The room where I now sit is pleasantly dim. A fire burns in an old black grate nearby, its light painting gold over the dark wood wainscot on the lower walls of this square room. The bee hive hum of a pub is all round – people hunched over pints and good conversation as the evening draws to a close and the windows fog up with breath and cold. I too have my pint of cider and sit perched on a stool at a small wooden table, my eyes in a wander over the honey-toned walls with their black-and white photos in weathered frames. But one small sign catches my eye. It hangs at the archway entrance and and has two rather marvelous words etched upon it:
That’s right folks. I greet you tonight from that Rabbit Room, the one in the Eagle & Child Pub, right in the heart of Oxford. The room where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and a small host of thinkers like them tossed thoughts and growing tales back and forth amidst many pints and much laughter. The room in which the stories that shaped us all had at least a little of their making.
I’ve been absent from the virtual Rabbit Room for quite a long time, so it feels quite fitting to pick back up and say a new hello to you all from this place. The story of my past few months is a long one, but the short version and end of it all is that I am here in Oxford for a term, the “Hilary term” as it is so dubbed by those in the know. The program I have joined gives me temporary standing as an official Oxford University student, and I am now an official member of Trinity college (the little one next to Blackwell’s bookshop for those of you who have been here). I have two tutorials, one in fantastical children’s literature, and one in a study of C.S. Lewis himself, and I live in a teensy student flat overlooking the Thames.
I intend to breathe in as much Oxfordian brilliance as I can while I’m here, do as many C.S. Lewisy things as possible (do you think it will make me be able to write like him?), and soak up whatever magic it was that produced the imaginations of my favorite writers. I also propose to report a good bit of it to you. How would you feel about having an Oxford correspondent? I would love to savor the curiosities and old-world splendor of this time with you all here in the online RR. Thus, I will be posting a series of short reports from the ground here in Lewis’ grand old city. The Oxford Chronicles begin today.
As a first taste of life here then, I must tell you about the “Bod” card. The granting of your Bodleian library card makes you an official student and member of Oxford University. With it, you can access almost any book you can imagine. In order to obtain this card however, you must go through a delightfully medieval ceremony which includes a very solemn recital of these words:
I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; nor to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.
Thus did I solemnly swear at dusk two weeks past. Walls of darkest wood gleamed in the low light as we students stood in pew like stalls at the hour when the sky pearls with starlight. Shadows loomed large in the dusty corners of the old library wing, and gathered like flocks of black sparrows in the myriad panes of the high, cut-glass windows. I held up my hand before a long faced man in academic robes and swore I would protect the books of the Bodleian Library of Oxford. In return, I was handed what is probably the best library card I’ll ever own. Thus was I made a scholar in good standing with the university. Thus did my studies in Oxford begin. Thus was I tickled pink.
This is Sarah, reporting from the Rabbit Room. St. Giles street, Oxford. Over and out.
Sarah Clarkson is the author of several books including the best-selling The Life-giving Home, which she co-authored with her mother, Sally Clarkson. Sarah is currently studying literature at Oxford University where she’s not only a brilliant thinker and writer, but is also the president of the C. S. Lewis Society.