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Jaws (novel)

Jaws (novel)

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Jaws is a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley
Peter Benchley
Peter Bradford Benchley was an American author, best known for his novel Jaws and its subsequent film adaptation, the latter co-written by Benchley and directed by Steven Spielberg...

. It tells the story of a great white shark
Great white shark
The great white shark, scientific name Carcharodon carcharias, also known as the great white, white pointer, white shark, or white death, is a large lamniform shark found in coastal surface waters in all major oceans. It is known for its size, with the largest individuals known to have approached...

 that preys upon a small resort town, and the voyage of three men to kill it.

Benchley was inspired by several real-life incidents, such as the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916
The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were a series of shark attacks along the coast of New Jersey between July 1 and July 12, 1916, in which four people were killed and one injured. Since 1916, scholars have debated which shark species was responsible and the number of animals involved, with the...

 that resulted in four deaths over 12 days and the exploits of shark fisherman Frank Mundus
Frank Mundus
Frank Mundus was a sport fisherman at Montauk, New York who is said to be the inspiration for the character Quint in the movie and book Jaws...

. Doubleday commissioned him to write the novel. Film producers Richard D. Zanuck
Richard D. Zanuck
Richard Darryl Zanuck is an American film producer. He iscredited for producing famous movies of the 1970's, 80's, 90's and the 21 century.-Life and career:...

 and David Brown
David Brown (producer)
David Brown was an American film producer.-Early life and career:Brown was born in New York City, the son of Lillian and Edward Fisher Brown. He was best known as the producing partner of Richard D. Zanuck. They were jointly awarded the Irving G...

 read the novel before its publication and bought the film rights. They helped raise the novel's profile and when it was published in February 1974 it became a great success, staying on the bestseller list for some 44 weeks.

The film adaptation
Jaws (film)
Jaws is a 1975 American horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name. In the story, the police chief of Amity Island, a fictional summer resort town, tries to protect beachgoers from a giant man-eating great white shark by closing the beach,...

 was directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg
Steven Allan Spielberg KBE is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, video game designer, and studio entrepreneur. In a career of more than four decades, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as an...

 and released in June 1975. Many of the novel's minor subplots were omitted from the movie, which instead focused more on the shark. Jaws became the highest grossing movie in history up to that point, and is regarded as a watershed film in motion picture history, the father of the summer blockbuster film. It was followed by three sequels.

Plot summary


The story is set in Amity, a seaside resort town on Long Island, New York. One night, a young tourist named Chrissie Watkins swims out in the open waters where she is attacked and killed by a great white shark
Great white shark
The great white shark, scientific name Carcharodon carcharias, also known as the great white, white pointer, white shark, or white death, is a large lamniform shark found in coastal surface waters in all major oceans. It is known for its size, with the largest individuals known to have approached...

. When her body is found by the police washed up on the beach, it is obvious that she had been attacked by a shark. Police chief Martin Brody orders Amity's beaches closed, but is overruled by mayor Larry Vaughan and the town's selectmen, fearing it would damage the summer tourism on which the town's economy is heavily dependent. With the connivance of Harry Meadows, the editor of the local newspaper, the attack is hushed up.

A few days later, the shark kills a young boy and an old man not far from the shore. A local fisherman, Ben Gardner, is sent out to kill the shark, but disappears out on the water. Brody finds his boat anchored off-shore, empty, with large bite marks in the side. A shark's tooth is pulled from one of the holes. Blaming himself for these deaths, Brody again moves to close the beaches, and has Meadows investigate the people Vaughan is in business with to find out why the Mayor is so determined to keep the beaches open. Meadows uncovers his links to members of the Mafia
Mafia
The Mafia is a criminal syndicate that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct, and whose common enterprise is protection racketeering...

, who are pressuring Vaughan to keep them open in order to protect the value of Amity's real estate, which they had recently invested a great deal of money into. Meadows also brings in ichthyologist Matt Hooper from the Woods Hole Institute to advise them on how to deal with the shark.

Meanwhile, Brody's wife Ellen is dissatisfied with life and misses the affluent life she left behind when she married Brody and had children. She immediately strikes up a friendship with Hooper, especially after learning that he is the younger brother of a man she dated years before. The two have have a brief affair in a motel outside of town. Throughout the rest of the novel, Brody suspects they have had a liaison and is haunted by the thought.

