July 24, 2012 at 9:44 AM ET
Bibles in nightstands are a familiar amenity for hotel guests, but travelers seeking to read their favorite verse at one establishment will be in for a big surprise.
The Damson Dene Hotel, which touts itself as the perfect destination for a “peaceful break away from it all” in England’s picturesque Lake District, is making quite a noise for replacing the Bible with “Fifty Shades of Grey” in its 40 guest rooms.
The steamy novel — part of a trilogy by author E.L. James — has become a worldwide blockbuster thanks in large part to the graphic sex scenes that have its main characters engaging in bondage, sadomasochism and other exploits.
Damson Dene owner Jonathan Denby, who bought the hotel from a Methodist group 10 years ago, said he had been pondering for a long time what to do with the Gideons Bibles that had been placed in the rooms by the previous proprietors.
He decided that in a modern secular society it was “wholly inappropriate” to keep a religious book in people’s private bedrooms, so the search was on for a replacement.
“I was thinking originally of putting in a book by Ayn Rand — ‘Atlas Shrugged’ was my first thought,” Denby told NBC News.
“(But) because everybody is reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ we thought it would be a hospitable thing to do, to have this available for our guests, especially if some of them were a little bit shy about buying it because of its reputation.”
The choice to offer “Fifty Shades of Grey” was done purely for fun and just because the novel is so popular, not for any deep philosophical reason, Denby added, noting that he himself has not read the book.
The switch was made earlier this month, prompting cheers, jeers and lots of media attention.
Not surprisingly, the local vicar has been an outspoken critic. The Rev. Michael Woodcock — the parish priest at St. Mary’s Church in Crosthwaite, where the hotel is located — declined to comment for this article, but he told British media that the hotel’s decision is just a gimmick.
“It is a great shame that Bibles have been removed from rooms and very inappropriate to have been replaced by an explicit erotic novel,” Woodcock told The Westmorland Gazette.
“The Bible remains a source of comfort and inspiration that many people do find helpful.”
The hotel has also received plenty of public feedback criticizing the move, most of it from the United States, Denby noted. The Gideons Bible isn’t as common in England as it is in the U.S., he added.
“People in the States feel much more strongly,” he said. “We’ve had quite a few e-mails quoting the scriptures to us and suggesting that it would be a good thing to put the Bible back.”
Still, most guests “have loved” discovering “Fifty Shades of Grey” in their rooms, Denby said. The hotel is also accommodating those who want to read the Bible, updating its guest handbooks to let travelers know that copies are available at the reception desk.
“We’re not disposing of the books. We’re keeping them and if people want to borrow them, then they’re very welcome to,” Denby said.
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