When you enter EMP Museum's new addition to its fantasy wing, an exhibition titled Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic — the immersive experience begins immediately. You walk through a large oaken portal, and you are transported into an ancient mossy castle with a life-size dragon, fantastic creatures, and an armored wizard's tree.
The first room focuses on archetypes and is a perfect introduction to the rest of the exhibit. The centerpiece is an interactive table display with beautiful artwork by Seattle artist Stacey Rozich, which illustrates 20 different archetypes like the Rogue, the Damsel, the Iron Woman or the Unlikely Hero. Tap on one of the characters and you get examples of that type of character in popular media along with the history of the archetype, and a short film showing clips of the characters playing out their archetypal role.
The museum does an excellent job of then tying the archetypes into the rest of the exhibit. When you see Westley's Dread Pirate Roberts costume from The Princess Bride the signage includes the label and graphic from the list of archetypes so you and your kids can tie everything together.
The main gallery resembles a medieval courtyard, where your kids can climb through a little cave and sneak a peek at a life-size dragon that was constructed by the Seattle Opera Scene Shop specifically for the exhibit. It appears to be sleeping but if you play with its tail it will awaken. The space is also dominated by the wizard's tree, a massive construction covered in 43,000 metal scales. This part of the exhibit features costumes from the 1939 Wizard of Oz, The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, Harry Potter and others in addition to an authentic suit of 16th century armor.
If you venture inside the wizard tree you can see more artifacts from George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea), and Terry Brooks (Shannara). An interactive tabletop displays other materials, such as copies of manuscripts for Peter Pan.
For the serious fantasy fanatic there is the holy grail of geekdom, original manuscripts for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These documents, on public display for the first time in decades, include J. R. R. Tolkien's hand-written annotations where he changed Aragorn's name from Trotter to Strider as well as a hand-drawn spreadsheet that Tolkien created to track the progress of each of the characters and groups throughout the story on a time-frame based on his Middle-Earth calendar.
Another not-to-be missed feature is the interactive map-making kiosk, where kids (and adults, of course) can create pirate, wizard, or anime maps, display them in the wizard tree, or print them out and take them home for $9.
Because the museum is interested in all aspects of fantasy in pop culture there are comic books; games like Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering; a "Diminutive Salon of Epic Art," a theater featuring a giant steel dragonfly with screens in each eye to display films; and ambient music composed specifically for the exhibit by the Downtown Composer Collective. You can even sit on the Iron Throne from the popular HBO series Game of Thrones.
Because the museum is interested in all aspects of fantasy in pop culture there are comic books; games like Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering; a "Diminutive Salon of Epic Art," a theater featuring a giant steel dragonfly with screens in each eye to display films; and ambient music composed specifically for the exhibit by the Downtown Composer Collective.
The goal of Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic is to cover the expansive world of fantasy in a way that will enlighten those new to the genre and delight those with a deeper understanding. I think it does both admirably.
If you go ...
Where/when: The exhibition is up indefinitely at EMP Museum, Seattle
Tickets: Included in admission to EMP, which costs $12–$20; kids ages 4 and younger are free. Buy online for a discount.
Age recommendation: The exhibit is all-ages. Recommend for kids 6 and older.
About the author: John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.