I have always been a big fan of the Public Domain. For works that are still under copyright, I feel like I am (and legally speaking, I think I might be) just renting them. This is unsettling to me for a few reasons.
First off, there’s always the possibility that publishers could claw back books from my e-reader that I rightfully paid for, by doing something like deleting them remotely. This is unlikely, but it has happened before.
Also, I don’t generally write fan-fiction, but I like the idea of fan-fiction. Some of it is better than the original even. While I don’t write much of the stuff myself, I do make cultural references either in conversation, or writing or blogging, and there’s a difference between making a cultural reference to a non-Public Domain thing and making a cultural reference to a Public Domain thing. When you draw an analogy to a Harry Potter character, for example, it comes across as corporate. Like you’re an advertisement for Warner Brothers. You know that for anyone to “get” your reference, they have to have lined the pockets of either WB or Bloomsbury Publishing. If I make reference to Moby Dick in an essay, though, it doesn’t have that same “corporate sell-out” flavour.
And that’s why I was so excited by the fact that this January, James Bond himself entered the Public Domain in Canada. That’s right, Ian Fleming died on August 12, 1964. Since he’s been dead for 50 years, that means that in Canada, there are no laws protecting his intellectual property anymore. Of course, the movies, the soundtracks, and everything else associated with James Bond will be under copyright forever, but the original novels by Ian Fleming and the characters within them, including James Bond, are now fair game.
So when Project Gutenberg Canada announced that Goldfinger is available for download (free and legal for Canadians), I got myself a copy. I was prepared to a certain extent for the novel to be a … umm … product of its time. After all, Bond is a fast-living, smooth-talking, hard-drinking, womanising secret agent man. That’s kind of his thing.
Then I got to this description of Oddjob:
He was a chunky flat-faced Japanese, or more probably Korean, with a wild, almost mad glare in dramatically slanting eyes that belonged in a Japanese film rather than in a Rolls Royce on a sunny afternoon in Kent. He had the snout-like upper lip that sometimes goes with a cleft palate, but he said nothing and Bond had no opportunity of knowing whether his guess was right. In his tight, almost bursting black suit and farcical bowler hat he looked rather like a Japanese wrestler on his day off.
Which was unsettling. But then it got worse:
‘Here–‘ Goldfinger took the cat from under his arm and tossed it to the Korean who caught it eagerly–‘I am tired of seeing this animal around. You may have it for dinner.’ The Korean’s eyes gleamed.
Those two were pretty bad, but I think par for the course for 1950’s racial sensitivity. The next quote takes it a bit further than the last two.
Bond intended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms included putting Oddjob and any other Korean firmly in his place, which, in Bond’s estimation, was rather lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.
It’s not just a casual statement of implied inferiority. He’s explicit about exactly how he feels about Koreans. And in case you thought that Bond was just being angry because he got beat up by Oddjob, he doubles down on the whole “ape” thing later on.
There’s only one way out of here and Oddjob, that Korean ape, is guarding it.
I haven’t quite finished the book, although it’s pretty short, so I imagine I’ll be done tomorrow or the next day, depending on how my métro ride goes. I may have to update this post with more Ways In Which James Bond Is Super-Racist. For right now, I’ll leave you with this weird homophobic thing:
Bond liked the look of her. He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men.
I really don’t know exactly how to interpret that. Maybe a straight guy can fill me in on what sexual challenge it is that all beautiful Lesbians have for men?