Tale of Tales – Movie Review

Genre – Adult Fantasy/Horror
Length – 2hr 14mins
Released in – 2015
My Overall Grading – 4 Stars

Tale of Tales (2015) is that blend of gothic fantasy weirdness which usually immediately catches my attention. As soon as I watched its suggestive atmospheric trailer, I craved to behold the whole movie, and I must say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Let me say this first and foremost – if you’re expecting yet another re-imagining of some popular children’s fairytale like Cinderella or Snow White, you’ll be disappointed. Actually, not even those narratives commonly known as fairy tales are meant for children at all, and only started to be projected that way for the multitudes, after severe editing and further changes by various 19th century writers, such as Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers .

Tale of Tales, an Italian-Franco-British production derived from the 17th century collection of tales known as Il Pentamerone and written by Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, can be described as an adult fantasy horror, or at best, a metaphorical cautionary tale.

Sinister, yet strangely sensual. Strange but graceful. Haunting yet moving. This movie is a strange experience and definitely not for children. Tale of Tales has three different and yet finally entwined story lines. On the one hand, we encounter the King and Queen of Selvaoscura, who, true to fairy tale canon, are having difficulty producing an heir. A wandering wizard tells them that to do this, they must find and kill a sea monster, and the Queen (Salma Hayek) must eat its heart. It’s portrayed as a horrifyingly huge bloody mass where she eagerly devours the organ on a silver platter.

The second tale takes us to Roccaforte, where a sexually voracious and dissolute king – played by Vincent Cassel – spies on a woman shrouded in a mantle, whom he believes to be a pretty young beauty, but who in reality is a hideous old crone. The crone’s only treasure is her loving relationship with her sister, who is also an old woman. The king hounds what he believes to be a new conquest, bullying and pressing the two sisters, who don’t know which way to turn without revealing their true identity and being punished for it.

The third story arch follows the King of Altomonte and his daughter Violet. The King (Toby Jones) is a shallow and comic creature, prioritizing the care of an unusual flea over that of his own daughter.

Throughout the three story-arches, the one constant emotion is that of obsession, which, we are shown, is the heart of all evil. Obsession vies with what is supposed to be the love of someone’s family. The Queen of Selvaoscura is obsessed with her son, which is why she seeks to destroy any ties he could have with other people. The King of Roccaforte is obsessed with claiming every young woman he sets eyes on, which results in betrayal, suffering and death. The King of Altomonte and his ridiculous obsession with the flea to the exclusion of all else brings about terrifying consequences.

Flea-petting, heart-eating, rape, flaying, betrayal, morbid jealousy… All this and more makes the movie a very strange and curious beast; a truly horrific Renaissance fairy tale. No wonder that, unlike other tales penned by Basile, these three weren’t even adapted to be read by children. Other tales of his, however, have inspired more well-known fairy tale writers such as Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. In this case, the three tales explored and adapted for the screen – The Enchanted Doe, The Flea and The Flayed Old Lady – serve as a dark metaphor to show that real love of one’s family members doesn’t mean warping them into suiting our own wishes and desires, but accepting them for who they are, even if this means letting them go.

The movie also sports beautiful visuals, as filming locations include stunning palaces, haunting forests and beautiful gardens in NaplesTuscanyAbruzzo and Lazio, amongst others.

I truly recommend this movie to all those who are lovers of the unusual and the artistic – those who appreciate dark humor and black comedy, and who enjoy finding revelations of the truth couched in veiled metaphors and tragic-comic allegory, rather than stark black and white fables.

A version of this article written by me was originally published on Eve magazine.

Advertisements

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Movie Review

Genre – Teen/Comedy
Length – 1hr 43mins
Released in – 1986
My Overall Grading – 3 Stars

Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!’

Each and every movie has one main aim – to make the viewer feel something. There is always one single encompassing idea, perspective, or state of mind towards which the plot-line itself takes you, even though most of the time, this is sold to the audience subconsciously, in that it underlies the film’s story-line or characterization, rather than being wholly apparent as one concrete whole.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) was written expressly for Matthew Broderick and is a pretty easy movie to summerize. Basically: a charming teen decides to flunk school because he has a test, and convinces his best friend and his girlfriend to spend the day with him roaming the town instead.

Pretty simple right? You’d think that’s all there was to it. Well… yes and no.

