Hidden gems – Lyra’s alethiometer & JK Rowling’s illustrations…

I may have scoured 118 miles of shelves containing ancient books, I may have raced down secret tunnels into underground library rooms, I may have chatted with a book-goblin about long-forgotten leather-bound books (see Recent Posts to read about those adventures), but my time in Oxford’s Bodleian Library is not over yet…  In fact it’s only just begun. Because tucked into an alcove of the library is the exhibition of Magical Books.

Magical Books

As I step inside, I realise that Philip Pullman’s words, ‘Oxford, where the real and the unreal jostle in the streets…’ are true.  Because out of Oxford, some of the greatest children’s fantasy writers of all time have emerged: J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis and Philip Pullman to name a few.  And for moontruggers who have always wondered what J R R stands for, it’s John Ronald Reuel (sounds like a cheese) and C S is Clive Staples (sounds like a Ryman’s employee)…  But cheese and Rymans aside, these guys are the creative geniuses behind Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia and within a few steps, I bump into C S Lewis’ original Narnia map.


Just looking at it I can practically see the towers of Cair Paravel glistening in the sunlight and I can almost feel the snow falling around the lamp post by Mr Tumnus’ house.  Every great fantasy novel has a map at the beginning – check out Chris Riddell’s map at the front of The Edge Chronicles for one of moontrug’s favourites. And then I realise what is next to C S Lewis’ Narnia map: Philip Pullman’s map of Lyra’s Oxford from Northern Lights.

Pullman map

Gulp, that’s cool.  There’s Jordan College where Lyra runs wild with her daemon, Pantalaimon, ignorant of the adventures awaiting her.  And it’s drawn in Pullman’s own hand – like it’s Pullman’s incredible imagination drawn out on a page for everyone to see. There’s something about Oxford – it seems to have a magical pull for fantasy writers.  Just recently Julia Golding released her Knights of the Round Table series which sees a dark magic try to gain control of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.


I take a step further into the Magical Books exhibition and what I see next is so moontruggishly cool that I want to jump up and down and clap my hands.  Lyra’s alethiometer, the magical instrument Lyra is given by the master of Jordan college.  It reveals the truth (Aletheia means ‘truth’  and -ometer means ‘measuring device’) of past and present events. Pullman had an inventor friend of his take a look at his descriptions of the alethiometer in The Amber Spyglass, and the inventor then went away and created one.  It’s the only one of its kind and I’m looking right at it.

Lyra's alethiometre

Next stop is an undated Arabic amulet scroll which the Bodleian library describes as ‘filled with incantations and texts of obscure, probably magical significance.’  Only scholars and wizards can unlock its secrets.

Magical scroll

The next thing I spy makes me do a double take.  Everyone knows that J K Rowling can write – but did anyone know she can draw?  Because right in front of me is her own illustration of a ‘brooding Snape’.


Shortly after that I spot an original page of Pullman’s notebook which gives us a glimpse into his planning of the moment Lee Scoresby using his hot air balloon to rescue Lyra, Roger and Iorek from the battle which erupts involving the Gyptians and witches against Bolvangar’s guards.

Pullman script

The Magical Books exhibition is just teeming with enchanted objects and original manuscripts so I can’t resist a peek in the Gift Shop.  Oooooooooohhhhhh, Magical Book Christmas advent calendars and Magical Book puzzle postcards.  Moontrug’s going to be in here for a long, long time…