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The Modesty moments

The Modesty moments
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First Published: Thu, May 13 2010. 09 10 PM IST

Classic: Modesty Blaise still rocks.
Classic: Modesty Blaise still rocks.
Updated: Thu, May 13 2010. 09 10 PM IST
I don’t know if it ever happens to you but it happens to me every now and then; there’s a feeling of fatigue and listlessness when it comes to reading, and the only way to break out of it seems to be to read something that I have already read before. Something that doesn’t take too much effort, and isn’t written in high prose (but not badly either) so that you can afford to gloss over the language. Yet, it has to be something that is a good read.
Classic: Modesty Blaise still rocks.
I reach for Chandler, Runyon, or Peter O’Donnell at such times.
Yes, I have all 13 Modesty Blaise books he authored as well as a dozen large-format books of his comic strip of the same name. Named after a typo of “modestly” and magician Merlin’s master and friend Blaise, Modesty Blaise was a contemporary of James Bond (just like O’Donnell was of Ian Fleming). Yet, she isn’t as popular, maybe because of O’Donnell’s antipathy towards having his books made into movies after one early bitter experience (so, there is one Modesty Blaise movie starring Monica Vitti, but no more).
With both the Batman and Sherlock Holmes franchises having been so masterfully reinvented on screen, and given the enduring appeal comic books appear to have for film-makers, I am hoping someone takes the trouble to acquire rights to the Blaise strips and books. They will make for enduring movies.
Just as either Jude Law or Ewan McGregor would make for a great Willie Garvin (interestingly, O’Donnell modelled Garvin after a young British actor who was unknown in those days, Michael Caine. Much as I like the books, it is the strips, which originally appeared in the London Evening Standard, that I like better.
The first strips were illustrated by Jim Holdaway. After his death, the other strips were illustrated by Enric Badia Romero (a Spanish artist who did not speak English) and I think the Modesty Blaise comics flourished under his pen (he stopped illustrating the strips for some years in between, and a variety of other artists filled in, but he was to come back to the strip later, and stayed with it till the very end).
I like the Modesty books and comics for several reasons: They are very well written (better than some of Fleming’s weaker Bond books, although all the books have more action and humour than the latter; this may be one reason why the screenplays for the Bond movies had to be very different from the books); the characterization, of Blaise and Garvin but also of the bad guys (and gals), is vivid and piquant; and the illustrations (in the case of the comics) are masterful.
There were strong women of action in fiction before Modesty Blaise came on the scene, but in many ways, I think the lady served as a model for those who came later. And I have a feeling Ms Blaise would have approved of Ms Salander.
Peter O’Donnell, died on 3 May. He was 90.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, May 13 2010. 09 10 PM IST