Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
Further south along Catte Street, past the remarkably round Radcliffe Camera, one of Oxford’s most distinctive buildings, is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin -- but it is the ornate door opposite the church’s entrance that you are after. The heavy wood is etched with intricate carvings, the symbol in the centre resembling the face of a wise lion. This is the “Narnia Door”, said to have inspired the wardrobe door that the Pevensie children stepped through in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis was a tutor at Magdalen College, a few minutes’ walk east, and he would have glimpsed that door almost every day.
Magdalen College’s most remarkable feature is its cloisters, and the animals carved onto the pillars here look poised as though waiting for Aslan himself to breathe life into them. These carvings are thought to have inspired CS Lewis to write the part in the Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan brings frozen animals back to life.
Just across from Magdalen College are the Botanic Gardens -- a key location in Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials. While lead character Lyra Belacqua’s home in her “alternate Oxford” – Jordan College – does not exist in our own, the Botanic Gardens are exactly the same in her world and fictional character Will Parry’s. A bench at the back of the gardens has “Lyra + Will” carved on it and is usually well-attended by mooning adolescents. In the final chapter of The Amber Skyglass, the final book of the trilogy, before closing the window between their two worlds, Will and Lyra promise to sit on this very bench in their respective universes on Midsummer’s Day every year at noon to feel each other’s presence, since they will never see each other again.
Besides giving comfort to Will and Lyra, the Botanic Gardens were the favourite haunt of Tolkien, whose favourite tree, a towering Austrian pine, came alive in Lord of the Rings as the Ents, the walking, talking trees of Middle Earth, while the immaculately manicured gardens doubled as the Queen’s croquet ground for Alice Liddell and her sisters.
Finally, take the scenic route along the back of Merton College, where Tolkien was a professor of English language and literature between 1945 and 1959 after leaving Pembroke. The Dead Man’s Walk footpath winds its way for around 600m to Christ Church – a full circle and a fitting end to the tour.