It's a really well designed exhibition, featuring relevant medieval manuscripts and artefacts alongside drafts and other material connected with modern Oxford fantasy writers, primarily Tolkien, Lewis, Cooper, Garner and Pullman. If you are interested in this kind of thing and have a chance to go, do so! Clearly whoever put it together knows and loves these writers and their Oxford/medieval connections. In fact our lecturer was one of the curators, and another was my old acquaintance Diane Purkiss, whose path crosses mine in unpredictable ways every couple of years, it seems. Diana Wynne Jones was amply represented in the book display but her papers didn't feature: I suspect they were being catalogued at the Seven Stories archive in Newcastle when the exhibition was being planned.
Amongst many fascinating items, my favourite was probably a draft page of The Owl Service. A couple of the changes Garner made in red pen caught my eye. The first, on the verso, is a workmanlike improvement. Gwyn explains to Roger about the stone down by the river. In the first draft, he says: "It's called the stone of Gronw." This has been altered to the less plonking: "That'll be the stone of Gronw." The second edit (on the recto) is more interesting. It's the part where Alison is telling Roger that the plates' pattern is in the form of an owl. In the draft, he replies sceptically:
"I suppose it is, if you look at it that way."
But Garner has altered this to:
"I suppose it is, if you want it to be."
In its revised form this is one of my favourite lines in the book - and a great example of how Roger always cuts to the heart of the matter, without necessarily realising that he has done so.
Other highlights? Six Signs, made for Susan Cooper by her then husband in the 1970s. A facsimile of the account of the fall of Moria discovered by Gandalf & Co. in The Fellowship of the Ring, made by Tolkien and given an appropriately singed appearance by being held over the bowl of his pipe. A sixteenth-century copy of the Ripley Scrolls. Much more beside.
I was so impressed by the exhibition that I splashed out and bought the rather pricey book associated with it. I was particularly happy to see that Four British Fantasists was in the Further Reading section, as well as fjm and chilperic's Cambridge Guide to Fantasy Literature. The book even quotes from my essay for the Cambridge Guide; however, for some reason the endnote attributes it not to that book but to Four British Fantasists, and moreover to a page (p. x) that doesn't exist... Spooky.
A little later we were joined for a while by Frances Hardinge, whose books I've raved about on this LJ and who is one of my Twisted Winter contributors, but whom I'd never met before in the flesh. She turns out to be, as one might have predicted, delightful. Then, a brief visit to a pub I will refer to only as the Aquila and Infant. I'd never actually visited before, having previously gone to the more Spenserian sounding Lamb and Flag across the road, but I'm glad to have made its acquaintance. It's full of history no doubt, but I think its wine list must have expanded considerably since the days when its ceiling plaster was dry cured the Inklings' tobacco. And so, to Didcot and thence Bristol and a hungry cat. It was altogether a fun day - the only blot on it being that I left the bag with my "books to read on the train" at home in error, and so didn't get the travelling work done that I'd meant to. I actually suffered kanji withdrawal! But I will be back on that horse tomorrow...