I was always fascinated by the kind of character Ferris, that is Matthew Broderick, portrays. This is the kind of character who has, it seems, been blessed by the ancient gods with such good fortune, that anything and everything he does turns out well. No matter how many rules he breaks, how many people he manipulates, how many blatant self-serving lies he tells (always with a charming smile and a rakish attitude of course), he never gets to face the music. And believe me, these people exist. It’s just unfortunate that I am not one of them.

Apart from the amusing foibles our characters go through, and the hilarious contribution to the cast given by the uniquely endowed Jeffrey Jones (his face is the epitome of all asshole-ish headmasters), one cannot but note the rest of the amazing cast. Most of the main actors seem in fact to actually represent my favorite iconic 80s movies. Apart from Broderick himself (Wargames, Ladyhawke), there’s Mia Sara (Legend) who plays his love interest, Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing) as his older sister, Alan Ruck (Bad Boys) is his bestie, Ben Stein (Ghostbusters II, The Wonder Years, MacGyver) as his teacher, the aforementioned Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice) is his headmaster, Lyman Ward (A Nightmare on Elm Street) plays the role of his father, and even Charlie Sheen makes a short appearance. Could any other cast have been more perfect for an 80s movie?

Apart from that, it tickles me no end to know that the interior hallway scenes for Ferris’ school were filmed at Maine North High School – the same place where John Hughes’ iconic movie The Breakfast Club was also filmed. This school also features in 16 Candles and Pretty In Pink!

So what happens when Ferris fakes sick to escape taking his test? What doesn’t happen! Amidst fancy brunches, romantic smooches, coming-of-age battles, wild joyrides, street parades, dips in the pool, and amusing tirades, we find ourselves asking – how many hours are there in a day? How does the errant trio manage to do all that stuff in such a short time? And this brings us to the crux idea of the movie.

Life is short. Enjoy it!!!

Conclusion: This movie was fun… BUT it wasn’t memorable, in that there were no deep characters, underlying issues or actual emotional scenes or feelings between characters. It’s a very light-hearted film, perfect if you just want to relax with a no-brainer and a couple of easy laughs.

In Love with the 80s

If you had the choice of re-living your childhood and teenage years, and could choose the particular decade during which to enjoy them… would you? And which decade would you choose?

Baccombed wild hair, puffy tulle skirts, pink scrunchies, men wearing heavy make-up, others stroking screeching guitars as though they were lovers, skintight leather trousers, shoulder-padded blazers, bubblegum and legwarmers. No it’s not a drag-queen’s parade – it’s the 80s!

Ever since I can remember, I have always been in love with the 80s. The movies, the video games, the music, the pop-culture, the anime, the clothes (especially the Madonna phase)…. Taking into account that I was born in the mid-80s, and therefore don’t remember a thing about actually living during this decade, since I was a toddler at the time, this kind of retro-nostalgia might not be understandable to others. After all, why yearn for slower services, archaic I.T, and vanilla sitcoms right? Still, when I look at the ingenious convoluted plots of 80s movies, as opposed to the boring recurring tropes featuring semi-nude women, sex scenes, car chases and gratuitous violence… without a shred of innovation or creativity, presented to viewers today, it is no wonder I end up re-watching old 80s, and sometimes 90s films over and over again.

And what to say about the music? David Bowie, Queen, Siouxie and the Banshees, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Madonna, Guns n Roses, Van Halen, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Kiss, Scorpions, Eurythmics… need I go on? Who do we have now? Justin Bieber? Miley Cyrus? Kanye West? Oh please…

I don’t doubt that there are great and talented artists out there. But does today’s entertainment culture give them prominence as it should? I’ll leave you to answer that yourselves shall I?

Two days ago, I finished reading Cline’s amazing book ‘Ready Player One’. And it was a blast. The movie? I liked it and watched it twice… before I had actually read the novel. Now? Let’s say I think I’ll be considering the movie and the novel as two separate entities, rather than one. Yes, the movie does derive from the book, BUT apart from holding to the mostly-right cliche that ‘The book is always better than the movie’, I have to say that the characters, plot-lines, adventures and contents of the movie vs book itself are vastly different. And yes, the book is much better. Especially if you are a sucker for the 80s like me. And a movie-geek. And love video games. And are an otaku. And a geek. And a nerd.

I think you’ve realized by now that even though I finished reading the book more than 48 hours ago, I am still MASSIVELY HYPED UP about it.

