- Jun 13, 2006
It’s funny when you reread a book, especially one that you read years (decades ago), even more when it was written in the 1950’s, become part of popular culture and see it with modern eyes.
In 1954 James Bond was a character in a book by Ian Fleming, there had been no movies, Bond was just a fictional character whose first outing in Casino Royale had warranted a follow up, Live and Let Die. My memories of reading this were that it was a good fun read, that it was quite a lot like the film – a film that would not be made for another 20 years, Sean Connery had not even shaken his Martini, let alone Roger Moore.
To me the book seemed that it was fin read and nothing seemed to stick in my head about it – I probably read it about 1980, society, culture has changed a lot since then, even more so since the book being published in 1954 and reading it now was a metaphorical kick to the gut.
The Watts Riots, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King – the whole civil rights movement was in it’s earliest of days, and the events that would make history were waiting to happen.
So, it is hardly surprising that the terminology used throughout the book is enough to jolt the reader, indeed it might have been out of place in 1980, but by today’s standard it is certainly politically incorrect. The term ‘Negro’ is the most common use of description for any person with black skin, and even the other ‘N’ word slips in once or twice. There is a stereotypical feel to some of the lesser characters – although they may well have been depictions of the times, and Harlem is shown as a stronghold of diverse nationals of different race and origin, mostly no-white, who stand out like a sore thumb when they dare enter this place. All the hoodlums are known by street names, and there are gangs everywhere.
Funnily enough, I read this while watching the second series of Marvel’s Luke Cage, and it was quite interesting to see that although there were major changes in the way Harlem is depicted there was a lot that remained familiar as well.
The story should be well known to anyone who has seen the movie. Bond is sent to New York to help the CIA investigate the sudden appearance of gold entering the market – gold that comes from many different countries, but all from a similar period. Has someone found Blackbeard’s treasure? The main culprit seems to be one Mr Big, a powerful crime lord based in Harlem, big in every sense of the world. Is he just a crime boss or is he working for the Russians?
Using voodoo as a method of control Mr Big dominates the gangs of Harlem, running the gold from Jamaica to Harlem, but can it be proved, and can he be stopped. Not only is he ruthless, powerful, he also has the assistance of the beautiful Solitaire, who may just be able to read the future.
Featuring characters returning from Casino Royale, that will become part of Bond lore. It shows the ‘goog’ guys on the back foot, who only just manage to survive by the skin of their teeth and fortuitous timing. It is brutal in places, a rollicking good adventure showing just why Bond would grow to be so much bigger than the written page.
Perhaps though, it must also be consider a historical document a snap shot of a time, portrayed in popular fiction, showing how things have changed, from not just the story but in the way the story is told, down to the diction and attitude.
In a time when a book like Little House on the Prairie can be withdrawn from the American syllabus because of it’s racist attitudes and author’s prejudices, it should be remembered that these are reflections of the times and should be used to teach rather than to be redacted. Are we months away from popular books being re-edited with offensive terms being removed in favour of more modern politically correct terms, rather than making the reader wince and realise this is the way things once were.
If this is the case, Live and Let Die would be a lesser book no longer part of the time from whence it came, but as much a bastardised piece of work as the titular character and we would be a step away from the Firemen coming to burn the freedom of speech at Fahrenheit 451.