Literary Oxford: The city’s not-so-secret history in books

Oxford’s dreaming spires is perhaps unparalleled in its rich literary history, having been the inspiration behind many volumes of fiction and poetry over the centuries. From Shelley to Pullman. It continues to feature as both the film and literary settings to many contemporary works, such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

If you have some time on your hands in Oxford, then why not trace some of the literary hot spots in Oxford?  You won’t regret it!

1. Christ Church: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

A friendship between Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and the dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, gave rise to the weird and wonderful Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Dodgson, striking up a acquaintance with Liddell’s daughter Alice,  spent a great deal of time in the ground of Christ Church with Alice and her siblings, rowing down the Isis through the University grounds.

Telling stories of the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat, Dodgson was persuaded by Alice to commit the tales to paper, and alas along came the volumes in print.

Where: Christ Church Meadow and Cathedral, St Aldate’s.

2. The Museum of Natural History: The Dodo

Along the Alice theme, there’s further evidence of Lewis Carroll’s inspiration at the Museum of Natural History where the extinct specimen of the dodo can be found along with a 17th Century painting of the creature. Said to be attributed to Charles Do-Do-Dodgson’s stammer, the dodo is one of the creatures met by Alice during her adventures in Wonderland.

Where: Museum of Natural History, Parks Road

3. The Eagle and Child: The Inklings

Just beyond the Ashmolean Museum, along St Giles, you’ll come across the charming Eagle and Child pub where, between 1933 and 1962 “The Inklings” (comprising JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis, and others), would meet to discuss their literary endeavours over a well-earned beverage. Above the fireplace a signed plaque is written to the landlord: “The undersigned, having just partaken of your ham, have drunk to your health”

Where: The Eagle and Child Pub, St Giles.

4. The Bodleian Library and Christ Church Great Hall: The Harry Potter Series

It doesn’t take a genius to make the connection between Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and Oxford University.  Even though the books themselves weren’t set in Oxford, the films certainly were, with the vivid gargoyles on the Bodleian surrounds, and it’s dark and mysterious library innards, making a perfect location for the film set. Christ Church’s Great Hall also proved a useful back drop for the Hogwarts dining room scenes.

Where: Bodleian Library, Broad Street;  Christ Church Great Hall, St Aldate’s.

5. University Church of St Mary the Virgin: “Narnia Door”

Along the High Street you’ll find the beautiful University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the spire of which you can climb to discover amazing 360-degree views of the city. But as you enter, look out for the door opposite the church entrance, with its detailed carvings of a wise lion. This is the “Narnia Door” which inspired the wardrobe door written about by CS Lewis in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

Where: St Mary the Virgin Church, High Street.

7. Oxford University Botanic Gardens: Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

The famously stunning Botanic Gardens along the High Street and opposite Magdalen College are featured heavily in Phillip Pullman’s classic trilogy, “His Dark Materials”. Central characters Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry have a bench dedicated to them in the gardens with “Lyra + Will” carved into it…. Sweet!

Where: Botanic Gardens, High Street.

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