Time to listen to some good 80s music and re-watch ‘Back to the Future’ or ‘Bladerunner’!

Wake up and smell the Coffee!!

Man is a strange mammal. He thrives on competition, glorifies in destruction, and flourishes through selective memory. Because yes – we love lying to ourselves don’t we? Or let us rather say that the individual has an intrinsic predominant love for himself, which leads him to remember (consciously or subconsciously) whatever suits him most.

Simply put – we love to love ourselves, which is why in most cases we end up remembering experiences and events which happened to us in a way which shows us in the best possible light… to ourselves that is. We are never wrong, or if we are, we were justified. We never make mistakes, but if we do, they are understandable in that particular situation/s, and anyone who doesn’t understand is at fault himself. Etc. Etc.

The same goes when it comes to the way we perceive the world around us. Because obviously, man does’nt lie to himself about his own person ONLY. We see our own image by reflecting on who we want to be, or who we think we are, not on whom we seem to be, whom others think we are, or who our behavior makes us out to be.

Similarly, we view the world (and other people) either the way we want to see it/them (for one reason or another), or the way we are AFRAID to see it/them. For example, a man may think his wife loves him because she had said ‘I do’ five years before, not wanting to admit how their relationship has changed, that she now prefers to spend her time with other people rather than with him, that there have been changes in their intimacy, etc. The sole fact that she rarely smiles at him any more, a simply factor which other members of the family may have noticed, could escape him completely. Not because he is blind or stupid, but because he simply REFUSES to see it.

Another example could be the way we perceive political parties. Or football teams for that matter. ‘Our own’ political party (or team) can do no wrong. If they make a mistake… well, everyone is human right? On the other hand, the opposite political party (or team, group, whatever) is evil through and through. They use up tax money paid by honest hard working people to line their own pockets, to the exclusion of anything else. This can be seen by the fact that there is traffic, the roads are bad, there is rubbish in the streets, etc. That is all. Obviously, the man who only sees what he wants to see, or what he fears to see, fails to see the whole picture. He fails to see the evolution in the educational system, the improvement of the health sector, the cleaning of historical sites, the development of new laws and regulations which give new rights to minorities, etc. He only sees what is wrong, because that is what he expects to see. That is how the human mind works.

One of my favorite 90s movies is Kevin Bacon’s ‘He Said, She said’, which portrays this mental self-conditioning perfectly. If you haven’t watched the movie, believe me, you should.

Basically the premise of the film shows us the relationship between two people from both their different perspectives. The first half of the film reveals to us how the two met and started dating, from the guy’s point of view. The second half of the film shows us the exact same story-line BUT this time from the woman’s perspective. You’d think the second half would be boring, since we see exactly what we had already seen before. Wrong. There are details of the love-story which are the same but the backstory, most of the events, etc, are almost totally different. How is this possible?

It is, because people never tell themselves the whole truth. They never even SEE the whole truth. Maybe they are afraid too. When one of two friends fights and comes to you for guidance, what do you do? In Malta in this case the adage tells you to: ‘isma l-qanpiena l-ohra‘, which roughly translates to ‘listen to the other bell’, meaning that you need to ask the other person his own side of the story.

This is because most of the time, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

What brought this on, you might ask? Nothing in particular. It’s just that sometimes, the sheer lengths people go to, to deny a particular fact or an obvious conclusion, is simply astounding.

… andddd I just realized that I’ve written a ton… hehe and I’m still sipping my first cup of coffee. This is what happens when you wake up early with your head churning with too many thoughts. Off to start my day now. Hopefully with a lighter mind.

Ta

On Creativity – Tropes and why we love them

A ‘trope’ is a recurrent literary theme, motif, or structure of a plot when it comes to writing novels and stories. Most tropes are presented by authors again and again, in differing formats and story-lines, and yet, though readers generally recognize them and sometimes even preempt certain happenings and resolutions, they still continue to prefer the same type of story-line and continue to read and enjoy such books and stories again and again.

download

Most tropes are over-used, and yet, they still sell. Why? I must admit that I myself find that I tend to gravitate towards reading familiar tropes, especially when I’m in a certain mood where I need a nice comfortable reliable story… and yet… is writing a novel and basing it on this much-recycled outline acceptable? I mean – where is creativity?? And what about originality?

Take for example the Rags to Riches trope – here the main character is usually a young unknown person who, through some circumstance or other, ends up becoming rich and famous. Some well-known examples include Cinderella, Pretty Woman and Slum Dog Millionaire.

