There have been a lot of anniversaries in recent years for James Bond. In 2002 the Bond series marked its 60th year of providing theatrical adventures for 007 since the first film Dr. No in 1962. The year also was an unofficial farewell to actor Daniel Craig who left the Bond role in 2021’s No Time To Die.
The creator and author of James Bond Ian Fleming also is now being celebrated for the 70th anniversary of the first publication of his first Bond novel and introduction of the character in 1953’s Casino Royale.
The occasion is being marked by the Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. and the Ian Fleming Estate, which owns the copyright to Fleming’s books, along with personal letters and other non Bond writings, are organizing events and republishing new editions of all of Fleming’s Bond novels. And that’s where things have gotten interesting.
One their website it says – Ian Fleming Publications and the Ian Fleming Estate “work together to protect and uphold the legacy of Ian Fleming and his writing”.
So with that in mind, it came as something of a surprise to fans that the new editions of Fleming’s Bond novels will be edited, with some racist and offensive words and phrases removed or rewritten.
This became quite notable news and has had fans, readers and scholars debating whether the original works of authors, who are no longer with us, should be altered in anyway. Some suggested a simple disclaimer at the start of the book explaining it was written in a different time and includes words and a attitudes that would be unacceptable today. It’s a fair warning and leaves Fleming’s words he wrote unchanged.
However, a single disclaimer apparently wasn’t sufficient to the publisher and they went ahead and altered the text in certain Fleming Bond novels. The attention this got forced Ian Fleming Publications to release a statement about the changes it has done and explain its decision to do so.
“As the author’s literary estate and now publishers, what responsibility did we have, if any, to review the original texts? We consulted with a number of external parties but ultimately decided that, rather than making changes in line with their advice, it was instead most appropriate to look for guidance from the author himself. The original US version of Live and Let Die, approved and apparently favoured by Ian, had removed some racial terms which were problematic even in the mid-1950s America, and would certainly be considered deeply offensive now by the vast majority of readers.”
“We took that as our starting point, but felt strongly that it was not our role to comb out every word or phrase that had the potential to offend. We thus decided to apply the sensibilities of the original US edition of Live and Let Die consistently, across all the texts. Some racial words likely to cause great offense now, and detract from a reader’s enjoyment, have been altered, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period.”
“The changes are very small in number. Indeed some books, including Casino Royale, remain completely unaltered. We are certain Ian Fleming would approve these edits, just as he approved the changes to the US edition of Live and Let Die, and we encourage people to read the books for themselves when the new paperbacks are published in April.”
With this, there has been debate whether the writings of an authors work should be changed or if it should remain untouched, left as it was written with the good and bad that it contains. No doubt, there are some offensive words and racist descriptions in Fleming’s writings, but should they be altered?
That is the debate that arose this news. Ironically, a few weeks prior it was announced Rolad Dah’s books, including the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, were going to be edited to remove words that could be deemed offensive to some readers. As this controversial decision made headlines, the publisher reversed the decision following the controversy and the books will remain in their “classic” form.
Could it be Ian Fleming Publications decision of editing Fleming’s words was a strategic move to market the republishing of the Bond books? They saw all the attention the Dahl story got and thought, ‘Hey, maybe we should do something like this!’ Perhaps, this was all a planned marketing scheme?
However you feel about the editing of past works by dead authors and despite their noble intentions of removing offensive contents, this ‘editing’ of past books has become a hot topic.
I’m not entirely sure how they justify Fleming’s approval on these current changes to his writing, considering he’s been dead for sixty years. He might’ve approved the past ones they refer to, but it’s a pretty big leap to make that because he was ok with those changes, he’s fine with these.
They also don’t mention in the statement other phrases that have been altogether removed and rewritten. Or how some racist words have been removed but other questionable ones remain untouched. They don’t exactly explain where they decided to stop and why they left some other offensive bits in. It’s very odd. I don’t really understand the rules ‘sensitivity readers’ go by.
I would think that simple disclaimer at the start would do the job.
Aside from the changes to some of the text, fans have also had some problems with the new covers for the novels. They look very uninspired and haven’t impressed fans with their lack of creativity or impressive artwork and just come off rather lackluster looking.
Famed Bond fan DutchBondFan took it upon himself to look closer at the three book covers that fans were treated to a preview of. He tweeted an interesting discovery about the imagery used in the cover for Moonraker:
These new editions are not exactly creating enthusiasm from fans.
We’ll see how these new editions of Fleming’s Bond books sell in April. In the meantime, here’s a short video project I did titled: