Tolkien's (?) Oxford II

closeup of carving of a king from the entrance to Merton College

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Tolkien's (?) Oxford II

Looking through the archway into Magdalen College:
photo looking through arched passageway, several tour group members in the foreground
This college was the site of my most important lesson of the day (except for the Ganymede thing): how to pronounce "Magdalen". I'd been reading the name all of my adult life, because of the Inklings' Thursday night meetings in CSL's rooms there, but had never heard it. And in my mind I'd always pronounced it "Magdalene", with three syllables, as in "Mary - ". But now I know that it's properly pronounced "Maudlin". I asked the guide if this means that people in Oxford call Mary Magdalene "Mary Maudlin", and he said, no, it's just the college and the street it's on that are pronounced that way. I have no idea of the history of this, and the guide didn't seem to, either (or I'm sure he would have told us).

Disclaimer: This picture is the only one where I'm not completely sure that it's a photo of what I think it is, after comparing my photos to a guidebook* and the websites of various colleges. I think it's Magdalen College, but it could be some other Inkling-related college. It is, at least, a good representation of the "normal" appearance of college entrances in Oxford - which might be why I can't say for certain which one it is. Merton, OTOH, is pretty hard to mistake, as we'll see shortly.

This is 21 Merton Street, where Tolkien lived when he returned to Oxford after Edith died:

three-story building, first floor of brown brick and rock, others of white stucco

closer view of the entrance of the building showing brown entrance door and windows
When Tolkien had rooms here, they were provided for him by Merton College, which is nearby - close enough that he could visit and, the college's website says, have "conversation with a new generation of Mertonians." He didn't live here long, as he died less than two years after Edith. If you want to know the particulars of the arrangement - down to how the phone lines were to be set up - see letter #332, in which JRRT explains it all to Michael. He was obviously appreciative of the college's offer, and says it seemed too good to be true; I think #332 must hold a record for the number of times the word "free" occurs in a letter in italics. I'm glad the college found a way to be so kind to him after the loss of his Lúthien.

And, to top things off, the entrance to Merton College:
wide shot of carvings above the entrance to Merton College
Fellow Inklings Neville Coghill and Hugo Dyson taught at Merton along with Tolkien. Dyson and Tolkien had also been students together at Exeter.

closer shot of carvings showing king on the left, bishop on the right, and a grouping of animals and people around a book in the center, also shows arched gate below carvings

I had to post this close-up, because I just love the little critters scurrying around underground (I've upped the brightness and contrast to make them easier to see):
closeup of grouping of animals and people around book
This is Merton's version of the small signs I talked about earlier. It was getting to be late afternoon by the time we reached this point, which is past the time that most of the colleges are usually open to the public.  

Not all the colleges have these little doors in the gates. At Exeter, the entire gate has to be swung open and closed. It wasn't until a few days after this tour, when I was leaving to catch the bus back to London at 4:00 am, that I realized I should be worried about that - but the huge medieval gate swung so smoothly I barely had to push it. I guess they knew how to build things then.
closeup of arched gate showing small open door and sign saying 'Closed to the Public' standing inside door
As you can tell from the entrance, Merton is a pretty imposing place. It's one of the three oldest colleges in Oxford (the three disagree about which of them was first), and is larger than most.  Tolkien's professional academic life followed an upward course. He first taught at a college in Leeds. He went from Leeds to Oxford, where he was first a professor at Pembroke College, which we saw only from a distance and which seems on the map to be about the size of Exeter. He was at Pembroke when The Hobbit was published. Shortly after World War II, he became a professor at Merton College and taught there until he retired. Although his writing isn't universally embraced by "literary types," Exeter, Pembroke and Merton all proudly claim the Professor as one of their own.

I was absolutely sure I'd taken some pictures of the house where the Tolkiens lived from 1950-1953, during the time JRRT would have finished writing LotR and its publication would have begun. But they're not in my camera. I'm sorry about that (for both you and me).

I didn't take a lot of pictures throughout the week; we were kept pretty busy and I have more notes than photos. There's one more set of pictures - smaller than this batch - from an unsanctioned tour a group of us took on the one free afternoon we had all week.  The evening with Priscilla occurred between the two tours, so the report on that comes before the next page of photos.


*Those who have a geeky interest in both sides of this website may get a chuckle from the fact that the guidebook I brought back with me was published by Heritage Tours Publications. Well, I did, anyway.
cropped picture of car with

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The background on this page is made from some of the window trim on the upper story of 21 Merton Street.
The dividers on both of these pages are a bit of the old tower.
Text and photos copyright 2006 by Trudy G. Shaw