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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Multi Media Murders

The original title was Ten Little Niggers, but the title was changed in the US to Ten Little Indians in 1940  - not because of the racist overtones of the original title, but because the title was derived from antiquated English terminology.  However it was not until many years later that the UK title was changed to, And Then There were None and this was due to the racist overtones. In terms of adaptations in other media the novel stands alongside other Agatha Christie Classics such as The Mousetrap and Death on the Nile.  As a novel it is the author's most successful. It's outsold all other mysteries - more than Conan Doyle, more than Raymond Chandler, more than any other crime novel in history.

It was originally published in November 1939 and  the novel, based on a nursery rhyme, was done as an intellectual challenge for Agatha Christie - the challenge was to kill off ten people on an isolated island without revealing who was the killer until the final few pages.

'It was a difficult book to write. Ten people had to die without it appearing ridiculous or the killer becoming obvious. I was immensely pleased with the finished book. No one but I knew how difficult it was and how much planning it had needed.' Agatha Christie

Christie immediately thought it would make a good stage play but again this was not without difficulty. There was no one left in the story to tell the tale, and so the author realized she would have to change it for the stage. Christie did so by making two of the characters survive the ordeal. However Christie found problems in getting a backer for the play but it was eventually produced by Bertie Mayer and after a short run in Wimbledon, the play opened in the West End of London. It was an immediate success and then went onto have a successful run on Broadway.

Bullet points:
A detective novel without a detective
A genuinely stunning twist in the tale
Characters that are believable
Palpable terror and tension in most scenes
It is Christie's best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery

I would like to make it clear that although the word, Nigger is definitely racist by today's standards, the novel is most certainly not. The title comes from a nursery rhyme and back in the day the word was perfectly acceptable. It is not used in the book in a racist sense and none of the characters utter any racist words or thoughts.

After it's stage success it was filmed by 20th Century Fox under the direction of Rene Clair. And like the book and play before it the film was a huge hit. Over the years it has enjoyed many successful stage runs, become several successful movies, TV and radio plays and in 2005 it even became a computer game which started a series of PC games based on Christie's works.

The book was set in a modern house on a small island, the absolute last word in luxury - and it was based on the Art Deco Hotel off the South Devon coast which was a favorite haunt of the author.

I recently read the book for the first time - in one mammoth sitting too and all I can say in review is - WOW, no other word in a lexicon of praise can do it justice. In terms of language and style Christie is very straightforward and in terms of pure storytelling she is something I aspire towards.

I have found the original rhyme which Christie based the novel upon hidden away on You Tube and it is embedded below.


Ron Scheer said...

Good post. Never heard this version of the song this side of the water, but grew up with a children's song, Eeny Meeny Miney Moe. It still exists today, but the offending word has been changed to "tiger"...Reading turn of the century early-westerns I've had to get used to racial epithets, which were acceptable on the printed page. Meanwhile, "cussing" was forbidden. Times change.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Indeed - and whilst I understand some words are no no's these days. I do not like the banning of books because of these words - a case in point in Huckleberry Finn which has been banned by many libraries both in the US and UK.