels.

Problem is that I haven't packed yet. Ha. Just typing that makes me giggle a little. I have classmates who have been packed for over a month. Their bags are just sitting in the corner of their rooms somewhere, in complete anticipation of their future journeys.

Me, not so much. Admittedly I did travel to Italy and France a little more than 2 months ago and I packed the night before for that one too. Except in that scenerio I had to be up early. Tomorrow, I don't leave until 6PM, so I feel I have a little cushion. Also, in that particular trip, I had to accompany a lot of young people which added to my anxiety quite a bit. This time, it's just me, myself and...well, you get the drift.

So I'm still feeling OK about things at the moment. Enough that I am typing my anticipatory journal entry right now (instead of packing) as I wait for my presentation handouts to print...one...at...a...time.

Of course, there is a bittersweetness to all the excitement. I'm leaving my home for a month. I haven't spent a summer in Raleigh since 2006, and I do long for the day when I can sit in my backyard in July and drink a glass of lemonade with a book of MY CHOOSING.

However, I am thrilled to be finishing my graduate coursework in a place that has been pulling at my sleeve since I first read The Dark is Rising sequence so very long ago. Even if it lives up to half my expectations, it will be the experience of a lifetime.