Sunday, 1 August 2010

Classic heroes

I put this picture up because it's Sean Connery, at his most cool (though I suspect he's actually holding an air pistol) and for me he'll be the definative Bond.
However, there's a new version that's been out and about, the Young Bond series, written by Charlie Higson.
They're based on the books rather than the films and take place in the 1930's, when Bond's a boy and just started Eton and living with his aunt, soon after his parents death on a climbing accident.
Then we've got Young Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lane, which I'm just reading right now, and last week a new tv series started on BBC, called Sherlock, which takes our two interpid heroes (Sherlock and Watson) and imagines what they would be like if they operated in the modern day.
Firstly, the question is WHY?
These are classic heroes who work perfectly as they are. Fleming purposefully kept Bond's background obscure, and I'm sure he had his reasons, the man's enigma is part of his appeal. Ditto Holmes. He's barely sufferable as an adult, as a kid you'd imagine the whole school lining up to slap him one for being such a smart arse.
But, but, but...
Young Bond is brilliant. What appeals to me is Bond's innocence. Granted, I've only read the first few, but he's noble in a way he isn't in the Fleming books, but there are subtle hints to how he'll turn out, a blunt instrument serving the government. There's a modern sensibility in the YB books, especially his attitude towards the female characters (remember as an adult he'd treat them as disposable pleasures) that's a necessary change and reflected in the movies too, where the women stick up for themselves a bit more than they used to (and, of course, I'm all for action heroines!).
I'm only half-way through Young Holmes and the Death Cloud and Holmes is smart, but learning from two unlikely mentors, an American and a street urchin. The principles of deduction are steadily forming as the story progresses and there's a healthy dose of straight action too, plus a suitably macabre mystery. What's interesting is (so far) it's not set in London, Holmes's natural stompim ground, but we'll see how the rest of the story develops. Check out the interview with the author at BookZone.
The new tv series I expected to HATE. But it works. The guy who plays Holmes is perfectly suited, smart and arrogant and excitable, very much like Jeremy Brett, the actor who defined Holmes back in the 1980's and 1990's. What's brilliant is Watson. In the original books he's a Afgan veteran, so is a man of action far more than how he's been protrayed in most Holmes' sagas. I think this is the masterstroke, the appealing Watson. Guy Richie did something very similar in the movie last year (which despite everything else, worked because of the chemistry between Downey and Law).
I suppose what I'm saying is that I approached these stories as a bit of a snob, not wanting to like them. We have the classic originals, but with the right writer and right team, they can be seen afresh, allowing you to fall in love with them in a new way. The fundamental character remains, it's clear the writer loves the template he's working from, and what's done is done with love and passion, with wit and a lot of style and charm.


storyqueen said...

Sean Connery was the best James Bond, most definitely. But he was very different from the JB I imagined from reading Fleming's books. (My dad had the collection and so I read them....I read anything in the house.)

I would love to read about young James Bond!

Thanks for the heads up!


Katherine Roberts said...

I am enjoying Sherlock on TV - though (like you) approached it with caution, actually expecting something else, and was pleasantly surprised.

I think there is a strong case for revisiting classic characters - plugging into their popularity, while updating them for a modern audience - but I also think modern authors should be brave enough to create their own characters, some of whom may go on to become the classics of the future. (I'm not that brave yet, but I'm working on it...)