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Griselda guides youngsters on a thrilling trip to the Underworld
Christ Church’s glorious 18th-century library could scarcely be improved upon as a setting for a book launch and it was there, last Friday night, that author Griselda Heppel invited guests to celebrate with her the publication of Ante’s Inferno (Matador, £6.99 paperback, £9.99, hb).
This gripping novel is aimed at children of 12 or so and therefore able to empathise with the trio of youngsters we follow on a thrilling journey through the Underworld. Encountered on the way are such legendary figures as the Minotaur, the horse-human hybrid centaurs and the multi-headed guard dog Cerberus. A well-aimed shot of pepper into the three faces of the last is one of the cleverest strokes of heroine Ante (as schoolgirl Antonia is known).
One of her companions is the shade of a century-old boy, who perished in a fall at school. The character was inspired by an incident at Oxford’s Dragon School in 1910 when a lad fell to his death (was pushed?) from a balcony.
Publication of the novel represents a return to the world of books for Cambridge English graduate Griselda, who worked in publishing before moving to Oxford with husband Nigel Hamway to bring up their four children.
Though I had visited the library a number of times during the Oxford Literary Festival, I was unaware until Friday (when Christ Church’s Treasurer James Lawrie showed it to me) of a particular object housed there. This is the red Cardinal’s hat belonging to the college’s founder Thomas Wolsey. Once the property of Horace Walpole, it was exhibited at the V&A’s 2010 Strawberry Hill exhibition. A hand-written note by Walpole explained how he came by it: “Cardinal Wolsey’s Hat, found in the great Wardrobe by Bishop Burnet when he was Clerk of the Closet. It was left by his son Judge Burnet to the Countess of Albemarle’s Butler, who gave it to his lady, and her ladyship to Mr Horace Walpole in 1776.”