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Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

Lyra’s Oxford

March 20, 2011 2 comments

To Oxford with 11-year-old daughter, touring some of the traces of Philip Pullman’s Lyra and Will. Summerdown Avenue: the hornbeam trees a real presence in an otherwise undistinctive urban 30s arterial strip. Hard to imagine this A40 is ever quiet enough for kids to disappear out of and into thin air there… the Museum of Natural History, as horrifically thrilling I ever remember. No one college quite equals Jordan, but the racked combination of medieval alleys, glimpses into grandly obfuscational courts, shut-off lawns and the sense beneath one’s feet of bottomless subterreanean book racks does the trick, for me at least. Most touchingly, someone has scratched ‘Lyra + Will’ into the bench in the Botanic Gardens. But the best thing, Bill Spectre’s excellent ghost tour aside, is the moon, giant, so close it appears to have evaporated every wisp of vapour. Close enough to make the towers of All Souls seem to glow with a strange inner light of blue and red; close enough to make the crust of the earth crack, to make powerful men trigger-happy.

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Kid’s books and place

June 27, 2010 Leave a comment

How did it become something of a given that children’s literature should be deeply rooted in place? Is the specificity of setting somehow aimed at the adult reader/companion: the Cumbrian setting of Postman Pat, the Welsh one of Ivor the Engine, they add something to otherwise fairly inane material. And then there are the invented landscapes: the strange world of Tubbyland, which is also somehow partly the middle England where I understand the set was created. And the Real Literature settings, like that of Watership Down, which my daughter and I retraced, and found it by turns accurate down to the blade of grass and completely reengineered. And what does Oxford do to get Lewis Carroll and Philip Pullman riffing their way out from actual to fantastically imagined? Cambridge has no equivalent I am aware of. Perhaps its something in the subaqueous nature of that landscape, of south/central Oxfordshire’s palbably origins as the setting of a great pre-glacial lake, a lake in turn at once backwards-evoked and forwards-prophesised in Richard Jefferies’ After London. But that’s one for another day…