I like Oxford. I’ve come many times over the years, my favorite visit still being the week of the Lewis Carroll Centenary Celebration at Christ Church. (That was long before I began blogging or was on facebook so some day I need to pull together all my stuff from that glorious event and put it up here.) And so I decided to finish up my brief time in England at Oxford.
First of all I headed over to my favorite museum in the world — the Pitt Rivers Museum. It was a bank holiday and so fairly crowded with families, many with flashlights as the lights are kept low in this remarkable place. Here are some photos I took to give you a taste:
The museum is a glorious Victorian space. The main central floor is filled with cases, many of them with drawers you can open and then there are two balcony levels surrounding it.
It is kept very dark and, if you like, flashlights are available. The cases are the original Victorian ones.
The stuff is organized by subject rather than by region or chronologically. And, most wonderfully, they still have their original labels, often teeny tiny ones that are almost impossible to read. But worth it as the comments are often as eccentric as the displays.
You can open some of the drawers under the cases to find them filled with all sorts of stuff, some labeled and some not. (And even in the cases, some of the labels are in spots that make them impossible to read. I’m so curious about a black shiny stone ball I saw with something written on it on the bottom where I couldn’t read it.)
This may be my favorite object. The attached label’s transcription (on the white card below it) reads: ” Europe, England, Sussex, Hove. Silvered and stoppered bottle said to contain a witch, obtained about 1915 from an old lady living in a village near Hove, Sussex. She remarked, ‘…and they do say there be a witch in it and if you let un out there it be a peck o’ trouble….1926.”
The following day I had lunch with the Duke of Cittagazze. The Duke, aka Philip Pullman, explained to me that he got his title from the King of Redonda. What? You don’t know where Redonda is or what it is? Well I didn’t either. But you can learn all about it here where it explains that the current King of Redonda is writer Javier Marías who gives out the very unique literary prize which gave Philip his dukedom. Here’s a Exeter College news item on the honor (which I think gets at least one thing wrong as my impression is that the island does exist):
11 May 2012
Philip Pullman (1965, English) has been awarded the Kingdom of Redonda Literary Prize for 2012.
The prize is one of the more unusual literary prizes, and one might say prestigious, coming as it does from the imaginary Caribbean island of Redonda. In recognition of his literary achievements Mr Pullman has been made a Duke by HRH King Xavier I, and has taken the title Duke of Cittàgazze after the thief-riddled citadel in the second volume of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
On receiving the prize Mr Pullman said, “I’m delighted to be ‘enduked’. The prize was a rare and wonderful surprise, and I intend to live up to the proper splendour and dignity of a Duke of the imaginary kingdom of Redonda.
“I have always felt that I was one of nature’s aristocrats, and now I have the title to prove it. Coronet, regalia, robes, etc, will soon find a place in my wardrobe.”
Mr Pullman added that he chose the title of Duke of Cittàgazze principally for reasons of euphony, but also “in acknowledgement of the thefts that all writers commit every day, we being creatures of the jackdaw or magpie class.”
Besides Redonda the Duke and I talked about my visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum (as I first learned about it because of Lyra’s visit there in The Subtle Knife), the Lake District and Kendal Mint Cake which Philip noted is the food of angels, his forthcoming book of Grimm fairy tales, Dickens, the narrator of Bleak House, present tense, the overlooked author MacDonald Harris, and much more.
I stopped by the Eagle and Child, before returning to my hotel room to pack, write this, and prepare for home. It has been a wonderful couple of weeks!