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Why Ian Fleming`s diamond is forever with SilverFin

05-Apr-2005 • Young Bond

Noddy, James Bond, Mr Mistoffelees, Philip Marlowe and Peter Pan all inhabit quite different imaginative landscapes, but they have one thing in common that makes them exceptionally valuable: each is the property of an imaginative literary estate - reports The Guardian.

Enid Blyton, Ian Fleming, TS Eliot and Raymond Chandler and JM Barrie are all long dead, but their work lives on in the posthumous exploitation of their characters. Every parent knows the excruciating commercial advantages that have been squeezed out of Toytown and Old Possum, the former by the entertainment firm Chorion, the latter by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Last month, Barrie was back in the headlines when Great Ormond Street children's hospital competitively selected Geraldine McCaughrean to write a sequel to Peter Pan.

The sudden success of Charlie Higson's Silverfin, reported last week in The Observer, is another graphic demonstration of the latent power of English literature's brand names.

In crude terms, Silverfin is James Bond for kids. The first of a planned five-volume series, the novel describes the adventures of the young James Bond as an Eton schoolboy in the Thirties, adventures that prefigure the encounters with the great villains Dr No, Goldfinger et al.

Already, Silverfin's sales have surpassed the early figures for JK Rowling's first Harry Potter and Philip Pullman's Northern Lights. More remarkably, it is now number 10 in the children's bestseller list. Perhaps more gratifying to the Fleming estate that encouraged this clever spin-off, there's already a feeding frenzy in Hollywood for the film rights.

Just as the rejuvenation of Noddy and Peter Pan can be attributed to the energetic administration of the Blyton and Barrie estates, so the Silverfin phenomenon derives from the estate's willingness to explore creative avenues that Fleming himself would never have imagined.

Purists may argue that Fleming will be spinning in his grave at such commercialism, but my guess is that the author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would be thrilled. From a larger perspective, Silverfin, and the commissioning of a Peter Pan sequel shows literary estates addressing their responsibilities with rare commercial brio. This is a new development in a world that has, hitherto, enjoyed the tranquillity of the undiscovered tomb.

Traditionally, like remote countrified grandees, the literary estates of the 20th-century's classic writers such as Conan Doyle, Waugh, Maugham, and Kipling, to name just a few, have been content to sit back and let the income from their lucrative copyrights rattle in with the ebb and flow of literary fashion.

But in the more aggressive commercial climate in which publishers operate today, these ancient proprietors are being forced to re-evaluate their roles or be overtaken by the speed of change in the 'intellectual property market'.

Making more money from these brands is not necessarily a bad or shameful thing. It does, after all, apply only to a handful of writers in the English canon. Before 1900, virtually all literary copyrights are in the public domain.

If, like the Fleming and Barrie estates, literary trustees adopt a new attitude to their brands, they will certainly make more money. In the process, the reading public will have the added satisfaction of a reinterpretation of some much-loved stories and characters. Silverfin is a striking example of the benefits that can accrue to the ordinary reader from good literary estate husbandry. I will not be at all surprised to see others taking a leaf out of Charlie Higson's engaging book.

Thanks to `JP` for the alert.

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