Sunday, 18 January 2009

Oxford Magic.

Spent the day in Oxford showing Matt and Aida around. It's an incredible place of myths, legends, stories and moments. At every turn there is an improbable tower, a pouting gargoyle, a secret quad or conspiratorial pub.

Oxford has always been a city of the imagination and so much of what the British have come to consider classic children's literature was created here from Alice in Wonderland, through the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings to His Dark Materials. The Wind in the Willows is set a few miles down stream somewhere between Goring and Pangbourne on the sun dappled, lazy Thames.

Why so much from this relatively small place? Partly the need of the clever to escape from the high brow world of academia into a more innocent and blissful place? Partly because the severe ridiculousness of paternal tradition, blind authority and ritual can only be made sense of through the fantastic or the absurd? Mostly though, I suspect, the writers of these stories wanted to pay homage, to weave a web of magic half -remembered dreams through the reality of the streets and buildings in the soft Cotswold stone city that they loved a great deal... and as infantile or regressive as it may turn out, don't we all want to share in our lives wonderful memories of sublime pleasure? And perhaps these transforming moments are impossible to describe in any way, other than through the glory of allegory and metaphor?

These are the final words from the first draft of Alice in Wonderland called Alice's Adventures Under Ground. It's a homecoming to Eden and rather beautiful.

'She saw an ancient city, and a quiet river winding near it along the plain and up stream went slowly gliding a boat with a merry party of children on board - she could hear their voices and laughter like music over water.'

Oxford seems to enchant most of it's visitors as much with it's mystery as with its place in the history of the nation. It's secrets provoke curiosity and wonderment. In this, above all, it is a place of childhood.

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