Magical Books in Oxford

Many visitors to Great Britain think they need to spend all their time in London, where there are months worth of activities. But some of my best experiences happened outside of London. One such place is Oxford, which is a little over an hour train ride from London Paddington station. Part of me regrets not spending more time in this city to further explore the colleges and the surrounding villages.

The University of Oxford is the main draw of the city, and makes up the majority of the city centre. Paid tours are offered of many of the colleges, but you could just walk the outsides and enjoy the architecture from many different periods in history.

The one place worth going inside though is the Bodleian Library, for it is must for any Harry Potter fan. Parts of the first two films were filmed in the Divinity School and Duke Humphrey’s Library. Both are of medieval design and were respectfully the hospital wing and the Hogwarts Library in the films.

While you need to pay to see these rooms, there is normally a free exhibition also taking place in the library, which was an unexpected surprise during my trip in 2013. At this time the Library was showing ‘Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle-earth.’ Oxford is known for being home to many great English writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, and Phillip Pullman.

‘Magical Books’ pulled pieces from the Library’s extensive private collection from many of these writers. There in this dimly lit and cold room were Tolkien’s original artwork for the Hobbit, not far away from Lewis’s hand drawn map of Narnia. Further into the exhibition were poems by modern writers and texts dating back to the middle ages, texts that inspire many writers with their tales of heroes and knights. I will be honest and say I didn’t recognize many of these, but were said to have inspired many of the Oxford writers.

Here I did fall into on ‘tourist trap’ and bought the companion book to the exhibit, detailing how Middle Age texts influenced many British fantasy writers. Most of this information was in the exhibit, but sometimes when you are only in a city a day you rush some things and mostly look at images instead of reading about them.

This particular exhibit is now closed, but the current exhibition ‘Bodleian Treasures: 24 pairs’ also displays Tolkien’s original artwork, along with other ‘non-magical,’ though equally interesting, texts from the Library’s collection.

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