With the beaches still open, people begin pouring to the town, hoping to catch a glimpse of the killer shark. Still haunted by the guilt of the previous deaths, Brody sets up patrols on the beach and on the water to watch for the fish. After a boy narrowly escapes being attacked by the shark close to the shore, Brody finally closes the beaches and hires Quint, a professional shark hunter, to find and kill the fish. Brody, Quint, and Hooper set out on Quint's vessel, the Orca; the trio soon find that they are struggling against each other as well as the shark. Hooper is angered by Quint's methods, which include disemboweling a blue shark
Blue shark
The blue shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, that inhabits deep waters in the world's temperate and tropical oceans. Preferring cooler waters, blue sharks migrate long distances, for example from New England to South America. Although generally lethargic, they can move very...

 they catch and his use of an illegally-fished unborn dolphin
Dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

 for bait. Quint taunts Hooper for refusing to shoot at beer cans with them, which are launched from the Orca at sea with a device similar to a skeet launcher. Brody and Hooper constantly bicker as Brody's suspicions about Hooper's possible affair with Ellen grow stronger. At one point, Brody attempts to strangle Hooper on the dock.

Their first two days at sea are unproductive, and they return to port on each night. On the third day, Hooper reveals to Brody and Quint a shark proof cage
Shark proof cage
A shark proof cage is an extremely strong metal cage used by a SCUBA diver to safely examine dangerous types of sharks up close, such as the Great White shark or bull shark. Shark proof cages are built to withstand being rammed by large, powerful sharks. The cages provide a visual and tactile...

 that he had shipped from Woods Hole. Initially Quint refuses to allow the cage on the boat, suspecting that it will be useless for protection against this particular fish, but he relents when Hooper offers the captain an extra hundred dollars in cash. Once out on the ocean, after several unsuccessful attempts by Quint to harpoon the shark, Hooper goes underwater in the cage to attempt to kill it with a bang stick
Powerhead
A powerhead, bang stick, or shark stick is a specialized firearm used underwater that is fired when in direct contact with the target. Powerheads are often used for spear fishing, and against sharks or alligators for sport, defense, or to kill nuisance animals...

. He is so taken with the shark that he resolves to first take photos. However, the shark attacks the cage and, after ramming the bars apart, kills him.

Brody is dispirited and also realizes that there is no more money to pay Quint to continue the hunt, but Quint no longer cares about his fee; he is now obsessed with killing the shark. When Brody and Quint return the following day, the shark repeatedly rams into the boat, and Quint harpoons it three times. The shark leaps onto the stern of the Orca and the boat starts sinking. Quint plunges another harpoon
Harpoon
A harpoon is a long spear-like instrument used in fishing to catch fish or large marine mammals such as whales. It accomplishes this task by impaling the target animal, allowing the fishermen to use a rope or chain attached to the butt of the projectile to catch the animal...

 into it, but as it falls back into the water, his foot gets entangled in the ropes and he drowns. Now floating on a seat cushion, Brody spots the shark swimming towards him and shuts his eyes, preparing for death. The shark gets to within a few feet of him, before succumbing to the wounds inflicted by Quint. It sinks to the bottom and drowns. Using the cushion as a makeshift float, Brody starts to paddle back to shore.

Conception


Benchley had been thinking for years "about a story about a shark that attacks people and what would happen if it came in and wouldn't go away." Then, in 1964, he read a news story about a fisherman, Frank Mundus
Frank Mundus
Frank Mundus was a sport fisherman at Montauk, New York who is said to be the inspiration for the character Quint in the movie and book Jaws...

, who caught a great white shark weighing 4550 pounds (2,063.8 kg) off the shore of Montauk Point at the eastern end of Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

, New York. He again did not act on his idea until a discussion with his editor in 1971. Benchley himself cites the 1964 incident as the inspiration for his novel, and the further exploits of fisherman Frank Mundus who caught several great white sharks off Long Island and Block Island
Block Island
Block Island is part of the U.S. state of Rhode Island and is located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately south of the coast of Rhode Island, east of Montauk Point on Long Island, and is separated from the Rhode Island mainland by Block Island Sound. The United States Census Bureau defines Block...

