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 in 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, finding 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 outsized bed with the 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 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.
Update as of December 2019: The Story Museum is undergoing major restorations and will reopen in April 2020.
Know Before You Go
Located in Pembroke Street, the museum is a 15-minute walk from Oxford train station and is clearly marked by two lanterns outside reading "Speak Friend" and "And Enter." The museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during term-time and every day during school holidays. The Museum is 80% wheelchair accessible, with hopes to expand to 100% by 2019. The museum is currently planning major renovations due for completion in mid-2019, so check the website before planning a visit.