You push through furs to hide at the back of the wardrobe. Suddenly, fur gives way to twigs, floorboards to snow. A lamp-post glimmers ahead…
Lucy’s entry into Narnia is an exhilarating transition from the mundane to the mysterious, out of confinement and into endless unexplored vistas. This passage transformed me, age 6, from an idle reader of comics into a glutton for books.
Other passages to other worlds have followed. Alan Garner guided me into the hill of his native Alderley Edge, where a king slumbered awaiting Britain’s greatest need. J.R.R. Tolkien led me from the Shire onto the road to Mordor. In her The Dark Is Rising sequence, Susan Cooper opened a window between the modern Home Counties where I grew up and a version of our world which seemed more meaningful, defended against the tyrannical Dark by a circle of wizardly Old Ones. In adulthood,Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials took me from a steampunk Oxford into a whole multiverse of interconnecting worlds.
Now in our own Oxford, Pullman has opened an exhibition at the Bodleian Library which celebrates these authors and the tradition they inherit from medieval times and earlier. Magical Books – From the Middle Ages to Middle-earth recreates a library within a library, and includes artworks and manuscripts of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Garner which reside at the Bodleian. In a corner dressed as a Narnian snowscape visitors may listen to recordings from their works. A tagline comes from Lyra’s Oxford, on view in Pullman’s manuscript: “Oxford, where the real and the unreal jostle in the streets, where windows open into other worlds.”