Today will see the public launch of this year’s summer exhibition at the Bodleian, entitled “Magical Books: from the Middle Ages to Middle-earth”.
It features works from several key figures of 20th and 21st century fantasy, including C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, and Philip Pullman.
The exhibition will contain a wide array of notes and ephemera from the five featured authors. As well as the manuscripts of Garner, Cooper and Pullman’s works, visitors will be able to see a selection of
Tolkien’s original drawings for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, alongside C.S. Lewis’ map of Narnia.
Amongst the most interesting items featured is the manuscript of a previously unknown poem by Tolkien, ‘The Fall of Arthur’, one of several works left unfinished at the time of the author’s death.
The five authors featured in the exhibition were all educated at the University, and are known informally as a part of the ‘Oxford School’. Each used the Bodleian to research and create their fantasy worlds, a link which the show seeks to celebrate.
The exhibition will also display an esoteric range of ‘magical’ objects. The First Folio Macbeth will provide insight into fictional representation of witches, and a variety of ‘grimoires’, or magical textbooks, will be displayed with richly illuminated medieval bestiaries.
Additionally, the show will feature an Alethiometer, as used in Pullman’s His Dark Materials; one of Alan Garner’s original ‘owl service’ plates; and a 17th century marble copy of John Dee’s ‘Holy Table’, which the Elizabethan royal astronomer used to converse with angels.
Co-curators Sarah Wheale, Acting Head of Rare Books, and Dr Judith Priestman, Curator of Literary Manuscripts, commented: “This exhibition is a fabulous opportunity for people to come and see a great range of the Bodleian’s treasures from the past 900 years. It’s been a real privilege for us as curators to work with Philip Pullman, Alan Garner and Susan Cooper.”
Charlie Hempstead, a fresher historian at St Hugh’s, commented: “As a huge Tolkien fan, I think it’s amazing that the University is doing more to show off its links with such a fantastic author. A place like Oxford is also the perfect site to put on such an exhibition – there must be loads of fantasy fans here and for us to have a chance to look at original manuscripts is beyond belief.”
A programme of lunchtime lectures will run alongside the show, the first of which, titled, “Once and Future Arthurs: Arthurian Literature for Children”, will be given by Dr Anna Caughey, on Wednesday 29th May.
The exhibition will be open until 27th October, and is free entry.