During our past three summers at the University of Oxford, we’ve loved getting to know this amazing little city with all its hidden treasures. It seems that everywhere you turn in Oxford, you’ve stumbled upon another piece of literary history. As we get excited for summer number 4 at Oxford’s Somerville College, here is a list of some of our favorite literary sites (and accompanying literature) to visit every year.
Christ Church College
Although each of Oxford’s 38 constituent colleges is a sight to see, Christ Church is one of the most literary. It’s where Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) first met the Dean of the College’s daughter, Alice Liddell, who became the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is an especially exciting visit for Alice fans during the 150th anniversary of Carroll’s most beloved novel.
As if that were not enough literary history for one place, Christ Church College was used to recreate the iconic Hogwarts staircase and dining hall in the Harry Potter films.
Accompanying reading material: The Story of Alice by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Right across from Christ Church College are two shops dedicated to all things Alice, also especially suitable during the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first, Alice’s Shop, was the inspiration of the Sheep’s Shop that Alice visits in Through the Looking Glass. Today, this shop is dedicated to all thing Alice, where one can find everything from Alice-themed toys and books to tea towels and jewelry.
Next door is Café Loco, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop where you can immerse yourself in a traditional cream tea with a Mad Hatter twist.
Accompanying reading material: Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
If you walk fifteen minutes north of Christ Church College, you’ll come across New College, another of the constituent colleges used in the Harry Potter movies. Our favorite spot at New College is the cloisters, which are beautiful on their own, and even more exciting when you realize you’re standing by the very tree where Mad Eye Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret in The Goblet of Fire.
The Eagle & Child Pub
A little further north, this public house was a frequent meeting place for the Inklings, a group of Oxford dons which most notably included J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, of Lord of the Rings and Narnia fame, respectively. Known locally as “the Bird and the Baby,” the Eagle and Child is a great place to stop for sustenance, literary inspiration, and a pint (if you’re old enough). We recommend the Cheddar, Potato and Spinach Pie.
Accompanying reading material: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski
Wolvercote Cemetery is a ten-minute bus ride from downtown, and we found the bus ride to be almost as much fun as the visit—most of us had never ridden on the top level of a double-decker bus before!
The key site on this visit is J.R.R. Tolkein’s grave. He and his wife are buried under a rose garden plot bearing a headstone labeled “Luthien” and “Beren.” Hard core Lord of the Rings fans will remember the story of Beren, a mortal man, and Luthien, his immortal elf-maiden wife who chooses mortality for her love. It’s a very touching detail, and like any good literary pilgrimage spot, it’s a good place to meet fellow lovers of Tolkein’s works and share in a dedicated reading of The Hobbit.
Also buried at Wolvercote are numerous Oxford scholars, including Sir Isaiah Berlin, a philosopher who is frequently featured in our Great Books curriculum.
Accompanying reading material: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
Blackwell’s is a required destination for any bibliophile. The shop’s small façade belies the absolute mountains of books hidden beneath it. A visit to Blackwell’s starts out normally enough: you enter the first floor of what looks like a perfectly normal bookstore.
Then you turn a corner, and find a staircase. At the end, a gigantic room of books…and another staircase. It’s hard to find the end of this amazing bookstore. Blackwell’s has its own art shop, a cartography room, an entire print music store, and more book-loving gifts and memorabilia than you are likely to find anywhere else.
Accompanying reading material: Literally anything you can or cannot imagine.
Are you interested in visiting these amazing sites of English literary history? Join us at Oxford for an unforgettable summer of literature and travel.