Strange things have happened to fictional characters in this town. The place seems to act as a portal to other worlds. It was from here that a group of children went through the back of a wardrobe into a place called Narnia. Alice went through a mirror and down a rabbit hole near the centre of this City, and Bilbo and Frodo Baggins set off from here for their adventures in Middle Earth. Even Harry Potter went to school here. Just what is it about the City of Oxford that made all these stories happen here? What do these magical stories mean, and why is it that they have grown ever more popular since they were written? These are some of the questions that this course will seek to answer…
The course is divided into four areas of study; each examines a different aspect of Oxford in literature.
Part One: Escape! Escape!
“Do not adjust your mind, there is a fault in reality”. Is the flight into fantasy characteristic of some works of art mere escapism, or is it sometimes a profound critique of the pathology of
“real” social life? All of us dream of escaping to that perfect world where there are good friends and good food to be found. Oxford offers both in abundance and we will allow our writers to tempt us into their escapist dreams before they send us back to reality as altered as their characters.
Part Two: Nothing Up My Sleeve
A somnambulant dormouse and a pathologically tardy rabbit, alongside spells, trolls, elves – and a wizard or two for good measure – mark a literature where elements of the sublime and the ridiculous co-exist with no apparent contradiction. Some of our texts could be said to pre-date Surrealism by many decades. We look at how our authors employ the fantastic to help us cope with the everyday world outside the text.
Part Three: This Green and Pleasant Land
The lost Eden, where willows overhang the banks of the slow-flowing river, where there will always be strawberries and cream for tea, where we will remain in a perpetual state of youth, is preserved in the jam pot of these texts. We will adventure into the English world that yielded up such a rich textual filling to savour the joys there.
Part Four: The Wild Wood
The changes at work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as rural life was disappearing and the ‘garden cities’ and paved roads encroaching, meant that the wild wood of
Milton and Wordsworth was a fast-fading dream. But new threats and beauties are there to be explored. We will peer into the darkness to follow our writers down the twisted paths of the modern world.
This class is normally delivered over one term, with 90 teaching contact hours or equivalent in the Michaelmas term, and 60 teaching contact hours for Hilary and Trinity terms. For students requesting credit, we recommend the transfer of three college credits for Michaelmas and two college credits for Hilary and Trinity, on successful completion of the class.
Assessment is continuous and will enable a variety of skills to be measured.
All work must be word-processed. A short thesis of approximately 2000 – 3000 words will be required at the end of the course. All of the work produced will be gathered together in a portfolio which will contain records of research.
Primary texts to be read before arrival:
1. Lewis Carroll ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’
2. S. Lewis ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’
3. R. R. Tolkien ‘The Hobbit’
4. J.K. Rowling ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’
Recommended reading (references will be made to these during the course):
The list below is for guidance and to supply some ideas for preliminary reading. We recommend that you do not purchase the books on this list before arrival and certainly not all of them; most should be available from a good library. Your tutor will recommend the most appropriate books for purchase at the first class of term.
1. Lewis Carroll ‘Through the Looking Glass’
2. Kenneth Grahame ‘The Wind in the Willows
3. R. R. Tolkien ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy
There will be some walking excursions into Oxford and the surrounding areas.