John Lewis' Christmas advert has come under fire as author and former bookseller Jen Campbell highlighted the similarities between the advert and her children’s book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop (Thames & Hudson) and self-published writer Danielle Smurthwaite also raised concerns.
This year's John Lewis Christmas advert shows a red-headed girl whose friendship with a dragon called Edgar helps him win over the inhabitants of their village. Campbell has pointed out how this is the same plot as her book published by Thames & Hudson in September 2017, illustrated by Katie Harnett. The cover of the 32-page children’s book shows a small girl with red hair reading to a dragon and has sold 6,485 copies across all editions, according to Nielsen BookScan.
“Franklin the dragon loves stories and loves reading stories to people too, but everyone is too scared to even look at him,” the synopsis reads to Franklin’s Flying Bookshop. “One day he meets a girl named Luna who, far from being scared, is fascinated to meet Franklin, having recently read all about dragons in one of her books.”
The John Lewis advert shows the dragon helping to win over the villagers by using his fire-breathing skills to set a Christmas Pudding alight.
Campbell first hinted at the resemblance on Twitter on Friday (15th November): “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, [sharing a link to her website]. Y'know. Just saying.”
She added: “Creating characters and stories is my job; I adore it, and I am endlessly grateful to those of you who support what I do."
Campbell 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 added: “While we’ve always known dragons are popular, I think this advert goes to show how timely the message of acceptance and friendship is.”
Another children’s writer Danielle Smurthwaite has also called out the retailer’s ad for bearing similarities to her own work Popcorn The Unicorn, self-published on Amazon in 2017. She told the Daily Mail: “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.”
Smurthwaite, told the Daily Mail her book has sold 400 copies on Amazon, and claimed that some of her customers had contacted her to point out its similarities with the ad.
Responding to the 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."
In 2017 illustrator and a former children’s laureate Chris Riddell claimed John Lewis had “help[ed] themselves to my picture book”. He emphasised between the character of that year’s ad, a snoring monster called Moz that lived under a bed, and his own creation for Andersen Press, Mr Underbed, published in 1985. John Lewis refuted the claim. The incident saw Andersen Press launch a trade-wide marketing campaign for the title, "seeking justice" in what it called 'The Battle of The Monsters'. The indie publisher said at the time the dispute led to an increase in sales of Riddell's title and lead to it selling out of stock "overnight".