A significant portion of the story in A Discovery of Witches, the popular fantasy novel by Deborah Harkness (later adapted into a TV series) is set in Oxford, England. In fact, he locations in Oxford play a central role in the narrative, which revolves around Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist. In this article, I will show you the key locations used in both A Discovery of Witches’ books and TV series.
What Is A Discovery of Witches and Why Does It Take Place in Oxford?
A Discovery of Witches is a popular fantasy novel by Deborah Harkness, which was later adapted into a TV series. The story combines elements of fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and the supernatural. It revolves around the character of Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, who stumbles upon a mysterious and enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782 in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This discovery sets in motion a series of events that draw Diana into the world of witches, vampires, and daemons.
The choice of Oxford as a central location in the story is significant for several reasons, which include (but is not restricted to) the following:
The academic background: Deborah Harkness herself has a strong academic background, having studied history at Oxford University. Her familiarity with the university’s rich history, architecture, and academic traditions is evident in the novel and works perfectly as a backdrop for the story’s exploration of knowledge, research, and scholarship.
The historical significance: Oxford is a city steeped in history, and its ancient streets, historic buildings, and libraries contribute to the book’s atmosphere of mystery and antiquity – so it’s a fitting setting for a story that delves into the secrets of the past.
Oxford’s magical aura: Oxford’s reputation as a place of learning and its aura of intellectualism make it an ideal location for a story involving witches, vampires, and daemons.
The diverse community: Oxford is known for its diverse and international community of students and scholars. This diversity is reflected in the characters of witches, vampires, and daemons in the story, who come from different backgrounds and cultures.
The blend of realism and fantasy: The choice of Oxford as a real-world setting adds a layer of realism to the fantasy elements of the story (not unlike Harry Potter does, too). It creates a sense that the supernatural world exists alongside the everyday world, hidden in plain sight.
In short, in A Discovery of Witches, Oxford becomes more than just a backdrop; it becomes a character in its own right, adding depth and authenticity to the narrative. So, if you are visiting the city and you like the books or TV series… you’re in for a treat!
A Discovery of Witches in Oxford: All Locations
Let’s see some of the key locations in Oxford featured in A Discovery of Witches and you can visit them when you are in Oxford.
The Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library is one of the most iconic locations in Oxford, and it serves as a central setting in the story. Diana Bishop, the protagonist, is a historian, and she works at the Bodleian. It’s in the library that she discovers a mysterious and enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782, which sets the events of the story in motion.
The Bodleian Library, often referred to simply as the Bodleian, is one of the oldest and most prestigious libraries in the world. Its rich history dates back to the early 17th century, and its collection houses countless rare and valuable manuscripts.
It’s within the hallowed halls of the Bodleian that Diana stumbles upon the enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. This event is the catalyst for the entire narrative. The manuscript is believed to contain secrets about the origins and history of witches, vampires, and daemons, making it a highly sought-after artifact in the supernatural world. Diana’s accidental discovery of Ashmole 782 sets off a chain of events, bringing her into contact with other creatures and drawing her deeper into a world she had tried to avoid.
The Bodleian’s role in the story extends beyond being a mere setting; it becomes a site of conflict and intrigue. The library’s reputation as a sanctuary for knowledge and secrets makes it a fitting place for the convergence of supernatural forces.
How To Visit The Bodleian Library
If you are in Oxford, you can visit the Bodleian Library. However, it’s recommended you book your tickets in advance as the guided tours have limited availability. You can book your ticket here and read more about opening times and history following this box:
All Souls College
All Souls College is another important location in the story. It is not only where Diana Bishop has her academic affiliations but also where Matthew Clairmont, a prominent vampire scholar, has his own connections. Throughout the series, All Souls College is the backdrop for various academic and supernatural events.
All Souls College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, known for its prestigious academic traditions. Founded in the 15th century, the college is renowned for its intellectual heritage and distinguished alumni.
