In case you haven’t seen it, this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert features a dragon called Excitable Edgar who frightens the other inhabitants of his village with his over-enthusiastic reactions to Christmas traditions which results in; a melted snowman and burnt Christmas decorations. The heartbroken dragon retreats to his home until his friend, a little red-headed girl finds a way for him to win over his neighbours by using his fire-breathing skills to light the Christmas pudding on fire.
This much-anticipated festive advert from John Lewis has been called out by several authors for its similarities to their books. Jen Campbell first hinted at the resemblance between the advert and her children’s book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, illustrated by Kate Harnett, on Twitter. The author wrote, “If you enjoyed this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert, then you’ll love our book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, all about a dragon called Franklin (who the locals are scared of) & his best friend, a red-haired girl called Luna… Y’know. Just saying.”
If you enjoyed this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert, then you’ll love our book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, all about a dragon called Franklin (who the locals are scared of) & his best friend, a red-haired girl called Luna. https://t.co/0XL0FOl6BB Y’know. Just saying. pic.twitter.com/Ap3UyCGNV2
— Jen Campbell (@jenvcampbell) November 15, 2019
Jen Campbell also told the Sunday Times, “I was quite surprised watching it . . . because of the similarities between the film’s narrative and my own picture book series. In Franklin’s Flying Bookshop the local villagers are all terrified of Franklin until Luna helps them see that they all have something in common: a love of books.” She did add, however, that: “While we’ve always known dragons are popular, I think this advert goes to show how timely the message of acceptance and friendship is.”
Jen Campbell is not the only author to accuse John Lewis of plagiarism this year. Another children’s writer, Danielle Smurthwaite, has called out the UK retailer for its advert’s similarities to her book Popcorn the Unicorn, which was self-published on Amazon in 2017. The children’s writer told the Daily Mail that readers got in touch with her to draw her attention to these similarities. She explained, “In my case the lead character was a unicorn who goes and sees some dragons and gets very excitable when he sees they’re blowing bubbles – but then he ruins the fun by popping them. The same happens with the pixies and the dwarves. Then he realises he was good at popping so he makes popcorn. So, the story line is very similar. The John Lewis dragon also had similar qualities to my dragon. Tiny wings, goofy teeth, same structures – it looks very similar.”
Responding to these authors’ claims, a spokesman for John Lewis said: “There are lots and lots of stories about dragons but Edgar is an original character developed by our creative agency, as is our story.”
This is not the first time that John Lewis’ Christmas advert has come under fire from the literary industry. In 2017, children’s author and illustrator, Chris Riddell accused the retailer of plagiarism in their advert which featured Moz, a snoring monster that lives under the bed. Riddell claimed that John Lewis, “help[ed] themselves to my picture book.” Riddell’s Mr Underbed was published by Anderson Press in 1985 and featured a monster who had a strong resemblance to John Lewis’ Moz and lived under the bed. Much like the claims against their advert this year, in 2017, John Lewis refuted the claim against Moz.
This 2017 call out from Chris Riddell against John Lewis led the publisher, Anderson Press, to launch a trade-wide marketing campaign for Mr Underbed in order to “seek justice” for the copyright infringement, in what became known as ‘The Battle of the Monsters.”
On a positive note, the indie publisher, Anderson press, noted that at the time of the dispute, sales for Chris Riddell’s 1985 title, Mr Underbed, soared, resulting in it to selling out overnight.
Nielsen BookScan report that Franklin’s Flying Bookshop by Jen Campbell and illustrated by Kate Harnett, has already sold 6,485 copies (across all editions) since its publication in 2017 by Thames and Hudson. Hopefully, this dispute with John Lewis will draw more attention to the book and see an increase in its sales, and that of sales for Danielle Smurthwaite’s Popcorn the Unicorn, much like in the Chris Riddell case.