Oxford’s Literary Connections
A magical wardrobe, the rising hills of Hobbiton, a Mad Hatter’s tea party: Oxford has represented all of these things to the writers who created them. And with a nudge in the right direction, the literary locations of the city can be brought to life for any visitor who might consider themselves a book-worm, from Potterheads to Lord of the Rings fanatics.
We hope this short guide to Oxford’s literary connections helps you to plan an inspiring visit to the city. On Oxford Scholastica’s summer courses, from the Writing Summer School to Science Summer School, students will have the opportunity to explore all of these locations and more.
If you could choose your favourite literary link in Oxford, which would it be?
JK Rowling’s writing is most obviously associated with the cafes of Edinburgh, where she sat to write the first draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But Oxford has also become a pilgrimage site for Harry Potter fans. Several places around Oxford feature in the films, its ancient buildings making an ideal backdrop for the story of the boy-wizard at Hogwarts.
The Bodleian Library should be top of your list on a Harry Potter literary tour. The Divinity School, with its medieval vaulted ceiling, was transformed into the Hogwarts Infirmary in The Philosopher’s Stone, (2001) and the Duke Humfrey’s Library into the school’s library in The Chamber of Secrets (2002) and The Goblet of Fire (2005).
To find the spot where Professor Mad-Eye Moody turned Draco Malfoy into a ferret in The Goblet of Fire (2005), head to the New College Cloisters. For some recognisable staircases, pay a visit to Christ Church College.
Real Potterheads can even go on a Harry Potter walking tour. Check out Flaggs on Broad Street to pick up all of the magical merchandise you could want!
Take a stroll along the banks of the River Isis as it flows through the scenic rolling fields of Port Meadows. There, you’ll be looking onto the river down which Lewis Carroll was rowing as he dreamt up Alice and her Wonderland for the very first time.
In 1850, Carroll matriculated from Christ Church College, now open to the public for tours for an admission fee. And later, he went on to lecture in Maths there. Whilst lecturing, Carroll formed a close relationship with the Dean of the college, and consequently came to know his daughter, Alice Liddell. It was at the request of Liddell that he imagined his own version of Alice whilst rowing down the Isis that day. If you undertake a literary visit to this College, you can spy the tree under which the fictional Alice is said to have fallen.
If you’re after a souvenir, pop into Alice’s Shop in St Aldate’s, established on the site of the building where Alice Liddell used to buy her sweets.
For anyone wishing to take a step into the snowy terrain of Narnia, Oxford is the place to go.
From 1925-1954, Lewis tutored in English Literature at Magdalen College, a beautiful spot for visitors located just before Magdalen roundabout. And it has its own deer park, which makes for the perfect location for a literary walk.
During his time in Oxford, Lewis formed a close friendship with J.R.R Tolkien, another author working at the university’s English Faculty. The two were members of the Inklings, an informal literary group who, from late 1933, would meet in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen to discuss their writing. They would gather on Monday or Tuesday lunchtimes at the ‘Eagle and Child’ pub, which you can find on St Giles. It was here in 1950 that Lewis distributed the proofs for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
A small side street connecting Radcliffe Square to the High Street, St Mary’s Passage is easy to bypass. But upon closer inspection, those in the know will find an ornate door with heavy wood, bearing the symbol of a lion. Framing the door are wooden fauns, resembling the beloved figure of Mr Tumnus. This ‘Narnia Door’ provided the inspiration for the wardrobe door which led Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter to the other world where they encounter Aslan, the lion. Go and see if you can spot all of these Narnian hints when you walk around Oxford.
Aside from his associations with C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, Tolkien of course made his name as the creator of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Serving as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo Saxon at Pembroke College and as Merton Professor of English Language at Merton College, Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth is deeply inspired by the stories of Old English and Old Norse mythology that he studied. Situated on Merton Street, Merton College is accessible to the public for a small admission fee and is the perfect place to imagine Tolkien dreaming up his fantastical realms.
To discover the family home where the author wrote The Hobbit and most of The Lord of the Rings, head to north Oxford to 22 Northmoor Road and look for the blue plaque commemorating his life. This was where Tolkien resided from 1930-1945, before moving to Sandfield Road in Headington.
The final destination for any aspiring elf or ent, Wolvercote Cemetery is the resting place of Tolkien and his wife Edith. It can be found north of the city centre, along the Banbury Road. The grave bears the names of the characters from Tolkien’s stories, alluding to the elf maiden Luthien who gives up her immortality for the mortal warrior Beren.
- Find out more about Oxford’s great writers here – from 15th century philosophers to 21st century poets!
- Here is a guide to Oxford’s famous sites, to add to your literary tour of the city.
- Are you an aspiring writer? Discover and expand your skills at our Writing Summer School in Oxford
Creative Writing course in Oxford!
Find out more about the Creative Writing summer course with Oxford Scholastica! The course is designed to take your writing skills to the next level, preparing you for future study in literature or a career as a writer.