.Some writers (including Richard Ellis
Richard Ellis (biologist)
Richard Ellis is an American marine biologist, author, and illustrator. He is a research associate in the American Museum of Natural History's division of paleontology, special adviser to the American Cetacean Society, and a member of the Explorers Club. He was U.S...

, Richard Fernicola, and Michael Capuzzo
Michael Capuzzo
Michael Capuzzo is an American journalist and author best-known for his nonfiction book Close to Shore , a historical thriller about the first shark attacks in American history, in Edwardian-era New Jersey, that were an inspiration for the book and movie Jaws...

) suggest that his inspiration also came from Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916
The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were a series of shark attacks along the coast of New Jersey between July 1 and July 12, 1916, in which four people were killed and one injured. Since 1916, scholars have debated which shark species was responsible and the number of animals involved, with the...

, as well as Coppleson's rogue shark theory.

Doubleday editor Tom Congdon had read some of Benchley's articles and invited him to lunch to discuss some ideas for books. Congdon was not impressed by Benchley's proposals for non-fiction but was interested in his idea of a novel about a great white shark terrorizing a beach resort. Congdon recalls that Benchley wrote a page in his office, "and I gave him a cheque for $1,000. On the basis of that he did me 100 pages."

Much of the work had to be rewritten as the publisher was unhappy with the initial tone. Congdon recalls that the "first five pages were just wonderful. They just went in to the eventual book without any changes. The other 95 pages, though, were on the wrong track. They were humorous. And humour isn't the proper vehicle for a great thriller." Benchley worked through the winter in a room above a furnace company in Pennington, New Jersey
Pennington, New Jersey
Pennington is a Borough in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the borough population was 2,585.Pennington was established as a borough by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on January 31, 1890, from portions of Hopewell Township, based on the results of...

, and in the summer in a converted turkey coop in Stonington, Connecticut
Stonington, Connecticut
The Town of Stonington is located in New London County, Connecticut, in the state's southeastern corner. It includes the borough of Stonington, the villages of Pawcatuck, Lords Point, Wequetequock, the eastern halves of the villages of Mystic and Old Mystic...

.

After various revisions and rewrites, Benchley delivered his final draft in January 1973. According to Carl Gottlieb
Carl Gottlieb
Carl Gottlieb is an American screenwriter, actor, comedian and executive. He is probably best known for co-writing the screenplay for Jaws, as well as directing the 1981 low-budget cult film Caveman.-Early life:...

, who would share with Benchley the credit for the film's screenplay, Benchley had only received a $7,500 advance "for a year's work and a lifetime's preparation." This was far less than what Benchley was used to as a professional writer, and, furthermore, the advance had been paid sporadically during the writing process.

The title was not decided until shortly before the book went to print. Benchley says that he had spent months thinking of titles, many of which he calls "pretentious", such as The Stillness in the Water and Leviathan Rising. Benchley regarded other ideas, such as The Jaws of Death and The Jaws of Leviathan, as "melodramatic, weird or pretentious". According to Benchley, the novel still did not have a title until twenty minutes before production of the book. The writer discussed the problem with editor Tom Congdon at a restaurant in New York.

We cannot agree on a word that we like, let alone a title that we like. In fact, the only word that even means anything, that even says anything, is "jaws". Call the book Jaws. He said "What does it mean?" I said, "I don't know, but it's short; it fits on a jacket, and it may work." He said, "Okay, we'll call the thing Jaws.


Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg
Steven Allan Spielberg KBE is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, video game designer, and studio entrepreneur. In a career of more than four decades, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as an...

, who would direct the film adaptation, recalls that the title intrigued him when he first saw the book. He points out that the word was "not in the national consciousness at the time. It was just a word. It was kind of an unusual word." Situating the incident in the era of the explicit film Deep Throat
Deep Throat (film)
Deep Throat is a 1972 American pornographic film written and directed by Gerard Damiano and produced by Louis Peraino and starring Linda Lovelace ....

, some retrospectives suggest that upon seeing the title Spielberg asked if the novel was about a "pornographic dentist".

