Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adventures in Oxfordland

What an exhausting, eventful day! Oxford is a smallish town about an hour away (by train) from London. And as I’m sure most of you know, it is home to the world-famous Oxford University. In the morning we took a tour of the Bodleian Library, and then the afternoon consisted of a tour of Christ Church, and yet another tour of The Story Museum (which won’t even open to the public until 2014).

Christ Church, as seen from one of its many gardens
Interestingly enough, today I learned an exhausting amount of information about 1) the Tudors, and 2) British children’s literature. Yes, I realize those two topics don’t seem to have anything in common, other than their similar country of origin, yet both subjects have strong roots in Oxford. Though I must preface this by saying that most of the touristy areas in England seem to have some connection to Henry VIII. Literally every tour guide has mentioned this particular King in some way or other.

When it comes to Oxford, Henry VIII is considered the founder of Christ Church. Christ Church is one of the colleges in Oxford University, yet our guide specifically told us to NEVER call it Christ Church College. Anyone who knows anything calls it just Christ Church. Even though it is a college.

Anyways, though Henry VIII is technically the founder of Christ Church, it was actually Cardinal Wolsey who first organized the construction of the church. Unfortunately Wolsey was quickly deposed of when he was unable to weasel a divorce out of the Pope for the King, and so his half-finished church was left to Henry. This explains the imposing portrait of Henry VIII that still resides in the Christ Church dining hall today.

The Dining Hall at Christ Church, and the inspiration
for the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter movies
Which brings me to my second topic… many of the scenes from the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed at Christ Church! Not only that, but our tour guide saw some of the filming. He was very surprised to find out that all of the actors (even the children!) had stand-ins while the cameramen set the lighting and such. He was also quick to let us know that the Christ Church dining hall was an inspiration for the Harry Potter dining hall, but those scenes were NOT filmed there; it was filmed on a movie set.

Looking through the keyhole to the Christ Church
garden, just like the real Alice did 
Christ Church was also the site for Lewis Carroll’s writing of the Alice books (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). Lewis Carroll was actually Charles Dodson, a mathematics tutor at Christ Church. While teaching there, he befriended the children of the head of the college and often created fantastical stories to entertain them. These stories later became the basis for his children’s books. As an example, one of the gardens near the church is the home of a very old tree that was supposedly the inspiration for the evil Jabberwocky. Also, the garden directly behind the church was apparently forbidden to the children, yet Alice and her sisters were known to peep through the keyhole of a little green door on the side of the garden wall in order to glimpse their perfect playground . Dodson was able to see directly into this same garden from his office, and so it is believed that these common occurrences explain the famous illustration of Alice looking through the keyhole of a very small door. In honor of Carroll’s popular stories, there are many Alice references hidden throughout the dining hall of the college; our guide had a lot of fun pointing all of these little clues out to us here and there.

In front of the Eagle and Child Pub,
Lewis and Tolkien's favorite hangout
In addition to Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings series) and C. S. Lewis (author of the Narnia series) were both professors at Oxford as well (though not at Christ Church). Both of them frequented a pub in the town called the Eagle and Child, which is still there today!

I think part of the reason why I love visiting England is the rich history of the country. There are stories behind every building, every tree, every stone; all of these stories just waiting to be told.... usually by a handy Blue Badge guide ;)


  1. If I were a donut this would be me:
    As I am so filled with "jelly" that you got to visit Oxford. I've been to England twice now and not once have I visited Oxford but I have wanted to for as long as I can remember. Do the students still wear the traditional Oxford cloak? Probably not but if I went I just might. On another note, that is the weirdest name for a pub I think I've ever heard of, but also sounds like every fantasy nerds wet dream. :) Anywho once again your England trip sounds so amazing. I bet you're really glad you got to do this.

  2. I believe students still do wear the Oxford cloaks, but unfortunately they're on summer break right now, so the town was full of tourists instead of students. Anyways, Oxford is beautiful and I know you especially would love it! You should go the next time you're in England.