Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Child's History of England

Under Construction

From the "You Gotta Love It" file, comes news that a Charles Dickens theme park is set to open soon in the dockyards of Chatham, England, a site that at one time employed Dickens' father. I've got just enough of the kid left in me to be excited about something like this, especially since I was first blindsided by Dickens novels at about 12-years of age and still sometimes see his work through the eyes of a boy.
Never mind that the books tackle child exploitation, poverty, murder and domestic violence; the indoor attraction is based on designs by the creator of Santa World in Sweden so the emphasis is firmly on fun, fun, fun.

Dickens World feels like Disney gone to the dark side. In place of the Magic Kingdom there is Newgate Prison; instead of talking animals there will be shady characters loitering in dark corners. Although the attractions are all faithfully Dickensian, the larks are very much 21st century.
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The whole project cost £62m and hopes to present Dickens to coaches of schoolchildren without having to call in the Muppets for backup. But it isn't just an expensive gesture to introduce The Mystery of Edwin Drood to a pre-teen audience. Dickens World has been nearly 40 years in the making. Originally slated to open in London's King's Cross, before being forced out by rising property prices, it is now based in the historic dockyards of Chatham...Capitalising on the author's ever-increasing popularity, the organisers are expecting 300,000 visitors a year.
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The plan is to artfully side-step the more gruesome aspects of Dickens' work while still remaining faithful to the Victorian period - so no need to worry about rats and poor sanitation in the restaurant. "I would hope that what we are doing is as much about history as Dickens storylines," says Christie, who has been working on the project since 2000. "Visitors are not going to come here to be depressed so our role is to entertain them. We're not going to have starving babies crawling around on the cobblestones. If you're coming from Japan or America what you're probably going to want to see is a realisation of what you think London might be like, but is no longer."
I realize that the theme park is trying to walk a very fine line between educating its young visitors to the joys of Dickens and turning Dickens into the U.K. version of Mickey Mouse, but I'm betting that those in charge will manage to pull this off. Of course, not everyone is so sure. This article represents the view of someone willing to bet that this is going to be one hugely expensive mistake.

11 comments:

  1. I will try and visit when it is open and give you feedback:)

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  2. Hugely expensive mistake or not, "I wanna go!" she says while jumping up and down and clapping her hands with child-like anticipation.

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  3. Do let us know what you think, a.book. I don't think that I would care much for the "rides" but it would be fun to see what else is on offer there.

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  4. It sounds pretty cool, doesn't it, Anne? I'm a sucker for that kind of thing anyway...I took some fairly cheesy tours in London (ghosts, the Ripper one, etc.) just to see some of the original sites and always carried a guide book with me on weekends for the whole three years I lived there. It's an amazing city for book lovers.

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  5. I'm not quite sure what I think about this. I do hope they manage to pull it off and look forward to hearing people's response to it! At least it is a literary spin off!

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  6. I have always wanted to go to London and this sounds like another fascinating reason to go. Which reminds me, I need to move some Dickens from the TBR list to the completed list. I've only read A Christmas Carol, how sad is that?

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  7. Ooh, I hope a.book.in.the.life can go and report back!

    I love London and I'll visit the Dickens theme park, even if it turns out cheesy!

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  8. ''It is the trivialising of the social issues Dickens cared so passionately about that is the most disturbing."

    The above from the lady reviewer sums it up for me.

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  9. Nick, I'm choosing to be an optimist in regards to this one. I know, I know, that's completely out of character for me. :-)

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  10. Hey, Matt, jump right in. I think that you'll be happy that you did because Dickens, if read slowly and for pleasure rather than as a school assignment, can become very addictive.

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  11. Danielle & Gentle Reader, I'm hoping for the best too. The odds probably aren't good since the park will have to draw huge crowds in order to cover all the costs involved, but maybe it will work out OK. It will definitely draw tourists from the U.S. I don't doubt that a bit.

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