Good Reading : December January 2006
3 “anbaric” lighting. We might call electric lighting “anbaric” if the language had taken a slightly different route. “Anbaric” is a genuine synonym.’ The intrusion of the past into the present is also a feature found in the writings of Penelope Lively, Susan Cooper and Kevin Crossley-Holland. The entwining of historical and con- temporary life is reminiscent of Oxford itself. ‘Consider the Mallard Dinner at All Souls,’ says Cresswell. ‘At the beginning of each century the masters go searching through the college for a mallard duck. This all comes from the fifteenth century when a mallard got stuck in the drain.’ Then there’s the influence of the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, whose art invokes a romanticised mediaevalism. Their influence is everywhere at Oxford, from PreRaphaelite stained glass windows to the remains of Arthurian murals painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his friends. ‘People talk as though fantasy arose from Tolkien,’ says Cresswell. ‘But if you read his early poetry, it’s pure sub-PreRaphaelite.’ The author who hasn’t been influ- enced by Oxford is JK Rowling. Ironically, she’s had an enormous impact on Oxford, thanks to the fact that Christ Church is a backdrop to the Harry Potter films. ‘One of the things you have to get used to if you’re working in Oxford is constantly being held up and messed about by film crews,’ says Cresswell. ‘It’s the popular view of what fantasy should look like.’ And why wouldn’t it be? The people who defined our notions of fantasy biked through these streets, or passed through the secret gates – and then used what they saw as a background to their stories. No wonder they call it the city of dreaming spires. Left: The Eagle and Child pub, where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien met regularly. Right: One of Oxford’s many mediaeval doorways. Below right: The ancient plane tree that inspired the Jabberwocky. Bottom: Who knows what magic places lie beyond the inviting doorways of Oxford?