More Gruel Please, Sir: Welcome to Dickensworld
Fellow-writer, and fellow Worcester girl, Caitlin O'Neil, blogged briefly the other day on literary travel spots, and gave a mention to Dickensworld:
...a Charles Dickens theme park complete with a Great Expectations boat ride and Ye Olde Curiosity Gift Shop. The $115 million Disney-style theme park was built in Chatham, England, at the naval dockyard where Dickens' father once worked as a clerk.
Well, I know that all sorts of places believe they can give their locales a big economic boost by investing in an "if they build it they will come" attraction that will bring in big tourist money. After all, in this era of globalization, when all the job-jobs (manufacturing, back office, x-ray reading, and text-messaging) go overseas, what have we all got left other than as a destination?
Chatham, no doubt, has its Great Expectations for Dickensworld.
From a Reuters article by Paul Majendie (admittedly entitled Great Expectations for Dickens theme park, but I would have thought of it, anyway), we learn that among the goodies planned are Ye Olde Curiosity Gift Shop, Fagin's den, and Newgate Prison. (Can you get your pocket picked in Fagin's den, or does that happen in Ye Old Curiosity Gift Shop?)
"We are not Disneyfying Dickens," insists manager Ross Hutchins..."If Dickens was alive today, he would probably have built the place himself, " Hutchins said of the theme park in Chatham, once a big unemployment blackspot in southeast England after the dockyards closed in the 1980s but now a major regeneration target.
They're expecting 300,000 visitors per year to visit Dickensworld. Described as
...a dark, dirty and dank London is populated by thieves, murderers and ghosts --[which] has the air of authenticity as it was built in consultation with experts from the Dickens Fellowship.
Dark, dirty, dank London? A little more Disney-fication please.
I will confess that the only thing of Dickens I ever enjoyed reading was Tale of Two Cities. For me, that was the best of his books. The worst of books? Bleak House. Pure torture.
The last time I read Dickens was in high school, and I suppose I really should give him a re-read. But so little time, so many books.
Sorry, I think the best I could do is the "Classic Comics." Which is, I believe, how I read Oliver Twist. I was always a big reader, but I was never much of a Dickens' fan. So I won't be hastening to Dickensworld for "the boat ride that takes visitors from 'the sewers to the rooftops of London'."
But, other than this compelling boat ride, the shop (make that shoppe), and Fagin's den, what else is there to expect.
From their site, I learned that:
The experience will feature a Dickensian Shopping Mall, together with a multitude of attractions and rides, including a mix of themed restaurants, bars and a multiplex cinema. Dickens World will also have facilities for seasonal variations, particularly over the Christmas period in which the attraction will convert into a Dickensian winter wonderland, replete with snow and other characteristics of a bygone era, complemented by a magnificent water feature which over the festive season changes into a spectacular 'ice fantasia' dominated by 'The Spirit of Christmas', 'JackFrost', 'Scrooge' and a host of other delightful characters who magically come to life. This and other seasonal events throughout the year an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages. A series of 'burlesque' evening dinner shows are being especially created to provide a nightly menu of 'naughty delights' in the 'Free and Easy' Victorian Music Hall.
Well, I guess with global warming snow will be a characteristic of a bygone era....but Scrooge as a "delightful character". I guess that will be the post-conversion Scrooge. On second thought, the pre-conversion Scrooge might be preferable to the Tiny Timmed one.
And the "naughty delights" of the "Free and Easy" Victorian Music Hall.
Think I'll take a Hall pass.
And is it going to be all England, all the time?
Wouldn't a little Paris - with a guillotine slicing off animatronic heads while Madame Defarge's knitting away - be appropriate, too?
And what can we expect from the restaurants. Oliver Twist "Please, sir, I want some more gruel" porridge? Miss Haversham's wedding case (with marzipan mice running in and out)?
I really, truly do feel sympathy for Chatham's looking for a tourism boost. But I'm sure that there would have been far, far better things to do.
But I fear that Dickensworld, which opens this May, will turn out to be a humbug.
God help us, everyone.