Diana Bishop, the story’s protagonist, has strong academic ties to All Souls College. As a historian specializing in alchemical history, she holds a research fellowship at the college. All Souls becomes her academic home, and her work there is a central aspect of her character. The college provides her with access to resources, fellow scholars, and an environment steeped in centuries of learning.
All Souls College is also significant for Matthew Clairmont, a prominent vampire scholar and scientist. Matthew’s affiliation with the college is not merely academic; he has deep historical ties to the institution, having been a member for centuries.
How To Visit All Souls
Visiting All Souls College is also quite straightforward if you’re in Oxford. You can find all relevant info here:
The Oxford Botanic Garden
The Oxford Botanic Garden is a peaceful and lush location in the story, where Diana and Matthew often go to relax and spend time together. It serves as a romantic setting for their growing relationship.
The Oxford Botanic Garden, located near the heart of the city, has meticulously curated gardens, peaceful pathways, and vibrant botanical displays – all of which make it an enchanting and picturesque location. Within the story, it is described as a place of beauty and serenity, providing respite from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
The Botanic Garden serves as a romantic retreat for Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont, the central characters of the story. As their relationship evolves, the garden becomes a private and intimate space where they can escape the complexities of their supernatural lives. Amidst the blooming flowers and verdant foliage, Diana and Matthew find solace and moments of quiet reflection. As their relationship faces numerous challenges and threats, these moments of intimacy and solitude become increasingly precious.
Oxford's Historic Streets
Throughout the series, the characters traverse the historic streets of Oxford, showcasing its charming architecture and atmosphere. These streets become the backdrop for various interactions and encounters between witches, vampires, and daemons.
Oxford is renowned for its picturesque and historic architecture, with its cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, and elegant colleges. The city’s timeless charm and architectural beauty set the stage for a visually stunning narrative. As the characters traverse these streets, readers are treated to vivid descriptions of their surroundings, which evoke a sense of place and atmosphere.
Oxford’s streets become a metaphorical crossroads where the worlds of witches, vampires, and daemons intersect with the human world. It’s within these streets that the characters from different species come into contact, often unintentionally. The city’s centuries-old buildings and landmarks, in a way, underscore the idea that the supernatural world has existed in parallel with human history, influencing events from the shadows.
The Eagle and Child Pub
This famous Oxford pub The Eagle and Child, also known as the Bird and Baby, is featured in the story. It’s where Diana and Matthew occasionally gather with other supernatural creatures and discuss their research and problems.
The pub was a popular meeting place for the Inklings, a literary discussion group that included renowned authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Its historical importance as a gathering spot for intellectuals and writers adds depth and authenticity to its portrayal in the story.
In the world of “A Discovery of Witches,” The Eagle and Child retains its status as a gathering place for intellectuals, but it also becomes a meeting place for supernatural creatures. Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont, along with other witches, vampires, and daemons, occasionally convene at the pub. Here, they can discuss their research, share information, and seek solutions to the complex problems they face.
The Radcliffe Camera
Although not as central as the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, a striking circular library building in Oxford, also appears in the story as part of the academic backdrop.
The Radcliffe Camera is an iconic architectural gem in Oxford, known for its neoclassical design and distinctive circular shape. It stands as a testament to the city’s rich academic history and tradition. Its striking appearance and commanding presence make it a visually captivating location that adds grandeur to the story.
While not as central as the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera serves as an extension of the academic world within the narrative. In the story, it represents another facet of Oxford’s intellectual legacy, housing a vast collection of books and scholarly resources. Its presence underscores the academic pursuits of characters like Diana Bishop and the broader context of knowledge-seeking and research that permeates the story.
Like the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera is a place where characters conduct research, seek answers to questions, and make discoveries.
Books to Help You Explore A Discovery of Witches and Oxford
If you want to learn more about A Discovery of Witches and why Oxford plays such a significant role in the series, here are some books to take on a few adventures.