075be841eb277793fb92b3fa25456be5

Another well-known trope is the Love Triangle – this one actually needs no explanation does it? Everyone enjoys a good love story, but throw in some unrequited love, a couple of misunderstandings, a pinch of jealousy and heartache, and there it is, the usual popular T.V drama series cocktail!

A third trope, which never gets old, is what I call the Ugly Duckling story-line. Think about My Fair Lady, The Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality or The Devil wears Prada, and you have it. Basically this kind of story also usually ends up becoming a ‘moral lesson’ = Unkept girl has a make-over and transforms into a beauty, then realizes that looks are not everything… but she still looks pretty now anyways.

tbt-miss-simpatia

Want another one? How about the Unknown Hero who saves the World trope? I guess I don’t even need to give examples for this one… *cough*Spiderman*cough*Superman*cough*Marvelingeneral*

51QvZkEPklL._US500_

And what about all those post-apocalyptic dystopian teen-movies which seem to add up all of the above?! The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, The Giver… ugh! I read the books before there was even a hint of any movie, and I realized early on that they were all the same, and yet I still gobbled them up! Why!?

I guess we all love the familiar, we all dream of becoming rich, popular heroes and that never changes.

Yet, artists, BEWARE. Writing/creating something familiar while portraying it in an entirely new and creative manner is one thing, re-writing the same thing over and over and over again, is another. ‘Familiar’ is a tricky word, since it is most often dangerously close to ‘mediocre’, not to mention ‘boring’. 

images

 

Jigsaw – A Movie Review *SPOILERS*

So, just finished watching the last movie in the ‘Saw’ franchise, which I’ve been a HUGE fan of for the past 10 years… and I must say, I was quite disappointed.

saw1

The prime thing which had attracted me to all the Saw movies, apart from the inventive torture devices, was actually the ability of the writers/producers to interlock all the movies and storylines togather like a jigsaw puzzle. That was the genius of the whole thing – that while the first movie in the franchise was taking place, chronologically we (later realize) that movies number 2 and 3 were also taking place (with different individuals) at the same time! I don’t want to give any spoilers here but I kind of had to in this case. So basically the some of the whole was better than it’s individual parts.

And that’s great HOWEVER as of the third and fourth movies we started seeing a common plot emerge, which the writers just continued to exploit by repeating again and again… and in the case of the latest ‘Jigsaw’ movie, yet AGAIN.

jigsaw-doll-saw-movie

For Pete’s sake, how many ‘disciples’ did this guy have? How many ‘ex-victims’ did he ‘convert’ to his ideology of pain? Were they all unaware of each other? And will the producers continue to milk this cow forever? It was a great idea and twist the first time round, and ok the second time round too. But a third secret disciple… and a fourth? Even at a distance of 10 years from Kramer’s death?

Ugh – yea again sorry for the spoilers. I just wish I could erase this last movie from my head and keep the old ones. So, thanks, but no thanks.

Re-reading Narnia – Misogynistic but Pleasant

It’s 2018 and I’m sick in bed. For a change. 2017 was characterized with health problems and currently, 2018 doesn’t look to be much different. On the bright side, this gives me more time to read (and watch K-dramas).

Being in the mood for Xmassy children’s books to end the year, at the end of 2017 I started re-reading the Narnia books. I hadn’t read them in years and having purchased a second hand quasi-new copy at a very good price, thought this the perfect opportunity to do so.

The-Chronicles-of-Narnia-box-set

If you have only watched the Narnia movies, you have missed a lot. In case you did not know this, there are a total of 7 Narnia books (and only 3 movies). Speaking of the movies, the first movie to come out, and the most famous of the Narnia books, is ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Although most people believe this to be the first book in the Narnia series, it is actually the second, that is, in Narnian chronological order. Let me explain – the American published Narnia books number the series in order of publication. And in that case, yes the ‘Wardrobe’ book would be the first one. C.S Lewis himself however, preferred to look at the books chronologically, meaning that ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is to be considered the first book, which is how UK publishing houses do it.

