“I Do Love Their Commas”

Laura Stiers is a third year English major studying abroad in London this quarter. In Dispatches from London, she blogs about books, curious Anglicisms, and literary culture in one of Europe’s most literary cities.

Winter smells exactly the same here as it does in Chicago. The street outside our residence hall is hung with Christmas lights. We have one week left.

Thanksgiving was spent in Oxford, which I suppose might have been sad, except that Oxford is more or less the Holy Land as far as fantasy literature is concerned. That is to say, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and most importantly to me, The Lord of the Rings were all written here. “City of Dreaming Spires,” indeed.

It was raining and cold, but the colleges were certainly interesting. For one thing, it’s always startling to come around the corner and see a piece of architecture from our own campus, except twice as large and three times as old. Oxford students, we learned, have to wear special suits and hats for exams. There is a raised statue of a pelican in one of the quadrangles, but I can’t for the life of me remember why.

As far as Alice is concerned, I had much the same feeling in Oxford that I had about the Beatles when I visited Liverpool: thousands or even millions of people have been here before me and had exactly the same experience. Knowing that, the whole encounter takes on a weary, packaged quality. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy Oxford, or that Alice’s adventures have lost any of their delight for me. I suppose I really just dislike being a tourist, even a literary one.

That said, most of my time in Oxford was spent going on a pilgrimage to pay my respects to J.R.R. Tolkien. I suppose this could have had the same touristy feeling to it, but it didn’t, quite. For one thing, Wolvercote Cemetery is not particularly easy to get to. (Certainly most of the residents of Wolvercote didn’t know where it was!) People do go there, of course, but I don’t think it can be done in quite such a casual way. Then again, maybe I’m just an elitist. Who am I to deny others the casual appreciation of Oxford literary history?

Considering all of this, maybe I’ll just cut my losses and say: it was a good trip. And that is what matters.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!”
-J.R.R Tolkien, The Return of the King

(Title credit: Joe Tomino)

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