Because it cannot possibly have gotten enough press--no amount of press being sufficient--I have decided to call your attention to Dickens World, a theme park dedicated to the works and times of Charles Dickens. Open as of May 25, 2007, the complex is situated in Chatham, in which place young Charles spent the bulk of his youth. I will leave it to you to hunt out most of the details, but suffice to say it seems few if any of the 62 million pounds spent building the thing went to web design (I have many questions, but if any of them are Frequently Asked I'll never know because I inexplicably lack the authorization necessary to access that page. Someone is also operating an equally under-informative blog). The complex apparently comes complete with a boat ride, recreations of Victorian London, and the very latest in animatronics.
At any rate, I'm sure the Powers That Spend have thoroughly considered the commercial viability of such an enterprise, and I suppose it thrills me to hear that they expect 300,000 visitors per year. We poor Americans have neither an equivalent site nor, I imagine, a quite-equivalent author; I'm no nineteenth-century scholar, and I'm certainly no Americanist, but I shouldn't have to be either to figure out who a US counterpart might be. Poe, I might argue, has the most merchandise attached to his name and literary corpus--I don't think any other poet-prose writers can boast the homage of both a sports franchise and a spot on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's--but I imagine if we were to open any kind of public site of entertainment dedicated to his life and times it would have to be a well-stocked bar in the poorly-lit cellar of a crumbling sanitarium somewhere between New York and Baltimore. Hardly seems family-friendly. So--any suggestions? Who would you build an indoor theme-park for?
I'm having trouble figuring out precisely who these 300,000 people are. If they opened a Harry Potter theme park (they are), I could see it being thronged by millions. If they opened a Lord of the Rings park (they could) I'm sure it would do business as well. But Dickens? One supposes that Chatham needs revenue, and unfortunately for it, Shakespeare belongs to Stratford. Despite my love of a good boat ride and ever-present desire to see robots in period clothing go absolutely berserk in an enclosed space, I don't know that I'd find the hour it takes to get there from London and the four hours it takes to take it all in. And I consider myself a Dickens fan. I've read A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Pickwick Papers, and Bleak House. I've even had an article published on Our Mutual Friend. So if I'm not going to go, who is?
People with children, you answer, and you must be correct. Not having any, and being of a singularly non-nurturing disposition, I take the wrong approach to this concept. Everyone loves the ghosts of Christmas Past through Yet-to-Come, and you needn't be halfway through a PhD to get a minor kick out of watching Marley rattle his chains. But is there really enough of a Dickens fan-base to make The Olde Curiosity Shoppe exhibit worth seeing? Or rather, as Dr. Johnson might have said, worth going to see? And does that fan-base come equipped with children of the right age? I suppose one might organize school-trips as well. In any case, as I said, I'm sure the planners and whatnot have sorted this all out. Nevertheless, I remain skeptical.
But the reason I decided to comment on this at all is because the attraction puts me in mind of a book I quite liked, and which I might like to recommend. I haven't read much of Julian Barnes' work (I'm waiting for a spell in which to read Foucault's Parrot), but if you are possessed of a cynical outlook and snarky sense of humor you could do worse than to read his England, England, which very broadly is about the reduction of all England to a theme-park attraction of itself located on the Isle of Wight.