Christ Church dining hall, a model for the one at Hogwarts, rings out with the chants of children chanting ‘Set him free!’ Enter a hooded, robed figure — not Dumbledore, but an even more senior wizard, released briefly from enchanted imprisonment in a cavern.
Kevin Crossley-Holland gamely stayed in character for an hour while Merlin received the This Is Your Life treatment from Nicolette Jones, in charge of the young people’s programme at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. He posed medieval riddles, recounted the legendary origin of Stonehenge, and mined Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory and the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen for details from the lives of the wizard and of Arthur. In return, young members of the audience told him about Gandalf and Harry Potter. ‘Harry who?’ asked Merlin.
A slightly younger life story was recounted elsewhere in the Festival — the story of the English language in Britain. Prolific linguistics author David Crystal and his wife Hilary introduced their book Wordsmiths and Warriors, an attempt to do for the language what travelogues have done for literature, by visiting key places in the history of English.