Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

Ian Fleming’s James Bond books have been “revised and updated” to remove outdated racial terms, but many wonder if this goes too far.

“James Bond will return in Dr. No means No.” That was a joke line from an old T.V. cartoon called The Critic that poked a little fun at the idea that, in P.C. (politically correct) times, the James Bond franchise would evolve. Being an old-school Bond fan, I personally think they’ve done so in a perfectly appropriate way. You have to change with the times, and the franchise has done that.

But, when it comes to altering previous work to reflect modern times, well, that’s an altogether stickier issue. Recently, the Roald Dahl estate came under fire when it was revealed the books had been heavily rewritten to reflect modern sensibilities. And now comes the news that Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels are being changed as well to remove outdated racial stereotyping and references.

To be sure, the changes are less extensive (or outrageous) than what happened with the Dahl novels. Unlike those, the Fleming books were always targeted toward adults. Given how sexually charged they were, that’s an area going mostly untouched, no matter how outdated the references are. In other words, Pussy Galore is still named Pussy Galore. Good or bad, they are recognized as an essential part of the text.

Instead, the changes almost totally relate to race, with the most heavily censored book being Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which featured a lot of black characters and was written in a dated, fairly racist way. Most of the changes in the other books involve outdated racial terms. However, and here’s where it gets confusing, Bond’s racism towards Oddjob in Goldfinger has been left intact. Perhaps this reflects the estate wanting to stay somewhat true to the novels, in which Bond is a man of certain prejudices, and by removing them from the books, you change the character. In Live and Let Die it can be argued that Bond isn’t necessarily racist towards black characters, so by changing the way he refers to them, you aren’t really changing the story.

Here is the disclaimer one can expect to find in the books, as per The Telegraph:

 “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.”

Indeed, it’s a sticky situation. To me, this seems like overkill as the books truly are products of their time in good and bad ways (thoroughly the latter regarding Bond’s views on race). Anyone who reads these books knows they’re dated (by contrast the early movies are practically woke), and given how they were always targeted toward adult audiences, the change feels unnecessary. The James Bond books are a lot of things, but timeless classics they are not, so what’s the point of re-writing them? Indeed, they’re starting with books, but who knows what’s next? Will they start censoring movies too? Ian Fleming had some racist attitudes, to be sure. But if we go back and remove those attitudes, aren’t we fooling ourselves a bit? People who read these books are likely sophisticated enough to know that they reflect outdated attitudes. I remember reading these books as a twelve-year-old and noting the stereotypes, which I just wrote off as Fleming being a relic of a particular era. No one should really these expect them to be fully in tune with the times.

What do you think of these changes? Are they overkill, or should the books be updated to reflect the times?

By Dave Jenks

Dave Jenks is an American novelist and Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Between those careers, he’s worked as a deckhand, commercial fisherman, divemaster, taxi driver, construction manager, and over the road truck driver, among many other things. He now lives on a sea island, in the South Carolina Lowcountry, with his wife and youngest daughter. They also have three grown children, five grand children, three dogs and a whole flock of parakeets. Stinnett grew up in Melbourne, Florida and has also lived in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Cozumel, Mexico. His next dream is to one day visit and dive Cuba.