Tag Archives: james bond

Sherlock vs Dracula: How Characters outlive their Creators

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a series runs for long enough, sooner or later the protagonists will end up fighting Dracula.

No, really. There’s a TV Tropes page about it.

There’s some characters that just pop up everywhere. These are the characters that are so embedded in the popular consciousness that, like Madonna, you only need one word to remember them by: Sherlock, Bond, Dracula. They’re giants. Their names are so well-known that just to say it conveys everything – their personality, their appearance, their genre. They’ve continued to be popular long after they were originally conceived of – and, in some cases, over a century after the author’s death.

But why is this? What exactly is it that makes some characters last for hundreds of years, and some get forgotten within a decade or so? There’s plenty of fictional characters that stick in the mind, but why is it that only a handful of these keep popping up again and again?

Let’s find out, shall we?

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WOO YEAH (image: tumblr.com)

The one thing that characters like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Dracula have in common is that they’ve become archetypes. When you say ‘detective’, you might picture a guy in a deerstalker; when you say ‘spy’, you might picture a suave and besuited man with a predilection for explosions and shiny cars. Even though these characters were originally written just like any other, they have come to represent something much bigger than themselves.

This is really unusual. Archetypes are usually much more broadly-sketched – they don’t always have names attached (looking at you, ‘damsel in distress’) and they tend to represent characters in certain situations, rather than actual personalities. These are the kinds of characters that you find in fairy tales, myths and legends: in stories where it’s not always the character themselves which is important, but what they’re doing and what they represent. Fiction has, of course, moved on since fairy tales were originally conceived of, which is why it’s so unusual that characters with distinct personalities and development have been able to join this pantheon of clichés.

This is what happens when you write a really genre-defining character. When those kind of characters are written, they are not the only things being put on paper – what also gets written down are the things that eventually become the clichés that other writers will depend on. Everything that comes after these characters is, to a certain extent, a response to them. You can’t write a spy novel without people inevitably comparing it to Bond; you can’t write about vampires without the shadow of Dracula looming across the page.

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Much like this, actually. (image: blogs.exeter.ac.uk)

Let’s look at some examples. How many detectives can you think of who are described as ‘eccentrics’, who immerse themselves in their cases so completely that it eclipses everything else in their lives? That’s Holmes. How many spies can you think of with neat little gadgets, bevies of beautiful women in their contacts list and at least three international trips per book? That’s Bond. How many vampires can you think of who swan about in evening dress, with dark hair, pale skin and a tendency to go after young women? That’s Dracula. These were originally features of particular characters, but now these characters have become so widely-known that these traits have come to define the archetypes themselves. Of course, writers can choose to deliberately leave all of these things out – that’s where we see gritty, violent spy movies, or vampire stories were the undead schlub about in jeans and T-shirts – but that heavy-handed rejection of the archetype just makes you more aware of it. When you consume these types of stories, you’re constantly being reminded that these vampires aren’t like the ones you know, or that this spy movie is nothing like the slick, suave espionage thriller you usually get. It’s like ‘Not Like Other Girls’ all over again – something like that doesn’t work unless you know what ‘Other Girls’ are supposed to be.

Characters become archetypes when they step outside the bounds of what their authors originally wrote. A certain amount of ‘placelessness’ makes this process easier. You can put Sherlock Holmes anywhere in the world – the focus of his stories are the cases he solves, and these can happen anywhere. James Bond can go anywhere he likes too – he goes where the danger is, and that can be anywhere. Similarly, Dracula can go anywhere too (although he always comes from Transylvania) – all you really need for him to work as a character is a few blacked-out windows and a steady supply of necks to nom on and before you know it he’ll be flapping through every open window and buying up all your evening wear.

