Sections of Ian Fleming’s popular Bond books deemed ‘racist’ will be altered or removed wholesale, The Telegraph has revealed. Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, the owner of the literary rights to the British author’s work, had the original texts reviewed by a group of ‘sensitivity readers.’
All books featuring the world’s most famous secret agent are to be re-issued in April, edited as per their advice. Again according to The Telegraph, each one is to include 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.
Primarily, such ‘updates’ appear to involve certain depictions of black people, some of which have been altered, others removed. For example, the ‘n-word,’ which Fleming at times employed, has been replaced with either “black person” or “black man.” In other sections, any mention of a person or group being of black ethnicity is excised altogether.
For example, the black ethnicity of a barman in Thunderball is omitted, while that of a butler’s goes unmentioned in the short story Quantum of Solace. In Bond’s now-updated universe, no black people are to be of service to others, or so it would appear.
Oddly enough, the publisher opted to retain references to other ethnicities; examples of this include Bond’s racial terms for East Asian people and the agent’s disparaging views of Oddjob, the Korean henchman and, coincidentally, butler of master criminal Goldfinger from the eponymous novel.
Some perhaps more egregious ‘insensitivities,’ such as references to the “sweet tang of rape,” “blithering women” failing to do a “man’s work,” and homosexuality being a “stubborn disability” remain in print—for now.
While Bond bestsellers had been tweaked before, under Ian Fleming’s supervision in order to accommodate different markets, this would be the first time it has occurred after the author’s death in 1964.
Ian Fleming Publications defended its post-mortem revisions of Fleming’s work on the grounds of following “Ian’s lead,” as before it had made changes to Live and Let Die which “he himself authorized”—neglecting to mention that a dead author has nothing much to authorize.
When alive, Fleming had agreed to tone down erotic passages and racial references in his works, most notably in Live and Let Die in order to satisfy U.S. censors.
In an op-ed piece for The Independent, Ian Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett stated that he felt strongly
that what an author commits to paper is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be altered. It stands as evidence of that writer’s—and society’s—attitudes at a particular moment in time, whether it’s by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Ian Fleming.
All books will be reissued in April to mark the 70th anniversary of Casino Royale, the hugely popular series’ first entry. The publisher encourages people “to read the books for themselves when the new paperbacks are released.”
Ian Fleming Publications’ announcement comes only one week after Puffin’s announcement it would bring out similarly expurgated editions of Roald Dahl’s children’s books.
Following widespread public outcry, on Friday, February 24th, the publisher announced that it would reissue Dahl’s books in their uncensored form as well. While it would make commercial sense to (eventually) follow suit, Ian Fleming Publications has not declared it has any such intent.