Tuesday, January 15, 2008

JAN MORRIS | Among the Spires

Article in the January 2008 issue of the Smithsonian magazine: Jan Morris on the University of Oxford.

Think of this. The most distinguished graduate college at Oxford is All Souls, founded in 1438 and popularly alleged to number among its Fellows the cleverest men and women in England. Once in every hundred years this eminent company celebrates something called the ceremony of the mallard, when it commemorates the fable of a wild duck supposed to have flown out of the foundations when the college was being built. After a good and vinous dinner those academics perambulate the premises looking for the shade of that bird, carrying sticks and staves, led by a Lord Mallard in a sedan chair with a dead duck on a pole, climbing to the roof and singing a gibberish song—Ho, the blood of King Edward, by the blood of King Edward, it was a swapping, swapping mallard.

When in 2001 they celebrated the ceremony of the mallard for the umpteenth time, they printed a booklet about the occasion. On its cover they quoted a contemporary commentator (me, as it happened!) to the effect that no event in Europe could be sillier, "not the most footling country frolic or pointless Anatolian orgy."

Inside the booklet, though, Oxford being Oxford, the Lord Mallard of the day confidently looked forward to the duck's resurrection "in future centuries."

Makes Oxford feel like the Unseen University. :)

5 comments:

Nymeth said...

lol...it does.

jpderosnay said...

it certainly is quite similar!

thats the nice and charming (and silly) side of oxford, which is very unseen university.

there's also the highly pompous, blind, superior and inept side, which is also very unseen university... :)

Dark Orpheus said...

Nymeth I laughed when I read it. I just had to post it. :)

I think I have a picture of Pratchett somewhere with a duck on his head....

Jean Pierre Hee. I was thinking of you when I posted the Oxford bit. Do take a picture the next time you see some old guy in Oxford with a dead duck. :)

Imani said...

Ha! This is completely off-topic but, knowing that we both share an interest in vampire fiction, I thought I would point you towards this review of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in case you haven't read it already. If you have, what did you think of it? I'd heard about it before and seen the movie (had potential, which it wasted) and had no idea it involved vampires. (In the movie the creatures were more zombie-ish to my eye.)

Dark Orpheus said...

Imani Ah, I regret that I have not read the Matheson novel nor have I watched the movie with Will Smith either.

Like you, I've heard of the book, but just never got around to reading it.

But thank you the link to the review. It was interesting, how Matheson tries to explain vampirism through science, and now I'm also thinking -- if the vampire was Buddhist, what would scare it?

Suddenly leap in thoughts -- Octavia Butler also did something similar, didn't she, in "Fledging"? Where she explained vampirism in sci-fi, through biology. Damn, I have to read more widely.