Dr Diane Purkiss began by assuring the group that there is nothing more traditional to the children's book than being soaked to the skin: highly apposite, of course, as most members of her audience were in that very state on the wet Bank Holiday Monday of this talk!
Diane discussed the new special topic option for third-year Oxford undergraduates, which involves centralised teaching in children's literature: a milestone for a university that has sometimes dismissed the subject out of hand. This dismissal is rather perplexing, of course, as Oxford (more so even than the 'Other Place', in Diane's august opinion) has produced a slew of phenomenal children's books, and also holds one of the best collections of children's literature in the world (the Opie Collection at the Bodleian). The special topic programme legitimates Oxford as a cultural centre of children's literature, while also legitimating students' interest in studying and researching children's literature at Oxford.
To this end Diane ranged over authors including Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, and Matthew Skelton, and topics including the effect of both Oxford's built environment and its pastoral surrounds on children's books written here, or about here. She also spoke to the broader issues involved in the discipline: the relationship between adult author and child reader, and the perhaps less acknowledged relationship between adult and (remembered) child selves for any one individual. Her talk was an exciting taste of the programme, and I'll update you all on its progress as classes get up and running next academic year.
Alice and the Mouse swimming in the Pool of Tears: May weather in Oxford isn't quite that wet, but still....