Riches beyond the dreams of Avarice

Wednesday 21st August 2013 found me in Oxford. I had come for an event at Oxford Playhouse – of which more later – and decided to make much more of a trip of it by adding in two museums.

My head and my heart are now stuffed with treasure.

First off, I went to the Magical Books exhibition at the Old Bodleian library. For me this was akin to the veneration of saints’ relics: I found it deeply emotional to be in the same space as work by writers and artists I love.

For example, there was Tolkien’s lovingly created Fragments from the Book of Mazarbul {That’s the burnt bits the Company find in the mines of Moria which tells them of Balin’s fate for those non-Tolkien geeks reading}. You could see the marks his pipe had made.

There were maps by C.S. Lewis and folio sheets of Alan Garner’s beautiful handwriting. I thrilled to see Pauline Baynes’ exquisite artwork, and manuscripts by Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman.

Perhaps I hoped some of their magic would rub off on me?

Whatever the truth of that emotion, it reconfirmed that fantasy and magical realms are my first love, Faerie is where my Muse comes from.

So I was more than happy to see some of the artefacts that had stimulated my literary heroes. Ancient magical texts and arcane objects imbued with mystical power starred in the glass cases. Objects associated with alchemists, witches and magicians always fascinate.

In the evening I had a glorious writerly overload: Neil Gaiman talking to Philip Pullman at Oxford Playhouse. Despite both of them avowing atheism, it was interesting to note a perhaps spiritual element in their discussions about the Narrator. Whether literal or figurative, there was a definite mystical aspect to their talk.

So to today.

The Pitt Rivers Museum.

Wow.

Pitt Rivers Museum 09

If you ever short of ideas, just go there. The juxtaposition of objects from cultures from all over the world makes a wealth of extraordinary starting points.

Try these:

  • light-bulbs turned into oil lamps – in contemporary city slums
  • the tip of a tongue preserved to make a charm– in  the English countryside
  • a light waterproof cape fashioned from seal innards by Arctic people

Imagine who made these astonishing things and what their life was like.

If nothing else, the Victorian displays create an inspiring ambiance. And there are display cards with information about rituals and practices. Mash-up one with another and you have instant context for a drama.

I managed to spend four hours in there and only touched on the downstairs. There are two more galleries to go at.

I had to stop. My imaginative well was brimming and plashing down its moss- covered sides. Now that’s truly magical, whatever your beliefs.

Witch flask from Sussex

Where do you go for a top-up?

4 thoughts on “Riches beyond the dreams of Avarice

  1. Lovely post Philippa! The Pitt-Rivers is one of my favourite places in the world and Oxford is just so beautiful. Funnily enough we were there just yesterday-though with an eight-year old boy in tow we spent most of our time in the Swords, Shields and Samurai gallery. We also managed to take in the Botanic Gardens and wander through the colleges. Look forward to hearing more about the Gaiman-Pullman conversation am envious you saw them!

  2. The Pitt Rivers was destination no 1 through my childhood when we used to visit my great aunt in Oxford. I’m really pleased you discovered it Philippa, I’d say it’s right up your street. You must go back when you can and check out the upper galleries, the view down over the cases is inspiring, as are all the weapons. Me and my brother spent hours debating which one we’d go for first if the dinosaurs in the adjoining Natural History museum came to life. Yep, it’s all about the Samurai swords.

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