Monthly Archives: June 2014

Alice’s Day, Oxford, 5th of July 2014


Alice’s Day, Oxford, 5th of July 2014

In only a little bit more than a week this year’s Alice’s Day is upon us! This year, the them  of this amazing Oxford-wide event is “Underground”, because it marks the 150th anniversary of the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”. Building up the the 150th of the novel’s publication next year, fantastic underground themed events will be taking place all around Oxford, and secret underground locations will be open to the general public for talks, storytelling and many other amazing things. In the Bodleian Library there will be a display of rare Alice editions, and other “underground” themed treasures from their collections, including George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and some of Tolkien’s very own illustrations of his Hobbit. You can view the entire day’s programme on the website of Oxford’s Story Museum.

My talk at Alice's Day 2013

My talk at Alice’s Day 2013

The Lewis Carroll Society have once again put together a splendid set of

talks to accompany the day, and in three subsequent presentations at the Old Fire Station Sarah Stanfield, Chairwoman of the society, will explore the history of the manuscript, Angela Trend will gives further insight into Alice’s life after Alice’s Adventures and I will myself dive down the Rabbit Hole to introduce the transformation of the magical underground journeys in the history of (children’s) literature, before Mark Richards, former Chairman of the society will round off the evening with a presentation on Alice’s journey through the ages, and her transformation in the novel’s illustrations, followed by a panel discussion. All attendees will receive a free copy of this year’s special edition Alice newspaper “Frabjous Times” – so do make sure you come along to have a fantastic day!


Talks by the Lewis Carroll Society



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George MacDonald’s Scotland

While almost everybody on the academic home shores of Oxford was following the Summer VIIIs last week , I ventured to far-away Scotland to retrace the footsteps of Aberdeenshire author George MacDonald (1824-1905), subject of my current thesis chapter.

Huntly, Aberdeenshire

George MacDonald's birth place

George MacDonald’s birth place

I began my journey in Huntly, the birth place of the author, which seems very quietly, but charmingly haunted by the presence of the author. While a small almost unnoticeable plaque over the bright sign of a dental practice points out the place of the author’s birth, no statue commemorates the town’s son. However, it is his words that greet the visitor – “Welcome to Huntly – Room to Roam” – a quote from his first major work of literary fantasy, Phantastes (1858), which, many argued crucially influenced his close friend Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  (1865) (some are sceptical, but both dreamers definitely follow a white rabbit at an early stage of their journey).

Thou goest thine, and I go mine
Many ways we wend;
Many days, and many ways,
Ending in one end.

Many a wrong, and its curing song;
Many a road, and many an inn;
Room to roam, but only one home
For all the world to win.

The poem sung by the ideal woman, the novel’s protagonist is chasing, but who continuously escapes his grasp.

River Bogie in Huntly

River Bogie in Huntly

Huntly, or Milton of Strathbogie, as it was formerly known, is situated (you guessed it) at the river Bogie, whose lush green banks don’t leave much to the imagination, when one rethinks the journey through green woodlands, along a river which leads Anodos into Fairyland in the novel.

The House Howglen

The House Howglen

On the way back from the river one passes the house Howglen and recalls his later novel Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865). The house belonged to the Rev Robert Troup, whose daughter Sophie was blind, hence why the house’s name is also displayed in Braille.

Back in the town square, the banks in front of Brander Library display the famous epitaph from David Elginbrod (1863).

DSCF7426 Elginbrod1


Overall, it was however sad to see that the MacDonald estate had been moved from the local library into various different archives, where it is now being kept in boxes. And despite the re-branding of Huntly, and the omnipresence of the “Room to Roam” slogan (on every single bin in town), even “MacDonald-Street” runs the risk of going unnoticed – or rather unassociated with the son of the family after which it is named, whose former school is just located at its end.

MacDonald Street

MacDonald Street



King's College, Aberdeen

King’s College, Aberdeen

MacDonald studied the sciences at King’s College Aberdeen, which was the main reason for my visit. From the local pub – the Gordon Arms – MacDonald would have taken the horse cab to depart to Aberdeen – possibly down what is now the A96 – I took the same route in a slightly faster cab.


Lecture Notes in Physiology

Lecture Notes in Physiology

I learned that Aberdeen University Library looks a bit like a spaceship (from the inside), that the rest of Aberdeen is mainly made of Granite, which is a) cool and sparkly when sunny, but b) a bit too grey when not sunny.  I also learned that the two colleges (Marischal and King’s) were thriving centres for the study of the Natural Sciences and Medicine in MacDonald’s  student days, and the medical heritage of the University of Aberdeen (which was the result of merging the two colleges) is omnipresent in the old town. But mainly, I was amazed by how much more impressive the lecture notes of those courses looked, which were taken and archived for posterity by students, then anything I will ever hand down myself (or possibly not).  One of the note-taking students, whose name in the cover of the notebook was indicated as “A. Bain”At the Back of the Northwind, was in fact the philosopher and psychologist Alexander Bain, who went on to found the journal Mind.

MacDonald’s handwriting was thankfully on the more legible end, and I got the chance to view his letters and manuscripts of, amongst others,  At the Back of the North Wind (1871) , the story of the sickly boy Diamond, who is taken on a fantastical journey by the beautiful North Wind.

Mintlaw & Oldmeldrum

Birthday Card, written by George MacDonald in 1860

Birthday Card, written by George MacDonald in 1860

The Aberdeenshire Museum and Library headquarters hold more of MacDonald’s manuscripts, including Within and Without (1855), The Princess and the Goblin (1872), that was first called “The little Princess and the Goblin”)  and David Elginbrod (1863) in which’ Herr von Funkelstein” was originally called ‘Count Halkan’. What is more, in addition to Oldmeldrum’s rare foreign language editions of his works, Mintlaw keep sketchbooks, photoalbums and, most amazingly, stage props from the Pilgrim’s Progress play the MacDonald family performed in.  Indeed, some sketches folded to 8 times their size turned out to be the sketches for the stage curtains for said performance, and will hopefully one day find their way out of archive shelves into display cabinets.

There and Back;  in Huntly

Anodos waking in Phantastes (1858)

Anodos waking in Phantastes (1858)

Returning to MacDonald’s hometown it is not hard to see the influences his Scottish home and university towns had upon his fiction. While I gained this insight, following the footsteps of MacDonald, David Elginbrod and Anodos, I also had the chance to admire the beautiful natural surroundings of the Scottish Highlands. In a strange way, MacDonald’s writings only seem to reveal their real nature when put back into the context of their place of creation. And if Scotland is currently not exactly on your doorsetp, I hope you enjoyed this blog, otherwise, go dust off that old mirror in your attic, or go to sleep. You never know where you’re going to wake up…

MacDonald's former school, and the path leading to MacDonald Street

MacDonald’s former school, and the path leading to MacDonald Street


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