As part of my research, I decided to do some investigating at The Story Museum in Oxford. It’s location, somewhat hidden from the main streets of Oxford allows it to blend seamlessly into it’s historic context. ‘Speak Friend And Enter’ guards the doors, relating to the riddle that must be solved in order to open the Doors of Durin, leading into the dwarven city of Khazad-dûm in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien (who famously studied in Oxford).
Once inside, the multiple floor museum (currently undergoing some maintenace work) offers a series of rooms intended for exploration of stories. I would say that the museum is specially aimed at children, although I was told by a rather enthusiastic volunteer that the museum is for all ages, and I could get a bedtime story read to me by ‘Granny Anne’ in her giant bed if i did so wish!
Although I politely declined ‘Granny Anne’s’ invitation for a bedtime story, she did point out a diorama in the corner of the room, which was of more interest to me (even if it was made up of Sylvanian families toys!) With DS7 soon to be looking into the Nutshell Studies of crime scenes, this was an unexpected find in the museum.
The museum has an area for reading and exploration of stories in different scenarios, from a boat to a garden shed, but this was undergoing some repairs, so was closed to the public (but I managed to sneak a photo through the viewing panel on the door). The museum has dressed different areas and rooms with themes ranging from castles to invented ‘Storyloom’s’. All to attract children into stories and reading.
Onsite, they have independent illustators working, who show the museum-goers about illustation and book publishing. The illustrator I met with, Rob Jones, talked me through his children’s story book ideas and how he designed each of the characters and storylines. Throughout his exploration of the books, he made and bound his own mock up books to show to his agent, in addition to puppets and toys to research the individual book characters.
Overall, it was an interesting way to spend an afternoon. It taught me more about stories and how they are created and how you can get children engaged in story reading and telling.