18 June 2007

The Alex Rider Brand

Anthony Horowitz's first Alex Rider spy adventure, Stormbreaker, drops a lot of brand names: "Gap combat trousers," "Condor Junior Roadracer," "Kawasaki four by four."

In doing that it follows the model of the James Bond tales. Ian Fleming, too, characterized his hero through brand names, and the Bond movies are awash in product placements.

Even considering that precedent, Stormbreaker goes further into exalting brand-name products than I'd ever seen, in this exchange from chapter 3:

"Please, Alex. Sit down," Crawley said. He went over to the fridge. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Do you have Coke?"

"Yes." Crawley opened a can and filled a glass, then handed it to Alex. "Ice?"

"No, thanks." Alex took a sip. It wasn't Coke. It wasn't even Pepsi. He recognized the oversweet, slightly cloying taste of supermarket soda and wished he'd asked for water.
So not only is our untrustworthy MI6 recruiter burdened with the name "Crawley," but he tries to foist no-name cola onto our young hero under the noble name of "Coke." No wonder Alex is so grumpy and alienated throughout the book! Fortunately, "he poured the cola into a potted plant" before it could harm him.

It baffles me to see Wikipedia say, "Due to primarily being spy fiction, the series is compared to James Bond and Rider is often referred to as a youthful version." The series is compared to James Bond because Horowitz makes the comparison inescapable. He titles one chapter in the first book "Double O Nothing." Other hints of influence include Alex's first alias being Felix Lester; Bond's CIA contact is Felix Leiter. It would be hard to get more explicit about modeling your series on Bond without inviting a lawsuit over stealing someone else's brand.

And then the Alex Rider books did so well that a few years later the Fleming estate had to commission its own teenaged Bond.


Mordena said...

Nothing on Wikipedia should baffle you. I think most book articles there are written by fans, some of whom do a nice job and some of whom are ten-year-olds or perhaps idiots.

Leila said...

Here's another one: His dead uncle's name was Ian.

J. L. Bell said...

I know practically anyone can write practically anything on Wikipedia. But usually fans, ten-year-olds, and idiots are among the most eager to point out similarities between one fiction and another. This Wikipedia writer played down an obvious similarity.

gail said...

I'm sure you know Anthony Horowitz writes an original TV series for British TV called Foyle's War. PBS started showing Series IV last Sunday. I really don't care for the Alex Ryder books, but I do like Foyle's War.

J. L. Bell said...

As far as I can tell, Anthony Horowitz writes everything.

J. L. Bell said...

On the question of Alex Rider's inspiration in James Bond, Horowitz is explicit about the link in the FAQ on his website: "...of course he's also inspired by James Bond. I started writing the books because I thought the actors in the James Bond films were all too old. To be really 'cool' I thought Bond should be a teenager."