Specter of controversy looms larger for The Phantom of Oxley Castle amidst clarification by Epigram Books

Photo: Epigram Books
Photo: Epigram Books

The specter of controversy is looming even larger for The Phantom of Oxley Castle, the picture book that lightly satirizes the Lee family saga with a quirky fairy tale.

The book’s launch was scheduled to go on at The Arts House this Saturday, but the event was abruptly canceled over the weekend. Edmund Wee — CEO of the book’s publisher Epigram Books — told reporters that The Arts House was to blame for the cancellation, but the venue’s management said otherwise, stating that it was the publisher who made the decision.

Now it’s been revealed that it was Wee who made the wrong choice of words. In a statement made yesterday, Epigram Books said that it was all a misunderstanding and that it is indeed true that the publisher was the one who canceled Oxley Castle’s launch. Plot twist!

Speaking to TODAY, Wee said that the reason for the sudden cancellation was to prevent overshadowing another book launch that was also scheduled to go on at The Arts House on Saturday. The launch of Oxley Castle had been initially scheduled an hour after the launch of another Epigram book — Dream Island: The Mad Mad World of Philip Yeo.

“While the original intent was to do a dual book launch, we have decided that it will be better to focus on doing a one book launch,” said Wee in a statement. He decided that he didn’t want the attention to be divided between two book launches.

Photo: Epigram Books

It does make sense — The Phantom of Oxley Castle would have gotten way more attention, just based on its premise. The fictional children’s book revolves around three young princes and a princess who live in Oxley Castle with a “pesky butler” named OB Markus. The royal siblings aren’t exactly subtle references to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s highly publicized family feud with his siblings over the fate of their father’s house at 38 Oxley Road. Plus, the butler’s name itself is a veiled jab at the controversial “out of bound markers” (OB markers) practiced in Singapore.

However, in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, the book’s authors assured that The Phantom Of Oxley Castle is not a re-telling of PM Lee’s family feud. Rather, the book was inspired by it.


TOC’s apology

Adding further fuel to the initial fire was the fact that sociopolitical website The Online Citizen claimed that PM Lee was taking Epigram Books to court with a defamation suit. This turned out to be false, and the publisher has assured that no such thing happened.

“Epigram Books has not received any letter of any kind from PMO or any individuals,” Epigram wrote in a press statement. “Legal advice with Peter Low & Choo LLC has been taken regarding the publishing of the book.”

TOC has since apologized “unreservedly” to PM Lee for stating that he had the intention to sue the publishers and authors of Oxley Castle. However, it said it was ready to produce evidence that the information it received was “deemed accurate and credible at the material time”, pointing out that it reported the claim after attempting to verify information from Wee himself. But it turned out to be a misunderstanding.

All this online commotion surrounding Oxley Castle has no doubt become an unintentional marketing success, with more folks aware of the book’s existence now more than ever. Though the controversy might have upped the volume of pre-orders, Wee informed Mothership that Epigram will only start shipping the books out once “the matter is resolved”.

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