Climbing through the wardrobe

Today I have had the best afternoon out in Oxford, ever! Emma and I headed into the city this afternoon to go to the excellent and inspiring home of The Story Museum – I think that maybe this place, the old telephone exchange – is my cathedral. We went to see the amazing 26 Characters exhibition before it closes on 2 November (if you haven’t been to see it, go soon, you won’t regret it!).

From the moment you enter the courtyard that sits at the heart of the three loosely interconnected buildings that make up the Story Museum, you can feel the sense of fun at work here, from the curiouser and curiouser messages up the doors to the cafe and shop with the furniture on the walls and the ceilings and the tables for drawing on.

For the 26 Characters exhibition, the photographer Cambridge Jones found 26 authors to each name their favourite storybook character to have inspired them. He then photographed dressed as those characters, and the exhibiton is a series of installations based on this. You work your way round the crumbling old building exploring the different rooms to feel, touch, and smell the world of the story book characters, and in many there are readings from the stories.

On one floor you go from standing on the pirate ship listening to an excerpt from Treasure Island (Philip Pullman’s favourite), to entering the dark forest of Mirkwood for a passage from the Lord of the Rings. In the corner of this room, inconspicuous is an old wardrobe…

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Now who hasn’t, ever since reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, wanted to investigate inside of an innocent wardrobe. And this one actually did lead to a secret wood, with a lamp post and snow, a carriage, and… the white witch!

In another room there was a story making wheel where you were given three ingrediants of a story – and then a whole wall behind you of stories written by children and pinned to it.

But another favourite was when we entered the room that once once the old General Post Office kitchens. As soon as you entered you could hear the tiny, tiny voices of… The Borrowers! They were living behind the grill at the bottom of the stainless steel units and you could actually see Pod’s and Arietty’s home! Into another room and you didn’t see anything unless you followed out the instructions to walk into the room and clap twice if you believed in fairies. And then you were in the world of Peter Pan and Wendy and Tinkerbell.