Publication and film rights



Benchley says that no one, including himself, initially realized the book's potential. Tom Congdon, however, sensed that the novel had prospects and had it sent out to The Book of the Month Club, paperback houses. The Book of the Month Club made it an "A book", qualifying it for its main selection, then the Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest is a general interest family magazine, published ten times annually. Formerly based in Chappaqua, New York, its headquarters is now in New York City. It was founded in 1922, by DeWitt Wallace and Lila Bell Wallace...

also selected it. The publication date was moved back to allow a carefully orchestrated release. It was released first in hardcover in February 1974, then in the book clubs, followed by a national campaign for the paperback release. Bantam
Bantam Books
Bantam Books is an American publishing house owned entirely by Random House, the German media corporation subsidiary of Bertelsmann; it is an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group. It was formed in 1945 by Walter B. Pitkin, Jr., Sidney B. Kramer, and Ian and Betty Ballantine...

 bought the paperback rights for $575,000, which Benchley points out was "then an enormous sum of money".

Richard D. Zanuck
Richard D. Zanuck
Richard Darryl Zanuck is an American film producer. He iscredited for producing famous movies of the 1970's, 80's, 90's and the 21 century.-Life and career:...

 and David Brown
David Brown (producer)
David Brown was an American film producer.-Early life and career:Brown was born in New York City, the son of Lillian and Edward Fisher Brown. He was best known as the producing partner of Richard D. Zanuck. They were jointly awarded the Irving G...

, film producers at Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures
-1920:* White Youth* The Flaming Disc* Am I Dreaming?* The Dragon's Net* The Adorable Savage* Putting It Over* The Line Runners-1921:* The Fire Eater* A Battle of Wits* Dream Girl* The Millionaire...

, heard about the book at identical times at different locations. Brown heard about it in the fiction department of Cosmopolitan
Cosmopolitan (magazine)
Cosmopolitan is an international magazine for women. It was first published in 1886 in the United States as a family magazine, was later transformed into a literary magazine and eventually became a women's magazine in the late 1960s...

, a lifestyle magazine then edited by his wife, Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown , is an author, publisher, and businesswoman. She was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years.-Personal life and career:...

. A small card gave a detailed description of the plot, concluding with the comment "might make a good movie". The producers each read it overnight and agreed the next morning that it was "the most exciting thing that they had ever read" and that, although they were unsure how they would accomplish it, they had to produce the film. Brown says that had they read the book twice they would have never made the film because of the difficulties in executing some of the sequences. However, he says that "we just loved the book. We thought it would make a very good movie."

According to John Baxter
John Baxter (author)
John Baxter is an Australian-born writer, journalist, and film-maker.Baxter has lived in Britain and the United States as well as in his native Sydney, but has made his home in Paris since 1989, where he is married to the film-maker Marie-Dominique Montel...

's biography of Spielberg, the director, Zanuck, Brown and friends bought a hundred copies of the novel each to push the book onto California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

's best-seller list. Most of these copies were sent to "opinion-makers and members of the chattering class". Jaws was the state's most successful book by 7pm on the first day. However, sales were good nationwide without engineering; within weeks of release "it was climbing towards an eventual 9.5 million sales in the US alone".

Zanuck and Brown purchased the film rights to the novel for $150,000 after an auction. (Another source quotes the figure as $175,000.) Andrew Yule cites the figure as "$150,000 with escalation clauses to $250,000, plus a percentage of the profits". Although this delighted the author, who had very little money at the time, it was a low sum as the agreement occurred before the book became a surprise best seller.

Reception


Jaws was published in February 1974 and became a great success, staying on the bestseller list for some 44 weeks. It domestically sold an eventual 9.5 million copies. Benchley's 2006 obituary in The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

says that "Jaws stayed for 40 weeks in the bestseller charts of The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

, eventually selling 20 million copies."

Steven Spielberg has said that he initially found many of the characters unsympathetic and wanted the shark to win. Book critics such as Michael A. Rogers of Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

magazine shared the sentiment but the book struck a chord with readers.

In the years following publication, Benchley began to feel responsible for the negative attitudes against sharks that he felt his novel created. He became an ardent ocean conservationist. In an article for the National Geographic published in 2000, Benchley writes "considering the knowledge accumulated about sharks in the last 25 years, I couldn't possibly write Jaws today ... not in good conscience anyway. Back then, it was generally accepted that great whites were anthrophagous (they ate people) by choice. Now we know that almost every attack on a human is an accident: The shark mistakes the human for its normal prey."