The history of fictional museums is a long and curious one, and one that has more relevance to real museums than you might at first sight think. The history of fictional museums goes back at least as far as the seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Browne, who described (in words) an entirely invented museum called the Museum Clausum, whose artefacts included ‘A large Ostrich’s Egg, whereon is neatly and fully wrought that famous battle of Alcazar, in which three Kings lost their lives.’ From Thomas Browne til now artists, poets and writers have conjured up all kinds of fictional museums, whether to carry a story, make a point, or for the sheer pleasure of constructing a magical place.
Writers know all about the magic of museums – as places of remembering, for the apparent ‘alive-ness’ of their objects, and for what they reveal about the innate pathos and poignancy of the journeys we all make through time. Interestingly visitors also understand the imaginative power of museums. Visitor research shows that visitors come to museums at least as much for the social, spiritual and emotional power of the artefacts as for their intellectual value – which is something museums are increasingly acknowledging.
And so as a tribute to the magic of museums and to their poetic power we have given the Museum of Marco Polo a back story, a history which no more improbable than the real history of any museum. One last point: both my book and this website are illustrated by my daughter Isabel Greenberg who writes graphic novels, the latest of which – Glass Town – is inspired by the childhood writings of the Bronte children. So read on with this website and enjoy.