Fuse#8 posted 26-30 in her Top 100 children’s novels. THE DARK IS RISING was on the list. When I found out that Susan Cooper had attended lectures by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought briefly back to the ghost tour of Oxford that I’d taken back in 2001. A few books later, ALICE IN WONDERLAND popped up. Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym for Charles Dodgson, who taught mathematics in Oxford. Well, that brought on a full-fledged case of nostalgia about the tour and the conversation I had with our guide.
I knew I was crossing the home territory of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, so I asked the woman if she knew where they lived just in case it was on the route.
She said, “I knew them both.”
“Really?” I asked. And then because I simply could not stop myself from asking the usual question, I went on: “What were they like?”
“They were dirty, grumpy old men,” she replied.
“Oh,” I said, a bit taken aback. “Well, I really love their work.”
“So do I!” she said.
I wound up striking up a conversation with the woman about books between stops. She told me how she and Phillip Pullman had conversations while putting out their trash bins and that she’d actually taught in the room next to Professor Tolkien. The head of her department told her that there were four words that she must never say to him.
“What were they?” I asked, even though I felt like I was stepping into a trap.
“Lord of the Rings,” the woman told me.
As we were walking around Oxford’s wall–where they’d dumped all the bodies during the plague–she pointed out the windows of the classroom where Professor Tolkien had taught. Then she posed me in a photo that took in architecture representing three of Oxford’s great writers.
The windows of Professor Tolkein’s classroom are above and to the left. The Magdalen Tower, located above my head and to the right, represents Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis taught. The old house on the far right was what inspired the setting for the scene in Lewis Carroll’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND with the duchess and the little boy who turned into a pig.