Monday, September 22, 2008

Bond. James Bond. Again.

You know how kids like to hear the same stories over and over? When my daughter was little she had her favorite books, and she would want me to read the same ones to her again and again. What is it about the familiar that makes it so appealing?

I’m wondering about this because I just read Devil May Care, the new James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming. Here is a series that has far outlasted its creator. Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels and 2 collections of Bond short stories. His main successor, John Gardner, wrote 14 Bond novels plus two film novelizations, and other writers have also contributed to the canon, including Raymond Benson and Kinglsey Amis. And this doesn’t even begin to cover all the motion pictures (officially 22, counting the upcoming Quantum of Solace).

So what is the appeal, not necessarily of James Bond, who is not the only fictional character to have outlived his creator (think of Robert Ludlum and Jason Bourne, for instance), but of any series that goes on and on and on? Why do we, as adults, more or less still enjoy hearing the same stories over and over? On the one hand, I think, we like to see how an author will tweak the formula, keeping everything in place while nevertheless tugging on it in odd places and keeping the reader guessing. But I also think that, when we read for pure entertainment, we simply like to revisit characters and places that have entertained us in the past. It’s like dropping in on old friends and sharing new adventures with them. When we find people we like, we want to spend time with them, whether they’re real or fictional. It’s not that we like the same stories again and again, but we like the same people.

The explanation might be as simple as that.


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