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James Bond novels have been rewritten to remove a number of racial references from Ian Fleming’s work, The Telegraph can reveal.
All of the author’s thrillers featuring 007 are set to be reissued in April to mark 70 years since Casino Royale, the first book in the series, was published.
Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, the company that owns the literary rights to the author’s work, commissioned a review by sensitivity readers of the classic texts under its control.
The Telegraph understands that a disclaimer accompanying the reissued texts will read: “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.”
The changes to Fleming’s books result in some depictions of black people being reworked or removed.
Dated references to other ethnicities remain, such as Bond’s racial terms for east Asian people and the spy’s disparaging views of Oddjob, Goldfinger’s Korean henchman.
References to the “sweet tang of rape”, “blithering women” failing to do a “man’s work”, and homosexuality being a “stubborn disability” also remain.
In the sensitivity reader-approved version of Live and Let Die, Bond’s assessment that would-be African criminals in the gold and diamond trades are “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they’ve drunk too much” becomes – “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought.”
Another altered scene features Bond visiting Harlem in New York, where a salacious strip tease at a nightclub makes the male crowd, including 007, increasingly agitated.
The original passage read: “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.”
The revised section replaces the pigs reference with: “Bond could sense the electric tension in the room.”
A further lengthy passage describing Bond’s night out in Harlem, including an argument between a man and his girlfriend conducted largely in accented dialogue Fleming describes as “straight Harlem-Deep South with a lot of New York thrown in”, has been entirely removed.
The word “n----”, which Fleming used to refer to black people when he was writing during the Fifties and Sixties, has been almost entirely expunged from the revised texts.
In most cases, this is replaced by “black person” or “black man”, but racial descriptors are entirely dropped in some instances.
In one example, some criminals escaping from Bond in Dr No become simply “gangsters”. In the same novel, the race of a doctor and an immigration officer now go unmentioned, as does that of a henchman shot by Bond.
The ethnicity of a barman in Thunderball is similarly omitted in new editions. In Quantum of Solace, a butler’s race now also goes unmentioned.
Detail is also removed from Goldfinger, where 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”.
Bond literature has been tweaked before to suit different markets, and Fleming gave editor Al Hart his blessing to tone down sex scenes for American readers.
The author also permitted US publishers to tone down racial references in Live and Let Die.
Ian Fleming Publications said: “We at Ian Fleming Publications reviewed the text of the original Bond books and decided our best course of action was to follow Ian’s lead. We have made changes to Live and Let Die that he himself authorised.
“Following Ian’s approach, we looked at the instances of several racial terms across the books and removed a number of individual words or else swapped them for terms that are more accepted today but in keeping with the period in which the books were written.
“We encourage people to read the books for themselves when the new paperbacks are published in April.”
In the past, Fleming’s US publishers changed the title of Casino Royale to You Asked For It and 007 was even referred to in the blurb as Jimmy Bond.
In 1954, Live and Let Die was banned in the Republic of Ireland.
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I'm sure it'd be much more informative than a slightly sanitised version of a book written in the 1950s.
It would be the smart thing to do, so of course they'll ignore it.
The worst thing is, it's not like the offensive elements of Ian Fleming's work has not been acknowledged, analysed, studied, criticised, commented on before. It exists, whether we like it or not. It's part of Bond's history.
On that last question, I am a firm believer in the latter. I believe it's impossible to learn from history if said history gets erased as if it never happened. Instead let's observe history and learn important lessons from it.
Concerning revising old literature (or movies, or any other form of art, for that matter), I wonder why such a thing is necessary, given that certain works can definitely be accompanied by an editor's note to put them into a contextual time frame.
Speaking of learning important lessons from history. I wouldn't go as far as calling anyone a radicalist, but erasing history, burning books or even modifying these things to whatever fits one's beliefs the best have always been a cause for alarm.
If Ian Fleming publications had any balls, they'd say "We're reprinting the books as modern classics with the original English first edition text, as we are confident that modern readers of Ian Fleming's work will fully understand the historical context of any inappropriate passages contained therein".
Hooray for Folio editions I say.
But they are. Anyone walking into a bookshop to buy an Ian Fleming James Bond novel, won't have a choice of the original or the updated version. There'll just be the updated version on the shelf. What is that, if it's not 'replacing'?
Is this your crystal ball working hard to make an argument out of a hypothetical principle put forward by myself, or have you actually seen these updated versions on the shelves? Obviously, if they are replacing originals then I'd have a problem with it.
Fleming agreed to the American version, so there could be an argument for re-printing that, (as Penguin classics did about ten years ago). But even then, I'd rather have the original UK first edition text, (which Folio reprinted only a few years ago in a lovely edition).
Edit. While we're discussing censorship, (that's what it is, isn't it?). I though you might like to see the 2017 Penguin Classic, and their explanation for using the US version. I'm not actually convinced that Fleming preferred the US version, as I've also read he was quite proud of the passage that was extricated from the US version. Anyway, here ;tis. .
Yes! It's exactly that.
I'm pretty sure it's not a hoax as @moneyofpropre2 already pointed out in the "Bond Book Butchery" thread that the e-book version of Live and Let Die is using the US Seventh Avenue chapter title instead of the original British chapter title which included the n-word. So that indicates that the US "race edit" text is being used instead, albeit an updated and more heavily sanitised version. What is a revelation is that all of the novels are having this extended to them, though maybe this is understandable given the recent news regarding Roald Dahl's children's books.
Where will it end? Who decides what is and isn't appropriate. I have a wonderful idea, if you think a book will offend you don't read it. I admit it's a novel concept but I think it works wonders.
*sensitivity reader conjures an image of a caricature of the average twitter user.
First, thanks for the clarification! I didn't know that Dahl's work was still being respected and in original format. The sensitivity reader sounds very funny to my ears and I had a chuckle with your comment! Thanks for a laugh on a serious topic.
It is funny that "right wing" organizations were very much in the ban books camp. The "left" would say this was not something one should do. Now the "left" is suggesting and making these alterations and "right wing" groups are fighting to keep the text as is. What strange times we live in!
A disclaimer would suffice
This. Yes. We should be discussing history, not trying to delete it.
But wait, they aren't doing this for me, but for the few people out there who might take any of Fleming’s words personally. First of all, don't. Fleming wasn't writing about "you". Secondly, good luck with that. Hundreds of thousands of books, films, comics, ... to clean up. I am really interested in reading the bible after all the violence against women, racism, and hate speech are taken out.