Pictures6

I myself own a UK version of the box series (thank the Goddess), in which the books are numbered chronologically, which is how I prefer to read them. This means that the books should be read like this:

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Movie No. 1)
  3. Prince Caspian (Movie No. 2)
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Movie No. 3)
  5. The Horse and his Boy
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

While books 2, 3 and 4, which were made into movies, tackle the adventures of the Pevensie children in Narnia, the other books concern other main characters. The Pevensie children feature in these books sometimes as well, but they mostly do this as Kings and Queens of Narnia and they are not the main characters.

I love the books HOWEVER there are some things which bug the hell out of me. For example, no one can deny that almost every book treats the female gender as though it was made of glass. This mentality is not surprising since the author was writing these books in the 1950s, however reading sentences like ‘it is a sad day when women must go to war’ really irritates me. War is ALWAYS terrible, no matter who actually fights in it. Also, why are the boys always given swords and weapons, while the girls have to make do with bows and small daggers, or even face seriously scary foes with no weapons at all??

Pevensies

As author Philip Pullman himself writes, these books are ‘monumentally disparaging of girls and women’. And what about the baddies who always seem to be powerful women who have gotten ‘above themselves’ defying the patriarchal institution of Aslan? I am of course talking about the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Prince Caspian’s wife, another powerful woman, is not even given a name in the series! The only ways she is referred to is as someone’s daughter or someone’s wife! Very disturbing to say the least!

That being said, another thing which irritates me is the whole Aslan – Jesus metaphor, but that’s just me and it is mostly portrayed in the last book… at least in my perspective since I tried to ignore it as much as possible till the end, and considered the whole thing as fantasy.

download

Apart from that, re-reading the series was a blast, and I also discovered echoes of Neil Gaiman, which leads me to believe that the series must have inspired Gaiman to write and develop certain ideas, such as the star-woman concept in ‘Stardust’ for example.

Nice!

American Horror Story – Season 6 Review – NO SPOILERS

When I had watched Season 5 of American Horror Story last year,I was hardly impressed to say the least.

However, looking at Season 6 this autumn, I guess I’ll just have to eat my words.

Gone is the fake gratuitous soft porn thrown in simply to shock viewers into cheap thrills. Gone is the unneeded violence and lackadaisical plot. Instead of unexplained murders and ghouls, AHS takes us back to the mysterious plot lines, interesting characters, and dramatic acting so much admired during the first season. Entitled Murder House, Season 1 had focused on a haunted mansion and its historic violent past. Season 6, Roanoke, tackles not so much a haunted house, but an actual haunted piece of land, illustrating one of America’s oldest mysteries.

weird_house_thing_screenshot

The Season in fact makes reference to the historic mystery of the Roanoke colony, also known as the Lost Colony – a group of Americans who were sent to Roanoke Island in the New World (North America) in the 16th century, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, in an attempt to colonise it and establish a base camp. The 115 members of the colony all disappeared without a trace. The only remaining clue was the word ‘Croatoan’ scratched on the bark of a tree.

ahs

This season is, in a way, totally different from the previous ones, as all the episodes are presented in the format of a documentary. The narrative focuses on a married couple, who are telling us the story in a studio, while at the same time, people we know to be re-enactors play their parts in order for the viewers to understand what actually happened. Each character is therefore seen twice and portrayed by two different people. The ‘real’ character is interviewed in the filming studio, while the ‘re-enactors’ are the ones playing out the actual events.

The main plot line follows an interracial couple, Matt and Shelby. After being attacked by a street gang, they decide to leave the city and its perils, and relocate to an abandoned colonial farmhouse in North Carolina.

To read the rest of the article, which was published on EVE magazine follow the direct link: http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/11/05/american-horror-story-season-6/

Halloween Movies perfect for Kids!

Halloween also called All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain, this Autumn festival historically marks the end of harvest season and the beginning of Wintertime. Celtic and Gaelic traditions saw huge bonfires lit, as well as celebrations to mark the occasion. This is where the practice of dressing up comes from, since costumes were supposed to keep the cold, dark, evil spirits at bay by confusing them. It was the last festivity before the onset of the coldest months.

Today, we’re fortunate enough to live in a time where electricity, air-conditioners, heaters, and a marked jump in health institutions are enough to keep most of the cold chilly darkness under control. Nonetheless, we still celebrate Halloween. Apart from the usual parties, costume competitions, pumpkin fairs and trick-or-treating, many also take the opportunity to watch some good old horror movies to get into the mood.

Here are a number of some old favourite movies which I always make a point to watch during this time. These are not films of the slasher-horror type, but rather those which I associate with childhood, and which always leave me feeling of good cheer. Definitely ‘must-sees’ for all those with children and for those who can’t handle scary flicks!

