It’s too easy to make fun of Dickens World. Who could look at the stuff of Dickens’s fiction—lonely orphans, child thieves, penniless cripples, domestic abuse that culminates in murder—and think, theme park? Located at the Chatham Dockyard in Kent, the park promises to guide visitors through the world in which Charles Dickens lived and wrote, but no one ever clamored for a Great Expectations Water Ride, and TripAdvisor reviews suggest it doesn’t exactly cleave to the spirit of the books (“We were the last group of the day and the wonderful Bill Sikes was our guide; full of energy and information about Charles Dickens and the people and places of his time”).
On the other hand, Dickens World makes a kind of sense: there are some books you inhabit while reading, fictional universes so broad and sharply realized, their borders extend beyond a single story. You feel as though the setting doesn’t end with the plot; you could keep exploring it forever. Under these circumstances, a Dickens-themed amusement park is almost reasonable. Almost. And there are certainly worse literary candidates for theme parks, including these five.
One Flag, No Adventure (Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert)
It’s like Sleep No More, but without the murder. Visitors are ushered into the courtyard of an abandoned hotel and given silly-looking hats. The courtyard is tacky and covered with straw, but the building itself is gothic, elegant; you can’t wait to get inside. After an hour, an employee brings everyone lemonade in mason jars, and the actors arrive to subject you to the worst rustic-chic wedding you’ve ever experienced. Follow them indoors—from the Gangrene Room to the Glamorous Party You Can Never Visit Again, there’s always something new to explore! When you’ve finished checking out both rooms, you’re led back into the courtyard. Spend the rest of your afternoon following other promising-looking actors to the doors of the hotel in the hope they’ll let you back inside. (They will make fun of your hat, but that’s part of the experience.) Eventually, accept that you are never getting back into the hotel and start buying overpriced souvenirs out of boredom. At the exit, thrill to the park’s one true ride: the Suicide-a-Whirl, an exhilarating spinning roller coaster designed to make you vomit uncontrollably. Is it motion sickness, or was that lemonade laced with rat poison? There’s only one way to find out.
Vanity Fair (Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray)
The main attraction at this obscenely expensive theme park is the Waterloo Charge, a ride that begins with a 90-degree vertical drop and spirals further out of control from there for an extreme thrill experience. It’s not unusual for passengers on the Waterloo Charge to faint, so make sure you have a designated non-roller-coaster-riding friend around to guard your unconscious body from the pickpockets who hang around waiting to prey on the groggy and disoriented. Beyond Waterloo, there’s little you can’t do here, assuming you have the cash—the drinks, gambling, and Punch-and-Judy show are popular favorites. Don’t miss the chance to get your picture taken riding an elephant!
Charles Marlow’s Wild Ride (Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad)
[This attraction has been closed indefinitely]
The Jungle (The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair)
Watch the sausage being made! Nothing combines the fun of a living history museum with the chaos of a late-night pub crawl like The Jungle. Enjoy rides like the Slaughter-Go-Round and the Entrail Slide. Take a shot before going on each ride. Take two. Wander the Historic Meat-Packing Plant, and take another shot. By the time the Socialist Slingshot sends you hurtling into the air, you’ll be so plastered meaningful social change will actually seem possible. Avoid the concession stand.
A Good Ride is Hard to Find (Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works)
There’s only one attraction at this tiny Georgia theme park, but if you’re willing to look past the heat, the bugs, and the exorbitant admissions fee, you will be rewarded with some twists and turns—especially twists, as the track spirals into a double corkscrew without any posted warnings. Pregnant? Heart condition? Afraid of roller coasters? No one’s going to warn you not to get on this ride. That’s not how it’s done in the South. Take your chances, and hopefully you won’t puke on your neighbor or require medical attention (the nearest doctor is an hour away, anyway). Once you get past the initial shock of two 180-degree twists you never signed on for, you may have a great time. On the other hand, this ride has a history of breaking down, and in recent years several passengers have been stranded upside-down at the top of the second loop, awaiting rescue. Don’t fret. Someone will come and get you down. Eventually. Probably. If you’re lucky.
What literary theme park would you cross off your list?