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Fun fact: all of those drawers are filled with cufflinks. (image: pinterest.com)

But to a certain extent, this needs to be possible for their characters too. It can only go so far, otherwise it ends up becoming the rejection of the archetype I described above, but a certain amount of wiggle room is necessary. In the original novel, Dracula started out as an old man with hairy palms – now, he’s being played by Luke Evans. He’s become a spooky sex symbol, which is really not what you’d expect to see if you read the description of the horrible moustache he has in the book. Likewise James Bond, once so typically stiff-upper-lip, has been increasingly portrayed as suffering from PTSD. The core elements of their characters are still there – Dracula is still sinister, Bond still blows things up for Queen and Country – but the way in which we view these things has changed. Dracula is still evil, but he’s been allowed to ramp up the charm as people stopped putting so much faith in the restrictive morality that is set against him. Bond still does his duty, but we see the toll this takes.

This is where adaptations come in.

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Holla holla get that dollar. (image: giphy.com)

Everyone’s been getting a bit sick of adaptations lately, what with all the constant remakes we seem to be getting, but adaptations are one of the main things that help characters outlive their creators. Characters and stories only survive if they retain the public’s interest, and if they lose it, they get forgotten. Adaptation plays a huge role in helping to avoid that. Characters and their stories are updated for a new era, or brought to new audiences via a new medium. Being able to transcend one type of storytelling is part of the reason why these characters have lasted for so long – they’re accessible to a wider range of people and they stay stuck in the collective cultural consciousness for longer.

Let’s look at a couple of examples here. We’ll start with Dracula. He first appeared in the 1897 novel, which was rapidly turned into a play (which by all accounts, wasn’t very good). Then Stoker died, and Dracula appeared again in a collection of short stories, then in Nosferatu (which was rapidly hit with many a lawsuit, hence the vampire’s hasty name-change to Count Orlok), then another play, then several more films which may or may not have existed, then the 1931 movie with Bela Lugosi (which was actually an adaptation of the second play, which also starred Bela Lugosi), then several more Universal movies, then several Hammer movies with Christopher Lee, then more movies, then more plays, then a musical, an opera and a ballet and I haven’t even mentioned the TV shows, anime, manga, games, radio plays, cartoons and many a novel that have updated the original story since its publication.

My point is: it’s a lot. But it’s this kind of scatter-gun approach to adaptations that have made characters like Dracula stick in the mind. You can’t forget him, because he’s everywhere.

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I mean, yes. (image: imgur.com)

A large part of why this was possible in the first place is because of the time in which these characters were conceived. Sherlock and Dracula had their first appearances in literary works of the late nineteenth century. These characters have had time to disseminate through the popular consciousness and really burrow their way in. A certain amount of time is necessary to see if something’s going to last.

It’s also worth mentioning that for these two particular examples, part of the reason why they ended up being adapted to Hell and back is because both Sherlock and Dracula are in a slightly unique position with regards to copyright laws. In the case of Dracula, Bram Stoker didn’t fully comply with American copyright registration laws and made a mistake on his application – therefore Dracula wasn’t subject to normal term of copyright laws and was public domain in the US. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, there was a bit of a legal grey area about whether the author’s estate had copyright over the character of Holmes or just the copyright to the stories in which he appeared. It’s pretty complicated and I can’t say I understand it well, but I’m pretty sure that without this wobblyness around the copyright, we definitely wouldn’t have had all the adaptations that brought these characters into the popular consciousness.

Of course, these days copyright and intellectual property laws have been tightened up like nobody’s business – that sort of thing can’t happen again quite so easily. The spread of characters happens a lot faster now, too. Thanks to social media it’s easier to generate a buzz about a new character or story – before Twitter, this could’ve taken years, but now it takes minutes. But whether this will stand the test of time remains to be seen. There’s so much information out there that it’s difficult to say which characters are going to last and which are a flash in the pan. If I had to pick one, my money’s on Harry Potter, but even that’s not certain. It’s impossible to tell what will be able to transcend its original story and the author’s lifetime – despite its popularity, we may find that Harry Potter is just too tied into a specific place and time to properly last in the way that Sherlock and Dracula have done. Perhaps the same will be true for all modern characters, as storytelling has evolved to the point where fixing a story in a time and place – or fixing a character with very specific situational responses and traits – is generally seen as being a mark of what makes a book good. Who knows?

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Don’t ask me please please PLEASE (image: giphy.com)

There’s all sorts of things that lead to characters outliving their creators and unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that can replicate that kind of success. I’ve tried my best to sketch out the boundaries but frankly, there’s no way of knowing which characters will stand the test of time. You could write a memorable character that could easily get transferred into a range of different situations and still not come up with the next Dracula. All authors can really do is write a character they feel passionate about and see what happens. (And lock that copyright down.)

Who knows where it’ll take you?

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Book Recipes: How to Write a Spy Novel

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at spy novels. Choose your code names and watch out for explosions!

 

Ingredients:

  • One dashing and debonair spy
  • Laaaaadies
  • An assortment of exotic locations
  • A dastardly villain
  • Gadgets
  • One superior officer, only to be ignored
  • A TRAITOR
  • So many ‘splosions.

 

Method:

  1. Your debonair spy receives his mission from his superior officer. This is the only time this character will ever be listened to.
  2. A plot is afoot! Infodump the details onto the main character. It doesn’t matter what they are – the only thing you really have to bring out is just how evil the villain is.
  3. Pick up your gadgets. Try not to look bored.
  4. Go to your first exotic location! Don’t worry about all the extensive research into place and culture that real spies have to do – just show up in your flash car, it’ll be fine.
  5. Meet your first beautiful woman. She must fall into one of three categories:
    1. Suspicious, but in a way that’s really hot
    2. Innocent, but ultimately doomed
    3. Foreign
  6. Do some spy stuff for a bit. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re sneaking.
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Quick! Hide! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Receive a sinister message from the villain. If you chose the innocent-yet-doomed woman for step five, it’s time to kill her off.
  2. Go to another exotic location! Don’t worry about blowing your cover, we’re only on step eight.
  3. Oh look, it’s another beautiful woman! Let’s see if she’ll survive all twenty steps.
  4. Infiltrate, steal or smash something belonging to the villain. It’s all very exciting.
  5. Blow something up.
  6. It’s time to meet the villain! You can’t kill them because we’re only on step twelve, so have a tense conversation where you never directly address what’s going on instead.
  7. Form an uneasy yet sexy alliance with the highly suspicious hottie. It definitely won’t backfire.
  8. You’ve uncovered a code! Hooray! Celebrate with another explosion.
  9. Fight some baddies for a bit.
  10. Use your code to get into the villain’s secret lair. You’re so close to foiling their evil plans…
  11. …but oh no, you’ve been betrayed! The highly suspicious hottie has double-crossed you, as literally nobody ever thought she would.

  1. While you’re captured, the villain very kindly explains their evil plan, with diagrams. They then leave immediately, because they’ve got to take their fluffy white cat to the vet before they take over the world.
  2. Break free of your restraints, go to another exotic location and foil the evil plan! Fortunately this is very easy, as the villain’s plan is always foilable by cutting the right wire or pushing a big red button.
  3. Hooray! The day has been saved. Retreat to the nearest tropical island with all the surviving and non-traitorous hotties, and then fly back home for tea and medals.

THE END. Serve shaken, not stirred.

 

Tips:

  • There are no unattractive women allowed. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about memorising false names and elaborate cover stories when you’re infiltrating places. Just make it up! It’ll probably be fine.
  • If you include a beautiful foreign woman as one of your gorgeous lady friends, don’t bother actually researching her culture and background to give a better understanding of her character. Just stick a few of her lines in another language and give her an accent.
  • Always walk away from an explosion, never run.
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Otherwise you’ll end up looking like this. (image: giphy.com)
  • Don’t worry about cleaning up after the messes you’ve made, or blowing the cover of any other agents in the field. That’s your superior officer’s job. They’ll yell at you a bit, but it’s all fine.
  • Drive flash cars, fly private jets and pilot speedboats. These are the only acceptable ways for you to travel, apart from running along in the Mission: Impossible pose. Never, ever use public transport.
  • Give yourself a cool name. No-one likes a spy called Gerald.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“Mr Diamond.”

