A Dickensian Theme

February 17, 2012

There’s now a Charles Dickens theme park. It’s in Kent, England, even though it would be at least as appropriate to put it in London, Iowa. Obviously this is designed for those people for whom Stratford-on-Avon just wasn’t touristy enough, with its plaque marking Shakespeare’s favorite McDonalds and Bard bobble-heads being sold on every corner. Of course it’s hard to read anything by Dickens without seeing enormous commercial potential. Poverty, disease, misery, loneliness, greed, and death all naturally scream "giant water slide". And nothing brings the joy of scrofula and workhouses to life like a set of animatronic models. It’s like a child’s history of England. I’m sure the plan here is to make the works of Charles Dickens fun, and they can be if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s hard to imagine that Charles Dickens World-and it really is called that, even though it should be called Fagin’s since its whole purpose is to fleece tourists-really going to make Dickens any more popular than he is now, although I guess it will make it possible for more people to talk about Dickens. The next time you bring up Sketches By Boz in conversation and someone asks you if you’ve read it you could say, "Well, no, but I’ve been to the theme park."

I remember the very first theme park I ever went to. It was Opryland, named after the Grand Ole Opry here in Tennessee, so it had a distinct country music theme, with rides called things like The Tennessee Waltz, and games where you would work in a coal mine or get hit by a train. And there were mascots like a giant talking guitar, who, when the park started losing money, was replaced by Franken Berry and a giant Cheerio, because nothing says country music like children’s breakfast cereals. I think the whole thing was supposed to be vaguely educational about the history of country music, and there were musical shows which I stopped going to as soon as I was old enough to get away from my parents and spend all my time on the rides. I suspect Dickens World will be just as educational, especially with the giant water slide. I understand a lot of effort has been put into making it as authentic as possible-among other things you’re bound to come out with a completely empty wallet-but it’ll probably be like most other theme parks. I can just imagine the rides. Why not take a spin in Miss Havisham’s Car? It takes you quietly and slowly through a decaying house for what seems like years before sending you through an enormous wall of flames at the end. Or you could go through Pip’s Graveyard, where you’ll be grabbed by a criminal who threatens to cut out your liver and eat it. Also don’t miss the Oliver Twist Tour in which a boat carries you past animatronic orphans from all singing the chorus of "Food Glorious Food" over and over and over again until you want to drown yourself in the gruel your boat is floating on.

Finally there’s The Guillotine. I won’t describe this one. Let’s just say it’s a far, far better ride than any you’ve ever ridden, and you’ll have a more exciting time on it than you’ve ever had. Or maybe it’ll just be a giant waterslide. It does sound like a fun outing, though. You’ll take our mutual friend, have some hard times when you see the admission price, get caught up in crowds enduring the battle of life, stop by to see a few pictures from Italy and the cricket on the hearth, and spend way too much money on a small greasy lunch at a place called It Wor Me Wot Ate Yor Pie that’ll taste terrible but still leave you asking, "Please sir, could I have some more?". Or maybe you’ll have a drink at Martin Guzzlewits before you spend the rest of your money in the old curiosity shop, and finally what you entered with great expectations will seem in retrospect like a bleak house.

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