A nasty case of sequelitis
Who'd a thought it; they've only gone and turned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into a camper van.
What's more, Truly Scrumptious has had to take a back seat while the Tooting (geddit) family hit the road and surf the sky. It wasn't like that in my day.
But that was before sequelitis, a highly contagious condition that publishers, literary estates and movie moguls are particularly prone to. None more so than those responsible for Ian Fleming's estate, who have succumbed to repeated outbreaks, most notably around their James Bonds. Now it has spread to their Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs, hence the camper van.
I should explain. In November an all-new Chitty story will be published by Macmillan Children's Books, which carries on where Ian Fleming left off.
It has been written by Frank Cottrell Boyce - who, after scripting 24 Hour Party People, can do pretty much whatever he wants in my book - and has been given the disappointingly unadventurous title, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (a post modern gag?).
Chitty joins a long list of literary "brands" to be given a facelift by someone other than their creator. Winnie-the-Pooh, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca have all been given the treatment.
Why? I suppose because the public like new stories that take well-liked characters on new adventures while creating a nostalgic link with times past. Literary estates like them because they are in effect brand extensions, a way of making their core asset sweat. And publishers like them because it reduces the inherent risk of fiction publishing.
Of course the movie business has been at it for years. There's an old story about a new owner of a Hollywood studio commissioning some very expensive research to find out which films were the most profitable. Many millions of dollars later they got their answer: sequels. Books are no different, there's a formula to these things. A star actor is an important ingredient for a film sequel; a star writer is generally required in the book world.
Personally, I can't help but feel a little squeamish about the whole thing. The characters that we have come to know and connect with are the product of an individual author's imagination. No other writer or computer programme can capture the magic, because in many cases it has bubbled up from an unconscious mind sitting in front of a blank page.
There is certain magic to creating memorable characters and stories, which most authors will attest to. Turning the process into a hand-me-down franchise seems to devalue what is a truly remarkable human faculty.