NEW EXHIBITION: Magical Books: from the Middle Ages to Middle-earth

23 May 2013

5.4-Opie-EE-287-3_coverThe Bodleian’s summer exhibition, Magical Books: from the Middle Ages to Middle-earth, opens to the public on Thursday, 23 May and will feature the work of five celebrated authors of children’s fantasy literature: C.S. LEWIS, J.R.R. TOLKIEN, SUSAN COOPER, ALAN GARNER and PHILIP PULLMAN.

From Bodleian’s unique holdings of these authors’ papers, the Magical Books exhibition will include a selection of Tolkien’s original artwork for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; C.S. Lewis’s ‘Lefay notebook’ and his map of Narnia, and manuscripts of novels and poems by Alan Garner, Philip Pullman and Susan Cooper, many of which will be exhibited here for the first time.

On public display for the first time will be the manuscript of ‘The Fall of Arthur’, a previously unknown work by Tolkien. The poem was one of several projects left uncompleted at the time of the author’s death. It is published for the first time on 23 May 2013, the day the exhibition opens to the public.

The exhibition also celebrates the authors’ links with Oxford and with the historic Bodleian Library in particular. All five authors were Oxford-educated and are considered members of the group of writers informally known as the ‘Oxford School’.

The Bodleian Library’s collections include some of the books and manuscripts that contain the myths, legends and magical practices on which these authors freely drew inspiration. This historic material is housed in the Bodleian, which as a source of sorcery and arcane learning can be re-imagined as an enchanted location in itself. The medieval Duke Humfrey’s Library is the reading room in which both Lewis and Tolkien as Oxford dons researched manuscripts and rare books, and where Alan Garner consulted the demonic spellbooks in the Ashmole and Rawlinson collections. More recently, the Harry Potter films were shot in the Bodleian’s Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s Library.

Witches are represented in the exhibition by the First Folio Macbeth, and alchemists by the extraordinary ‘Ripley Rolls’ which illustrate the quest for the life-prolonging philosophers’ stone. Grimoires and richly-illuminated mediaeval bestiaries will be on display, as will a variety of magical objects, including a 17th-century marble copy of the ‘Holy Table’ which John Dee used to converse with angels; Philip Pullman’s alethiometer, and one of Alan Garner’s original ‘owl service’ plates.

The exhibition was co-curated by Sarah Wheale, Acting Head of Rare Books, and Dr Judith Priestman, Curator of Literary Manuscripts. They said: ‘This exhibition is a fabulous opportunity for people to come and see a great range of the Bodleian’s treasures from the past nine hundred years. It’s been a real privilege for us as curators to work with Philip Pullman, Alan Garner and Susan Cooper. ’

Back to top