James Bond fans have their Walther PPKs out and are taking aim at Ian Fleming Publications who announced Monday plans for a new series of James Bond books featuring the promiscuous, fast-driving, hard-drinking, licensed to kill super secret agent as a 13-year-old solving mysteries along side his fellow Eton classmates in the 1930s. The books will be written by BBC comedy writer and thriller novelist Charlie Higson.
“Oh dear God!” exclaims “Jim” on CommanderBond.net, the largest online James Bond fan community with a highly vocal forum membership of over 4000 hardcore 007 fans. “IFP, what are you thinking?” asks a member with the screen name Bond111. “Easy, they’re thinking Harry Potter” comes the quick response from a fellow Bondophile. “I don’t want a Young Bond book,” says Loomis. “Neither do I want, for instance, James Bond Versus Dracula, a Bond/Lara Croft crossover, or a Bond novel set in some Tolkien-style fantasy world?” “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea,” concludes Wade.
Things are not much calmer over at the Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang forums. “Oh, God, Nooooo!” wails BondGator87. “No Good Will Come of This,” predicts Agent 008. “I don’t want to be picturing Frankie Muniz or even a 13-year-old Sean Connery when I’m reading a Bond novel,” says the member who was lucky enough to nab the screen name, “James.” The gang over at Absolutely James Bond and Universal Exports feel much the same way. “The end of James Bond as we know it,” laments Dr. Shatterhand. “Goodbye James.”
It’s not just the complaints of a vocal few that have tainted Monday’s announcement, which was made via the Ian Fleming Publications website and first reported by CommanderBond.net [see IFP Announce New Series of “Young James Bond Novels]. In a poll taken on CommanderBond, a whopping 83% of its members say they “Hate the idea” of a Young James Bond series. A similar poll at Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has 23% of its members calling this “A Bad idea” with 47% opting for the more effusive “Extremely Bad idea.” (“Good idea” received 1 vote.) But in what may be good news for the publishers, even though the weight of fan opinion is firmly against the idea of a Young James Bond novel, a poll conducted among those same members shows that 37% will still buy the book when it comes out, while 29% clock in with a “maybe.” (33% say they will not buy the books.)
Fan objection to the idea seems to center on the argument that a “Young James Bond” is not “James Bond” at all. “How is James Bond going to be any fun without sex or violence?” asks TGO cutting to what may be the core issue. “And why would IFP think children would be interested in Bond when he was a kid? I mean, part of his appeal is that this is a man who gets all the girls, kills the villains, saves the world, and is witty.” Another member chimes in with a similar point. “When I was a kid, Bond books and movies were a fantasy sneak peak into a sophisticated adult world of fancy cars, beautiful women, and exotic locales. With a young James Bond you don’t have any of this. The essence of Bond is a MAN in charge. A veteran. A professional. How he got that way…who cares?” The White Tuxedo adds, “They are putting James Bond in adventures at the age of 13. In my opinion he should have a mostly normal (and not fully explained) upbringing. It was the war and entering the civil service that changed him. He was trained by them and became fiercely loyal. That loyalty and his job keeps him going.”
But not all fans are resistant to the idea of a pint-sized 007. “I’m willing to give the first book a shot,” says Genrewriter. James Swallow adopts a similar position. “I’m willing to let Charlie Higson’s work speak for itself–it’s not fair to judge the man without having read the book.” Mr. Asterix feels likewise. “I’m one who is going to give these books a fair shot, perhaps they will make Mr. Fleming proud and let him right himself in his casket.” “It isn’t a bad idea” says the economically minded B007GLE. “From a commercial aspect the market is ripe. If it does 5% of the Harry Potter business, IFP will make out like bandits.”
“I will not be buying, curious or not,” states an unforgiving Hawkeye. “Even if they are later hailed in these forums as the greatest thing since the suggestion that Oddjob ate cats and that Scaramanga was after bond’s booty. This high horse would be two high for me to climb down from.”
The tide of negative reaction cannot be good news for Ian Fleming Publications, holders of the James Bond literary copyright. The UK based company has struggled over the years to produce a series of post-Fleming James Bond novels with varying degrees of success. In 1968 the first non-Fleming James Bond novel by Kingsley Amis, Colonel Sun, was embraced by fans, but received a cool reception from the critics (and an even cooler reception from Fleming’s widow who hated the idea of “continuation novels”). In 1981 a successful new series was launched with the well-known English mystery writer John Gardner penning a total of 14 books. Most recently, American thriller writer Raymond Benson wrote six original Bond books for IFP, concluding his stint as “continuation author” with 2002’s The Man With The Red Tattoo. But unlike the juggernaut film franchise, the novels have never been able to shake comparisons to the Ian Fleming originals which, in their day, were international bestsellers and a cultural phenomenon on the scale of, well, Harry Potter.
Perhaps it was the phenomenon of Harry Potter that warmed Ian Fleming Publications to the idea of making James Bond a Harry Potter of the Eton ilk. Maybe without a martini in one hand and a Walther PPK in the other, the new books can avoid direct comparison to Fleming and not be dismissed by the critics as pastiches. True, “Young Bond” projects have failed before (a book in 1967 and an animated series in 1991), but the difference this time is that this is not Bond’s cousin or nephew, but the man — well, the boy — himself. The press release put out by IFP notes that author Higson has “with meticulous research, created an authentic 1930s world for Young James Bond that fits seamlessly with Fleming’s.” The 1930s setting certainly separates it from a Potter-like fantasy world. Is it possible we will get an authentic look at what prep school life in 1930s England would really be like for an newly orphaned student with a flair for athletics? With attention to detail, these books could prove to be fascinating. So maybe the exploits of a Young James Bond will indeed bring the series a new breath of life and attract a whole new generation of fans.
But not this week.
Once again, it’s the specter of Ian Fleming’s original 007, kept alive by a group of passionate and articulate fans, that is already haunting this new series. With sarcasm worthy of Fleming himself, “Jim,” over at the tempest that is the literary forums on CommanderBond.net these days, says, “I do hope they examine how little Jamie Bond frae Glencoe became: A bigot, a racist, a sixty a day smoker, a misogynist, a murderer, a SM fantasist, a borderline alcoholic, a programmable killing machine corrupted by the demands of a changeable political artifice? Because they might be slightly unusual as children’s books. I do hope they do that. I do.”
The first Young James Bond book is due out in March 2005.