The Tim Burton QuartetThe Nightmare before Christmas(1993), Corpse Bride (2005), Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Tim Burton’s work is just perfect to watch cuddled on the sofa while a heavy rain lashes against the windowpanes. These dark fantasy movies are all, somehow or other, centred around Halloween. The first two mentioned are animated, full of catchy tunes and delightful characters. In fact, the ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and monsters aren’t scary at all. Although all of these movies are targeted at children, they also have dark sinister meanings which only adults will be able to appreciate, and which have nothing to do with Halloween and everything to do with the society we live in; a society which can be cruel and intolerant, and end up pressuring people into doing what is acceptable instead of being happy with their own individuality.

Hocus Pocus (1993) – I must admit, the Sanderson sisters have always been my favorite media witches. Especially Bettie Middler, who’s somehow perfect in her rendition of an angry yet funny medieval witch, who after being burnt at the stake, comes back to the present to take her revenge. Unfortunately, she and her sisters are totally unprepared for today’s world, not to mention today’s children, who are much pluckier and smarter than the ones she was used to.

open-uri20150422-12561-m60pgz_95d7bb7e

The Addams Family (1991) – The stories of this eccentric, affectionate clan who don’t care what others might think about them have always been close to my heart, and the 1991 rendition with Angelica Houston as Morticia, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci as Wednesday is just perfect in complementing Halloween. The Addams seem to live in a perennial Halloween all year round. Their neighbors think them strange, and society tries to shun them. And yet, they love and care for each other, especially when it matters the most.

addams-family-trivia-emgn3

To read the rest of the article, which was published on EVE magazine follow the direct link:- http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/10/26/halloween-movies-for-the-faint-hearted/

Oxford University – The Real Hogwarts!

Balliol College

Have you ever found yourself in a particular place and suddenly felt completely at home? I couldn’t identify this pervading feeling at first, but when I visited the University of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England, a couple of years ago, for some strange reason it felt amazingly familiar. I had never been there before and yet, that indecipherable feeling of connection could not be shaken off.

The architecturally gothic buildings and the streets thronged with bustling students, the jovial camaraderie and the many fairy-like gardens and little shops sporting old tomes and coloured school uniforms… I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Until I started visiting specific places of interest that is, and then all the pieces of the puzzle magically made sense.

Oxford is Hogwarts. It is Diagon Alley. It is Lyra’s parallel Oxford from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials Trilogy’. It is Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen University’ on Discworld, J.R.R. Tolkien’s playing field, C.S Lewis’ inspiration, and Lewis Carroll’s domain. Traces of Wonderland and Narnia permeate the streets. Oxford – the place where so many literary titans met, conversed, evolved, were influenced, and created their master works.

We left our car in a small parking area outside the city proper and took a bus which left us on Magdalen Street, where the first thing we saw was Balliol College. This is the oldest of the 38 constituent colleges which make up the University of Oxford.

When one speaks of this University, one must keep in mind that the different colleges or communities in which students live and study all present different outlooks and approaches to learning, having their own various idiosyncrasies, sports teams, coloured uniforms, patron saints, facilities, and academic prospectus. And yet they all make up one University – 38 different parts of one great whole, as well as a number of academic departments divided into four divisions. Is this starting to sound a little bit familiar?

Balliol College, founded in the late 13th century, had long existed as a medieval hall of residence for students. There is, in fact, evidence that teaching took place here as far back as 1096AD, making Oxford the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Moving on towards the iconic Bodleian Library, I passed outside the enchanting Sheldonian Theatre, built in the 17th century. Its eight-sided cupola is truly a sight to behold. However, I had no time to enjoy any of the music concerts or lectures taking place within.

