In the opening pages of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie tells us that the Neverlands in children’s minds “vary a good deal” but that “on the whole they have a family resemblance.” For me, London is one of those great Neverlands, a mythic-real place that I get to return to each summer with a new group of bright, energetic students from ECU. And while each summer bears a sort of “family resemblance” to the others, the different students and faculty, as well as the ever-changing city, make up a whole new set of adventures and experiences that are well-worth the time and expense of going.
The London Study Abroad program in the English department gives students a chance to earn up to six credits (undergraduate or graduate) while spending three weeks in one of the world’s most vibrant and culturally rich cities. In recent years, we’ve offered courses in the London literary scene, in visual and document design, in scientific and technical writing, in British cinema and culture, as well as my own course, British Children’s Literature. In summer 2010, we’ll offer four different courses taught by four expert faculty in the English department: Rick Taylor, Anna Froula, Brent Henze, and myself.
As much as I love teaching classic British children’s literature in the U.S., I know first-hand that those stories mean infinitely more when we talk about them in the context of London and the English countryside. Last summer, in addition to reading Peter Pan, we watched a stellar production of the play in an enormous theatre erected in Kensington Garden, not far from the famous statue of Peter Pan.
One night, we found ourselves in an out-of-the-way pub in East London, watching a hilarious updating of Chaucer’s fabliau “Chauntecleer and Pertelotte.” One afternoon, we nipped in to catch Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in a Beckett play. One Monday, we took off for Oxford College to spend a day walking in the steps of Phillip Pullman’s characters from The Golden Compass and to see where great stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of Rings were written.
Some students spent a weekend in Paris, while others took the ferry to Dublin, and a few hopped a train to Glasgow. Boat trips along the Thames to Kew Gardens, evenings at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, class meetings in Regent’s Park, visits to the British Film Institute and museum—all in three weeks!
And that’s the glory of London: musicals and plays, street performances, music, art, history, literature—every summer different and similar, every summer a new-old adventure, every summer a chance to return to the Neverland and enjoy, with something like a child’s wonder, the sights, smells, and stories of one of the world’s most vibrant cities.
Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” My colleagues and I return to our London Neverland each summer with students because neither we nor (we hope) they are tired, just yet, of all that life can afford those who are willing to go look for it.