Sunday, 30 October 2011

An Audience with Smaug

Oxford is a small city. It contains only around 150,000 permanent residents, and you can cycle around its borders in only a few hours. However, having lived here for the past five years, I have come to realize, that despite its small size, Oxford is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world. Here is just a little example.
Earlier this week, my wife and I both had the day off from work, and we decided it would be nice to do something cultural and free. A quick check online revealed that the Bodleian library had a new exhibit showing off many of its treasures, so we decided to go.
The exhibit only consisted of one room, but that room contained enough to make any renaissance troll gape in wonder.  Among the items that caught my eye, J.R.R. Tolkien’s original watercolour painting A Conversation with Smaug.  This sat next to a gorgeous thirteenth-century illuminated bestiary, which lay open to a spread containing a dragon (strangling an elephant – apparently its natural enemy) and a basilisk (being attacked by a weasel, its archenemy). Also behind glass for all to see, a handwritten page from Mary Shelly’s draft of Frankenstein, complete with notes and corrections by her husband!
Of course they also had a Guttenberg Bible, a Jane Austin manuscript, an original copy of the Magna Carta, a heavily illustrated fourteenth century copy of the Divine Comedy, and an original leaf from the third century Gospel of St Thomas (bet my brother-in-law would like to get his hands on that!).
I didn’t take us more than 45 minutes to see the whole exhibit, but it was time well spent.

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