As we walked away from the theatre, I chanced to look up and for a moment, thought I had been suddenly transported to Venice. This is because I was passing under Hertford Bridge, also known as ‘the Bridge of Sighs’, which joins the two sides of Hertford College. Although popular for supposedly being a replica of the eponymous Venetian Bridge, it actually looks more like the Rialto Bridge of the same city.

images-1

My target, however, was the second largest library in Britain – the Bodleian Library, which is famous for containing each and every book published within the UK. Over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles of shelving to be precise. Are you impressed yet? I was all agog even before going inside. When I stepped over the threshold, I was flabbergasted – it was Hogwarts! Literally.

download

The Bodleian Library was used as part of the set through-out four of the Harry Potter movies, not just as a library, but as the infirmary, as well as serving as the Hall where Professor McGonnagal teaches the students to dance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christ Church College

Duke Humphrey’s Library, which is the name of the oldest reading room within the Bodleian, was used for the scene where Harry Potter enters the Restricted library under his invisibility cloak with a lamp to steal a book in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

images

Here, one can also find a section of mysteriously chained books, which are known to have inspired Terry Pratchett’s depiction of the magical library within his ‘Unseen University’ of wizards. And what about the magnificently vaulting ceiling within the interior of the Divinity School, a medieval building which is attached to the library itself? Definitely not to be missed.

Just a side-note… the official head of Oxford University is called the chancellor, while the vice-chancellor is the one who organises central administration and the in-house professors are generally called ‘Masters’. Readers of Terry Pratchett should find themselves familiar with this state of affairs. The coat-of-arms of Oxford University, an open book with a crown underneath it and two above it, funnily looks a lot like the coat of arms of the Unseen University too.

Christ Church College

Moving on down Catte Street, I soon visited other well-known Oxford Colleges, such as All Souls, Queens, as well as Magdalen College, where C.S Lewis, author of the famous Narnia books, was a tutor, and Exeter College, where I could admire the bust of one of its most famous past students, J. R. R. Tolkien.

On the other hand, unfortunately I did not have the time to visit the cloisters found at New College, which were used as the backdrop for certain scenes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Needing a break and something to eat after all this walking and awe-inspiring sightseeing, I paused at the Oxford Covered Market, centred in the middle of the city. This historic market goes back to the 18th century. It offers a plethora of fresh food stands, artisans’ products, traditional stalls, greengrocers, bakeries and handcrafted knick knacks. Truly a landmark in its own right.

After some well-merited refreshments, we walked on down Wheatsheaf Yard towards Christchurch Cathedral, which serves as both the College Chapel and Mother Church for the Diocese of Oxford. The gothic long-spired building, with its colourful stained glass windows, vaulted cloisters and intricately carved ceiling, is truly one of a kind.

A short walk south of the cathedral brought us finally to Christ Church College, which, for me personally, was the climax of my trip to Oxford University. I definitely know which college I’d wish to attend if I could be an alumna of Oxford University! ‘Welcome to Hogwarts’… so says Prof McGonagall as Harry is about to enter his school for the first time. And those same steps we see on screen are the same steps which actually lead up the dining hall at Christ Church College.

download-1

The Meadow Building, built in the Venetian Gothic style popular during the Victorian period, dominates our view as soon as we enter this college. The courtyard also gives one a view of Bodley Tower, whose picturesque stone staircase was portrayed magnificently throughout various Harry Potter movies. Up the magical staircase we go to the dining hall at Christ Church College. The first thing we see on our immediate right as we enter the hall is a portrait of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The large stained glass windows around the hall and above the fireplace sport a myriad of Alice in Wonderland figures – from Alice herself to the white rabbit, and even the mock turtle. It was while Dodgson was rowing on a small boat near Magdalen College with the Dean’s three daughters, of which one was called Alice Liddell that he first started improvising the tale we all love and know so well.

maxresdefault

Christ Church Dining Hall was the inspiration for the Hall in Hogwarts, with its wood-panelled walls, its long long tables and its tiny lamps. The movie was not actually filmed in it, but a perfect replica of the place was reproduced within studio.

The many portraits lining the dining hall in Christ Church also played an important part in J. K Rowling’s novels. The table at the far end, known as ‘the High Table’ and used by senior members of the college, was also perfectly replicated as the table where Professors at Hogwarts dine and make speeches.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christ Church College, just as no tourist worth his salt could drive off without spotting the small store known as The Alice in Wonderland Shop. Located just in front of Christ Church College, this colourful Wonderland emporium stands on the historic spot pre-viously filled by Alice Liddell’s favourite candy shop.

download-2

The shop is full of Alice in Wonderland merchandise – different decks of cards depicting characters from the story, tiny china tea-sets, replica pocket watches, figurines, tea cosies, books and much more. If, like me, you’re an Alice aficionado, prepare your cheque book!

This article of mine was published on The Sunday Times of Malta on 23.10.2016 – http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161023/travel/Oxford-University-the-real-Hogwarts.628830