Monday, March 14, 2011

Clive Hurst on Children's Books in the Bod

On February 28th Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books and Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library, presented a personal selection of early children's books from collections at the Bod. Clive matched each image of a Bodleian treasure with a witty excursus on its significance: the squirm-inducing descriptions of the 'brands of Hell' in Janeway's Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children, for example, were popular enough to warrant a 'further account', while even the subscription lists for the Gigantick Histories contained jokes (apparently the Vatican Library was a faithful subscriber). Tracing representations of learning and play in illustration and word throughout his talk, one of Clive's most fascinating examples confirmed the connections between Oxford and the children's book. The earliest known printed horn-book (circa 1620) was found in the foundations of Brasenose in 1882 during excavation works there. Of course, this volume did not have far to move once it resurfaced: it was deposited just across Radcliffe Square in the Bodleian, where it remains to this day.

At left, an illustration from Punctuation Personified, or, Pointing Made Easy, published by J. Harris. The Bodleian holds an 1824 copy from which Clive showed us images.

A facsimile version is available from the Bodleian bookshop.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shira Wolosky on Harry Potter

This from Alice Nuttall on the CLYCC talk which took place on February 14th:

In our second talk of the term, Professor Shira Wolosky discussed the ethical principles and paradigms in the Harry Potter series which are the subject of her recent book The Riddles of Harry Potter: Secret Passages and Interpretive Quests. Beginning by noting the series’ use of political allegory, such as its references to the Second World War and modern conflicts, Shira then went on to explore how the series’ central focus is the dichotomy of love (represented by Harry and his allies) and power (represented by Voldemort). Shira noted that the characters in Harry Potter either seek power, which makes them dominant but leaves them isolated, or love, which brings strength in the form of friends and family. She read the prophecy ‘Neither can live while the other survives’ as suggesting that no-one can pursue both love and power, and that characters who try, such as Snape, must ultimately commit to one or the other. Shira also spoke of the series’ secondary ethical paradigms: that people should be treated as an end, not a means, and that one’s moral choices are more important than one’s abilities. Judging by the questions and discussion following the talk, Shira’s presentation inspired many readers to go back to the series on interpretative quests of their own.

For more information on Shira's book, published last year by Palgrave Macmillan, visit Our thanks to Shira for presenting this term while at Oxford as the Rothermere Institute's Drue Heinz Visiting Professor.