Oxford: The Colleges
Jul 16th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Oxford University has 38 colleges. The different colleges, from my understanding, are mainly about accommodation–you take classes with everyone at the University, but your college is where you live and eat and play. You apply to a specific college within the larger umbrella of Oxford U–and they want you to be a good fit; in addition to high scores, you have to pass an interview at the college–and they interview three times the number of people they’ll take.

My students are staying at Jesus (this allows for much wordplay–“Jesus doesn’t want you bringing strangers back to your room,” etc.). I’d once stayed at Mansfield for a conference, and I’d toured Exeter before because an ex went there.

Me at Mansfield

Tolkien’s bust at Exeter

Each college has its own beauty, its own style. I was excited to sneak into All Souls because of the Deborah Harkness Triology (I just taught the first book). All Souls doesn’t have any undergraduate residents, and reportedly has the best wine cellar, but the grounds are not the most beautiful. My favorite thing was the view of the next door Camera.

The Radcliffe Camera (viewed from All Souls)

We toured Christ Church as a group–with a lovely guide, Felicity. Even though she’s not a Potter fan, she dutifully showed us the places they shot three Harry Potter scenes there. The hall at Christ Church is what the hall at Hogwarts is based on. They didn’t let the movie people film there–the hall is old, and the pictures are priceless.

One picture, of a man named Strange who had a fondness for Father Christmas clothes (he was likely going for a different look), has eyes that follow you all around the room.

Christ Church is built on the site of a nunnery. The nunnery of St. Frideswide was the first place to be recorded in writing about Oxford, though people had been there for at least a thousand years before. Cardinal Wolsey first started this church; Henry VIII finished it, after he finished Wolsey.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a tutor here (of maths and logic)–he was friends with the head of the college–John Liddell. Alice Liddell asked that a tale he made up for her on a river trip be written down–and thus we have Alice in Wonderland. Many people, places, and situations of the college are figured into the tale, including Dodgson the Dodo and Alice’s chronically late father.

Christ Church from the street

Christ Church

He sees you when you’re sleeping–or wherever you are in that room!

St. Frideswide

Balliol was a delightful surprise–lovely gardens and grotesques (they’re only gargoyles, apparently, if they have water drains).

I’m a dragon, disguised as a tree.

Shhh. I’m reading.










Oriel (like many of the colleges) was a few minutes’ walk from our place. We went in one beautiful overcast day.

Seeing this view from the gate made me want to visit.

Closeup of the Oriel main view.

roses on the Oriel wall

This lion has very visible dick and balls. After I saw this at Oriel, I saw it everywhere.

University College is the oldest–the first with a land grant claim. It’s also the college with the Shelley monument. Shelley was actually kicked out of this college for refusing to answer questions about an atheist pamphlet he wrote.

University College Library

Shelley, worn out after exams. Or drowned. Or something.

We also went to Merton.

Me at Merton

This is one of the few pictures of me from this trip. The boy makes this face and sound when I ask him to take one:

Corpus Christi, according to the website, was open to visitors. Although the website was wrong, I talked our way in, with the help of a porter, who was eager to let me do so, even going so far as to say, “I’m trying to help you here,” when I started to back off the request.

We don’t know what this corner of Corpus Christi is, but we like it.

A few students and I went across the street to Lincoln, where we got to see its jaw-droppingly beautiful library. You can all see it in the new Transformers film, apparently.

My favorite college so far, however, has been Magdalen. We toured it as part of our exploration of CS Lewis, but its famous alumni are many, including Oscar Wilde, Dudley Moore, Cardinal Wolsey, and former UCD Campus Author Nick Kristof.

reminds me of home in Florida

We are convinced there are puzzles of this scene.

the duckery


There were carved wooden thrones along all the paths.



Harry Potter Studios
Jul 15th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I’m sorry in advance for how awesome this is.

You see, most people can’t say that they’ve been able to take a group of university students to the Harry Potter Studio Tour as just another day on the job.

When you get there, you see this: 

And then you wander around and see so much more!

The Way to the Common Room!

Dumbledore’s staircase!

sleeping headmasters!

The Potions’ Room!

John Cleese’s head!

Size Technology!

An elusive Dante smile!









Review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians
Feb 22nd, 2012 by Dr Karma

I have finally finished Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I say ‘finally’ because it took a long time. Not because I’m a slow reader, but because I was extremely bored & thus kept finding other things to read in between chapters.

Why did I even finish it? Well, it’s hard to call yourself a sci-fi specialist and not have read the new hot thing. I feel a sense of responsibility to read the sequel. Yes, responsibility and dread.

Here’s the lowdown. Quentin Coldwater discovers he’s a magician during a weird standardized test. He goes away to magic school, leaving his parents easily because he feels about them what he feels about most things. Nothing. He matriculates. A bunch of boring stuff happens, including a lot of binge drinking. One disaster occurs; one vaguely interesting test is taken. Quentin is responsible for the disaster. He feels guilty about it for a paragraph or so.

Then, way after you want to reread Harry Potter again, the characters discover that the Narnia ripoff books they read as children were about a real realm & that they can go there. Amazingly, this does not make the book that much better. Blah, blah, blah, fight with the big bad, recuperate with centaurs who are exactly as dynamic as the hero: not at all.

This book keeps getting billed as an adult Harry Potter. What’s adult about it? Binge drinking. Emotionally unattached sex. Some cussing. A lack of description of spells, a cool school, or intriguing teachers. A satisfying build-up to the climax. Caring about the characters.

I’ll put it this way. The best part of this book is a quick description of why the library is awesome.

Towards the end of the book, Quentin is described this way: “He was an empty shell, roughly hollowed out by some crude tool, gutted and left there, a limp, raw, boneless skin.” Except Quentin has always been this way. It’s why he doesn’t really love anyone. It’s why he has no purpose or calling or talent. It’s why he drinks. It’s why I can’t picture him at all after reading about him for 402 pages! It’s why he never once wonders what he’ll do after school.

I suppose it’s why he’s called Coldwater. If books like Harry Potter arouse the senses and grab me emotionally, this is the cold shower that just makes me want to go to bed alone.

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