This summer, I had the good fortune to take a day trip into Oxford and visit a good friend. After cappuccinos, a good stroll through a street market, and lunch, we did what your average bibliophiles would do while in Oxford.
We went to the Bodleian Library. My friend and I wanted to see the latest exhibition, Magical Books. This little exhibit is a fantasy reader’s dream.
Magical Books is an exhibit of original art and manuscripts of some of the most beloved fantasy texts of the past century. Narnia, Middle Earth, and Camelot are all well represented. The featured writers are informally known as the “Oxford School,” and include Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman as well as J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
For me, seeing Tolkien’s original artwork from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was thrilling. I have loved these books since I first read them as a child, and the old Ballantine paperbacks that I owned used Tolkien’s art for the covers. The originals were familiar, yet fresh, and I am so glad I was able to see them.
Alan Gardiner is another featured author in Magical Books. American readers like me are not as familiar with his work, but his books are well-loved by British children. My husband Nick has lovingly saved a few favorites of Gardiner’s from his childhood. Perhaps they will finally make it onto my reading list this year. One of the most lovingly created artifacts in Magical Books is Gardiner’s handiwork, a calligraphic rendering of the inscription that legend has was put on King Arthur’s tomb:
Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus
Here lies Arthur, king once, and king to be
Magical Books is open until October 27, 2013.