Ian Fleming's James Bond novels to be revised to erase material deemed offensive
April 13, 1953 was a red letter day in popular culture.
It was when Ian Fleming's debut novel, Casino Royale, was published, and the world was introduced to James Bond.
The success of Casino Royale in the U.K. paved the way for subsequent works by Fleming featuring Bond.
In 1961, President Kennedy in Life magazine named From Russia with Love as one of his top ten favorite books. This endorsement made the book a bestseller in the U.S.
Some say it was Kennedy's way of linking himself to Bond and projecting himself as a Bond-like heroic leader taking on the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
In politics, perception often triumphs over reality. Alas, for Kennedy, that perception was never tested. He never survived to run for re-election.
The adaptation of Fleming's novels to the big screen catapulted James Bond to legendary status and widened the readership of Fleming's novels.
Fleming wrote twelve novels and two collections of short stories featuring Bond.
Bond remains a cultural icon to this day, with twenty-seven hugely successful cinematic adaptations and myriad authors such as Raymond Benson, John Gardner, Kingsley Amis, and Sebastian Faulks taking over the literary Bond mantle.
Back to the Fleming novels.
Later this April, fresh installments of the Bond book series will be reissued to commemorate its 70th anniversary.
But this reissue has a difference.
The Telegraph reported that Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, which owns the literary rights to the novels, commissioned a "sensitivity" review of the Bond novels to find out if any of its contents failed to meet the modern standards of political correctness.
Following these reviews, changes have been made to the novels.
Firstly, each book will carry the following disclaimer:
This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.
Now for the update to the text.
The Telegraph didn't define what "almost entirely" exactly means.
In the sensitivity reader–approved versions, "n-----" in most cases has been replaced by "black person" or "black man." Racial descriptors are entirely dropped in some instances.
The ethnicity of a barman in Thunderball (1961) has been omitted in new editions.
In Quantum of Solace (1960), the race of a butler goes unmentioned.
In Goldfinger (1959), the race of the drivers in the Second World War logistics unit, the Red Ball Express — which had many black servicemen — is not mentioned, instead referring only to "ex-drivers."
In Live and Let Die (1954), Bond's opinion of Africans in the gold and diamond trades as "pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they've drunk too much" has been altered to "pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought."
Another scene in the book, set during a striptease at a Harlem nightclub, originally read as follows:
Bond could hear the audience panting and grunting like pigs at the trough. He felt his own hands gripping the tablecloth. His mouth was dry.
This has been revised to "Bond could sense the electric tension in the room."
A segment in the book describing accented dialogue as "straight Harlem-Deep South with a lot of New York thrown in" has been removed.
When the book was first published in the U.S. in 1955, the title of the fifth chapter was changed from "N----- Heaven" to "Seventh Avenue."
In Dr. No (1957), criminals escaping from Bond become "gangsters," and the race of a doctor and immigration officer remains unmentioned.
But not all racially pejorative terms will be removed.
The racial terms Bond uses to refer to Asian people and his unfavorable views of the Korean character Oddjob from Goldfinger (1959) will remain.
The line in Casino Royale (1953) "the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape" will remain, as well as referring to homosexuality as a "stubborn disability."
This isn't the only time the books are undergoing revisions.
Prior to his death in 1964, Fleming permitted editors to revise sex scenes and racial terms for American markets.
This is the rationale cited by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd for initiating a sensitivity review and approving textual amendments.
Fleming isn't the only one whose works are being revised.
Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that Roald Dahl's children's books would be scrubbed of terms related to weight, mental health, violence, sex, and race.
Following the intense backlash over the changes, the publishers announced they would release Dahl's original works along with the revised collection.
It is essential that Ian Fleming Publications Ltd follows the same approach and also publishes novels with Fleming's texts.
The risk is that this quest for "sensitivity" will result in an Orwellian rewriting of the past.
Art is a reflection of the time it was created. This includes both the ideas and the language used.
If we begin erasing the "offensive" bits, where does it end?
Being offended is subjective. The crudest joke with coarse language may be hilarious to one while fairy tales may be offensive to another.
If we start removing all that is offensive, some day we will end up with a blank page.
There is another risk here.
If fiction can be revised, perhaps history will be amended to fit a narrative.
For instance, the segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace was a Democrat, and so are many other racists. However, when the mainstream media quote Wallace, they conveniently don't mention that he was a Democrat, leading many to believe he was a Republican.
Soon, they may explicitly say Wallace was a Republican. When caught, they could baselessly claim that Wallace's mindset is like that of a Republican, hence they called him a Republican. Next, they will claim that Lincoln was a Democrat and use the same rationale.
To prevent that, we must ensure that all works, be they fiction or non-fiction, must remain untouched. There could be a rating system like for films, where readers can be forewarned about the contents of the book. There could be versions of the original with offensive content expunged, but the fact that they are amended must be explicitly stated.
It is essential that the original works are preserved so that generations to come know the facts about those times.
We cannot allow a few to dictate what should be consumed by all.
In the end, who controls the past controls the future.
Postscript: President Kennedy also had another connection to Bond.
On Nov. 21, 1963, Kennedy watched the movie adaptation of From Russia with Love with Sir Sean Connery as James Bond. It was the last film he would see before he was assassinated the next day in Dallas, Texas.
Trivia: Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for the 1967 Bond film You Only Live Twice.
Image: Screen shot from moogheer video via YouTube.