Oxford Entrance Question: What do you think of ‘Twilight’?

Yesterday we did a Hunger Games set and I thought we might spend a day in Forks as a complementary bookend to close the week. I was struck while reading the (yawn) perfunctory blowback and Fleet Street “shock!” to there being academic interest at St Andrews in the Shared Text and greatest publishing event since Gutenberg. One of the more shrill criers of ‘O, Tempora! O, Mores!’ at The Telegraph asked the rhetorical question meant as demeaning accusation, “What next, the Twilight series as A-Level Exams?’

Indeed, studying Harry Potter as a work of literature turns the literary world upside-down. If Dumbledore and Hagrid can be granted the status of Don Quixote and Hamlet, it’s alarming to contemplate what’s next. A dystopian interpretation of A Very Hungry Caterpillar? The Twilight series as an A-level text?

That was meant to point the likely, nay, inevitable end of the Slippery Slope that St Andrews was running down by sponsoring a Harry Potter conference. A-Levels are UK university entrance exams, if like me, you scratched your head at that reference; an ‘A-Level text,; consequently, is a serious work of literature, the understanding of which is the mark of a superior education and capacity.

We’ll have to assume Sarah Rainey, the Telegraph columnist, was either unaware that Oxford University now includes a question about Twilight in its entrance exam questionnaire or was being remarkably ironic (“here is the cause of our already arriving at the end of the Slippery Slope!” Because it’s there. Really.

A friend in Texas whose website deserves a visit (or two) wrote me about it:

I thought you might find this of interest.  Oxford University has a website with possible entrance questions.

Here is the one for English Literature:

Interviewer: Lucinda Rumsey, Mansfield College

Why might it be useful for an English student to read the Twilight series?

There’s several reasons I might ask this one. It’s useful in an interview to find some texts the candidate has read recently and the Twilight books are easily accessible and popular. Also, candidates tend to concentrate on texts they have been taught in school or college and I want to get them to talk about whatever they have read independently, so I can see how they think rather than what they have been taught. A good English student engages in literary analysis of every book they read. The question has led to some interesting discussions about narrative voice, genre, and audience in the past.

I’m glad that the folks at Oxbridge are still thinking — or that at least one don is. I can only imagine what sort of columns were written about Lucinda Rumsey’s madness in The Daily Mail and others, because the question being asked here, at Oxford’s entrance, effectively makes Twilight and all recreational reading A Level texts, which is to say, books to be read as literature. As they should be.


  1. Dumb question 🙂 Is “Oxbridge” a typo, or have Oxford and Cambridge become so indistinguishable that it’s a joke?

  2. John Granger says

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