Alice’s Wonderland, Narnia and Middle Earth were all worlds which emerged from the streets of Oxford, where fantasy authors Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien spent time writing. Yet Oxford’s significance in children’s literature was often overlooked until 2014, when the Story Museum opened its doors.
Almost every room in the fantastical museum has something in it to touch, listen to, smell or dress up in. Lining the walls of the Throne Room are hundreds of costumes, for princesses, knights, and dragons to pose on the Story Throne for photos. Here children can generate their own story titles, by mixing together different words on a board.
The museum is based on exploration, so there is no predetermined route through the rooms. Corridors such as Merlin’s cave lead to dead ends and surprises hide in every corner. In the room which also holds the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, is a small wardrobe. Once open, children push through a wall of fur coats and into the snowy landscape of Narnia, with Jadis’ abandoned sled and the familiar lamppost. Upon ploughing through the frozen landscape, children find the cozy den of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, replete with fire and comfy armchairs.
In another room, an outsize bed with patchwork quilt from children’s book, The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go To Bed dominates the room. Here children can put their own baby doll to bed, or snuggle under the covers while a museum volunteer reads to them. From the Control Room of the Mission Craft Ever After, a spacecraft collecting stories from around the galaxy, children can give feedback to the crew, recording their own stories through audio, typewriters or by filming their favorite scenes from books or movies. Museum staff hope to soon acquire Phillip Pullman’s ponytail. Pullman famously delays cutting his hair until his current manuscript is complete, illustrating just how long it takes to write a book.