“Oxford is the Hollywood of children’s literature” Ted Dewan, author and illustrator
City of stories
Oxford belongs to everyone who loves books. Writers have walked its narrow stone-lined streets since medieval times. The city’s libraries, bookshops, colleges and schools house millions of volumes: overflowing into attics and towers and secret labyrinths underground. Home to publishers large and small, including the biggest university press on the planet, the city and its resident authors and academics continue to add new treasures to the world’s store of literature.
As a result, Oxford is full of literary associations. Step through those low doors and you will find yourself in secret gardens of the imagination.
Where gardens have ghosts and stones have stories
A short walk around the city centre takes you to the courtyard of the inn where a young actor called Will Shakespeare grew rather too fond of his landlady; to the college where Sir Walter Ralegh learned his Latin; to the magnificent Baroque church where poet Gerard Manley Hopkins learned about beauty; to the examinations schools where Oscar Wilde amused and amazed his examiners; and to the long verandah where J R R Tolkien converted C S Lewis to Christianity at 2am one winter’s night.
You can see the tree that inspired Tolkien’s trees, the roofs over which Philip Pullman’s Lyra climbed and the bench in the Botanic Gardens where she said goodbye to her Will, the colleges that housed MacNeice and Auden and Dorothy Sayers, and the place where Rossetti kept his wombat. And you can follow Alice herself into Christ Church to the dining hall which much later became a film set for Harry Potter.
History, myth and legend
Oxford’s associations spill beyond literature into history and legend. For more than a thousand years the city has played a central role in England’s history, as a home and inspiration to kings and politicians, saints and bishops, artists and academics, inventors and industrialists whose stories have helped to shape our world. Once on the border of Wessex and Mercia, the region is rich in myths and legends. Favourites include the tales of Wayland the Smith, of St Frideswide, the Saxon princess, and of King Lludd who outwitted the two fighting dragons that still lay coiled in a drugged sleep beneath the city.
Even the stones have stories.
With thanks to Dr Diane Purkiss, fellow in English at Keble College, Oxford, children’s author and specialist in Renaissance and children’s literature.