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: