The city of Oxford, and more specifically the prestigious University, is known for having produced some of the world’s foremost thinkers. Of this number are five novelists often known as “The Oxford School” and heralded as ‘some of the foremost exponents of the [fantasy] genre.’ The works of these five – C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tokien, Susan Cooper, Alan Gardner and Phillip Pullman – have formed the basis for small but fascinating exhibition currently housed within the notorious Bodleian Library, showcasing a treasure trove of unique items that would excite any reader of fantasy fiction and surely any Potter fan.
In fact, despite making just one nod in the direction of Potter, the Magical Books exhibition feels to have almost been designed with a Hogwarts’ subject list in mind. Upon entering, you find yourself first stood next to the Divination cabinet. Entitled Unfogging the Future, it contains a number of antique texts referencing the 14th Century practices of chiromancy and geomancy. So as to relate it to the Oxford School the bottom shelf features a stunning replica of an alethiometer created by goldsmith, Tony Thompson for Philip Pullman, author of ‘His Dark Materials’. After Divination comes Magical Beasts, displaying some of the first illustrated examples of the most infamous fantastical creatures, from 13th Century dragons and unicorns to a phoenix and a pretty hideous 15th Century merman. One book from a similar era details the medical attributes of mandrakes that read much like a Herbology lesson from Professor Sprout. After a section on warlocks and witch hunts (contrary to popular belief, Brits apparently preferred to hang their witches, not burn them) you arrive at the alchemy section and the real reason this writer found herself in the exhibition in the first place.
Perched next to 16th Century replicas of the Ripley Scrolls that pertain to the "right and perfectest means to make the Philosopher's Stone", is the annotated hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone's that recently sold at auction for 150,000 GBP. The book is pinned open on the title page to reveal the exclusive note from J.K. Rowling that she originally contemplated giving Hufflepuff House the emblem of a bear instead of a badger. Above this you can also make out, just under the book's title, a single telling comment; "changed my life forever".
The exhibition, whilst perhaps not worth going out of your way for, is a great opportunity for fantasy fans to not only witness rarely seen before notes and illustrations from the likes of Rowling, Tolkein and Pullman but also to appreciate the original historical documentation of the myths and legends that inspired these great writers in the first place.
The Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle Earth Exhibition runs until 27th October at the Bodleian Library, Oxford and is free to attend. The Harry Potter book will be removed on 10th June. For more information, visit their website.
Posted by Claire
06-10-2013 at 2:15 PM