In the first part of this interview we met Julia Golding, founder of Project Northmoor and the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Here we find out more about the Centre and the teachings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Don’t miss a first look at Julia’s video tour of the barrow of Wayland’s Smithy, which may have been one of the inspirations for the Barrow Downs east of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings. She also takes us to the famous White Horse Hill. (Link at end of article.)
Mithril: I recently completed the first class offered by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Along with truly fun and productive lectures and assignments, the course had some fantastic tutors and guest speakers, and I am now part of a community of writers inspired by Tolkien. We even have an online Inklings group the Centre created for us. Was it always your intent to grow the experience into a community? How do you see it evolving?
Julia: I wish I could claim I had a master plan, but actually it has been more an organic growing experience. Our headline thought was this project is about encouraging the next generation of fantasy creatives, using Oxford and the Inklings as examples to inspire us. The idea to create a space for a community of writers came from reading Diana Pavlac Glyer’s book on the Inklings, Bandersnatch. Diana was one of our guest speakers. Her book unpacks how the Inklings supported each other as writers, and also why it eventually folded as a group. I thought after reading this that it would be natural to see if our first students wanted to stay together to continue their journey, using the Inklings example. They clearly can’t meet every week at Magdalen in C.S. Lewis’s rooms as Tolkien and friends did, but they can meet together in their online group. Once the space was set up, I stepped back to let the students become their own thing.
As for how it evolves, I see a larger group chat of creatives under our banner, where those who have done a course can post anything they think would be of interest to the whole community – articles, tips, news about Tolkien, big fantasy series as TV/film programmes, or books – and then subdivided up into smaller groups of those who have been together on one of the courses – their writing pals. These are the real Inkling groups, as it is important to keep it personal and build friendships. Sharing writing involves trust, so that can’t happen if the group gets too big.
Underway at the moment is a Novel-in-a-Year course, where many of those who came through the first course went on in order to achieve that manuscript they had been dreaming about for years. Some new people have also joined them.
A second six-week Online Fantasy Course runs again from 5th October; and a second Novel-in-a-Year course will kick off in January 2022. In-person courses in Oxford will also begin next spring, if the world is able to travel. You’ll be able to stay in a beautiful location, walk in the footsteps of the Inklings, hear talks from experts and also, if you pick the writing course option, do some creative writing.
Mithril: During the class, you shared videos of walks you’d taken in Tolkien-related settings. Have you always lived in the area where Tolkien lived, or did you move there to be close to his haunts? How does it feel to be able to walk the same paths as he did?
Julia: Living in Oxford was a result of having family locally. Like Tolkien’s children, my husband comes from an Oxfordshire-based family so we were coming home (we were living in Poland at the time). By a nice coincidence, my husband’s grandfather was Tolkien’s squash partner when they were young academics in Leeds together in the 1920s – something that I always enjoyed as a fun little-known fact about him.
I’ve lived in Oxford since 1995. I love being in Tolkien’s city. I knew first about the Eagle and Child Pub, which I pass on my way into the city centre – and always give it a nod as I cycle past. I’m also a graduate of Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis and the Inklings met up for their sharing sessions. When Tolkien’s house got its blue plaque saying he’d lived there when he wrote The Lord of the Rings, I realized I was on his doorstep – another thrill.
A friend of mine lived in The Kilns (C.S. Lewis’s house) at one stage, and it was very exciting to visit him there (it’s not usually open to the public). Our friend and his housemates put together a party for our very little children that Christmas. They took off the back of a wardrobe and made it so it entered into the under-eaves attic space, which they decorated with artificial snow, fairy lights and a lamppost. It was magical for the under-fives (and the over-fives) to go through the wardrobe in Lewis’ own house!
One of the unexpected benefits of a very strange year is that my family has got to know our local area better than ever before. The walks we’ve done in the footsteps of Tolkien and other Oxford fantasy writers come out of this, and we’ve had great pleasure discovering hidden treasures from our door. We’ve treated it like a little research project. As well as our own local knowledge, we’ve gleaned information from Tolkien and Lewis biographies, The Inklings of Oxford by Poe and Veneman, John Garth’s wonderful book, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, and a little pamphlet found in a charity shop by Heritage Tours called ‘The Oxford of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’.
The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began…
Mithril: You said you are still looking for a physical location for the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Any news?
Julia: Yes! I’m pleased to say we’ve found a really good one. When we’ve sorted out this arrangement we’ll announce it, as it means Tolkien fans will be able to come and stay in a place in tune with their enthusiasm. The pandemic obviously makes all this a little more difficult and delays in-person activities. Watch this space – or at least our website and social media feed – as we have something really exciting in the planning and will be announcing it soon!
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, and giving TheOneRing.net a first look exclusive at your video about Tolkien’s world.
Now, take a walk with Julia to visit a barrow and the famous White Horse Hill.