Leaning on the black marble bar, Jack Diamond turned. One of the General’s men was standing in front of him – a big, tattooed guy with a shaven head and a suit that strained across his biceps. He wore dark glasses, even though they were indoors, and he was sweating in the heat.

The man inclined his head. “My employer would like you to join him. This way, please.”

Diamond picked up his whiskey – Lagavulin, two fingers, with a maraschino cherry on the side – and followed the man through the casino. Past the craps table, past the roulette wheel, past the sheer glass balcony that looked out over palm trees and a long-dormant volcano. They passed through a crowd of suits and evening dresses until the General’s bodyguard led Diamond to a private room. He knocked on the mahogany door and showed him in.

There, at the head of the table, was General Victor Sly, dressed all in white to match his hair. Diamond knew him from the files, of course. The scar pulling down his left eye socket was enough; the glittering black opal that replaced his left eye made him impossible to miss.

He smiled. “Ah, Mr Diamond. So good of you to join us. Sit, please.”

Diamond sat down. Katya was with him, sitting at the General’s right hand as she’d said she would be. She wore the fur hat she’d had in Rome; she’d stuck a brooch in it to match her evening dress. Blonde and beautiful, she gave no sign she recognised him. It was part of the plan, but Diamond still felt a little stung. After all, they’d held hands.

“I do so like to meet my investors,” the General said, “it makes such a difference. I thought we might play a little game and get to know each other.”

Diamond raised his glass. “When in Rome,” he said, and drank. It was a mistake. He’d picked the whiskey because it had been on the top shelf of the bar and he could put it on expenses if he kept the receipt. If he’d known it was going to be this strong, he would have asked the bartender to mix in some lemonade. He tried not to cough in front of Katya.

“Yes,” said the General, “have you been to Rome, Mr Diamond?”

Someone poured him another drink. Diamond fished out the cherry and ate it, wishing he’d had dinner before he came to the casino. “No. Definitely not.”

“Really? How unusual. I was under the impression you had met with some of my investors there.”

Diamond took a gulp of his whiskey and signalled for another cherry, thinking fast. He’d been supposed to meet his contact in Rome to pick up the map of the General’s secret facility, but the man had been murdered before he could make the drop. Diamond had had to blow up the Trevi fountain just to make himself feel better.

“Oh, that Rome,” he said, after another mouthful of whiskey. “I thought you meant Rome, Georgia. Not Italy. Where I haven’t been.”

“I…what?” The General frowned. “Why would I…”

Diamond drained his glass and wondered if there was anywhere he could get some chips. “I haven’t been there,” he said again.

“Right…” said the General. He shook his head and smiled again. “You know my associate, of course,” he said, nodding to Katya.

“No,” said Diamond. “Definitely not.”

Nyet,” said Katya, glaring at him, “Mr Diamond and I have corresponded vith regards to his investments, but ve have never formally met.”

“Ah. Then allow me to introduce my business associate, Yetakerina Mikhailovna Lyegova.”

Katya held out her hand. Diamond kissed it, and felt all giddy. “Charmed.”

She sat back down and wiped the back of her hand on her skirt. Obviously, Diamond thought, she was doing it to maintain her cover. He ordered another drink.

“Well,” said the General, “now that we are all acquainted, let us begin our game.”

He signalled to one of his men, who stepped forwards and began shuffling a pack of cards. He laid down five cards in front of each of them and put the rest in the centre of the table. Diamond took another sip of his whiskey, and giggled at the funny slurping noise. Then he stopped, because Katya was watching.

He looked at his cards, lifting the edges the merest fraction off the table. “Threes?” he asked.

The General smiled enigmatically, and Diamond took a card from the pile.

“Sevens,” the General said. Diamond shook his head, and the General took another card.

“Jacks,” said Diamond. The General raised an eyebrow, and slid a card across the table.

“Secret access codes,” he said.

Diamond froze. Under the table, his hand strayed to his revolver, strapped against his thigh. He was feeling a bit wobbly, and really, reallywished he’d stopped for a kebab.

His finger curled around the trigger.

“No,” Diamond said. “Go Fish.”

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)