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April 18, 2007

My colleague Wes Jones just sent me the link to a blog that makes me terribly happy. Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog purports to be written by the man himself, with occasional input from contemporaries like Sir John Mandeville. It’s in pretty good Middle English, and if you can follow the language it’s really funny. Perhaps it’s only funny for English teachers, but I was laughing pretty hard. Search around and find Chaucer’s medieval pick-up lines (Do sheriffs administere thee to those who breke the kinges peace? Bycause thou lookst “fyne.”) Good stuff. Can’t wait to use this when I teach Chaucer in the fall.

In other literary news, the Dickens World theme park is due to open in Chatham next month. I don’t know that I can do it better justice than its own web site, so click over there and gape. There’s been much discussion and consternation on VictoriaList about it, the substance of which can be summed up by a good opinion piece in the Guardian by Victorian scholar Judith Flanders. For the most part I agree with Ms. Flanders–it’s likely that a theme park built around my favorite author will serve up sanitized and family-friendly versions of the most familiar novels while avoiding all the dangerous and upsetting material. It is the dark stuff that gives Dickens his power, and without that what you have left is Oliver!–fun for sing-alongs but hardly great literature. The “Fagin’s Den” attraction probably won’t include prostitutes like Nancy, and even if Nancy is wandering the plaster cobblestones of Dickens World, I bet money the customers won’t see her brutally beaten to death by her live-in lover, as happens in the novel. Likewise, smallpox, horse shit, and the sort of London particular that caused multiple asphyxiations a year during the mid-19th century don’t make for family-style fun. And at any rate, I fear that the focus will be on the better known works–I’m not hopeful to find Our Mutual Friend or Dombey and Son well-represented at the park, and forget about Barnaby Rudge.

But frankly, Dickens has survived worse. He’s been bawdlerized and reworked and pirated and filmed (with greater or lesser degrees of success) and adapted. Does anyone remember Henry Winkler in an updated version of A Christmas Carol back in the late seventies or early eighties? If Dickens can survive that, he can surely survive a Magwitch log flume ride. And Dickens himself was a populist and a lover of spectacle, as well as a lover of things-that-pay-homage-to-Dickens. I suspect he wouldn’t be averse to Dickens World. He might possibly be first in line.

The worst thing about Dickens World is that it opens May 25th–a full week after I’ve come back to the States. There goes my chance to meet Little Nell.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ruth permalink
    April 20, 2007 9:47 am

    Hi Jamie, Just read this in one of my bookselling newsletters and since I couldn’t find your email address and posting it to you-

    Dickens World, the £62 million “Victorian answer to Mickey Mouse,” officially opens May 27 in Kent, but the Guardian offered readers an early glimpse of the theme park.

    “The centerpiece is a boat ride which, loosely speaking, is Great Expectations presented as a log flume,” the Guardian reported, noting that the park is “capitalizing on the author’s ever-increasing popularity” and expects 300,000 visitors this year.

    Increased online book sales was one of the factors cited by the Guardian as evidence of this Dickens renaissance: “Amazon reported that orders for Dickens’ books shot up by 160% last year, thanks largely to the BBC serialisation of Bleak House, which was sold to 24 different countries. With the bicentenary of his birth set to coincide with the 2012 Olympics in London, we could be in for a whole new wave of Dickens-mania. Members of the Dickens Fellowship want to promote the author as a ‘presiding spirit of the games,’ on the basis that he is one of the best-known cultural figures associated with the capital.”

    The Guardian also covered a preview visit by select members of the public, including septuagenarian Thelma Gove, who a cast cool, Dickensian eye on the project and expressed disapproval after spotting the name “Daryll” on a tombstone. “No, no, no! Daryll will not do,” she said. “They want to be proper Dickens names. There are 1,550 characters to choose from, for goodness sake!”

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