Look Inside. The Jaws phenomenon changed popular culture and continues to inspire a growing interest in sharks and the oceans today. When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws in the early s, he meticulously researched all available data about shark behavior. Over the ensuing decades, Benchley was actively engaged with scientists and filmmakers on expeditions around the world as they expanded their knowledge of sharks. Also during this time, there was an unprecedented upswing in the number of sharks killed to make shark-fin soup, and Benchley worked with governments and nonprofits to sound the alarm for shark conservation. He encouraged each new generation of Jaws fans to enjoy his riveting tale and to channel their excitement into support and protection of these magnificent, prehistoric apex predators.
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Jaws is a novel by American writer Peter Benchley. It tells the story of a great white shark that preys upon a small resort town and the voyage of three men trying to kill it.
The novel grew out of Benchley's interest in shark attacks after he learned about the exploits of shark fisherman Frank Mundus in Doubleday commissioned him to write the novel in , a period when Benchley worked as a freelance journalist.
Through a marketing campaign orchestrated by Doubleday and paperback publisher Bantam , Jaws was incorporated into many book sales clubs catalogues and attracted media interest.
After first publication in February , the novel was a great success, with the hardback staying on the bestseller list for some 44 weeks and the subsequent paperback selling millions of copies in the following year. Reviews were mixed, with many literary critics finding the prose and characterization lacking despite the novel's effective suspense.
Film producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown read the novel before its publication and bought the film rights, selecting Steven Spielberg to direct the film adaptation. The Jaws film , released in June , omitted practically all of the novel's several subplots, mainly focusing on the shark and the characterizations of the three protagonists.
Jaws became the highest-grossing movie in history up to that time, becoming a watershed film in motion picture history and the very first summer blockbuster film. Three sequels followed the film, which were met with mixed to negative responses. One night, a massive great white shark kills a young tourist named Chrissie Watkins while she skinny dips in the open waters. After finding what remains of her body washed up on the beach, investigators realize she was attacked by a shark. Police chief Martin Brody orders Amity's beaches closed, but mayor Larry Vaughan and the town's selectmen overrule him out of fear for damage to summer tourism, the town's main industry.
With the connivance of Harry Meadows, the editor of the local newspaper, they hush up the attack. A few days later, the shark kills a young boy named Alex Kintner and Morris Cater, an elderly man not far from shore.
A local fisherman, Ben Gardner, is hired by Amity's authorities to kill the shark, but disappears on the water. Brody and deputy Leonard Hendricks find Gardner's boat anchored off-shore, empty and covered with large bite holes, one of which has a massive shark tooth stuck in it. Blaming himself for these deaths, Brody again attempts to close the beaches, while Meadows investigates the Mayor's business contacts to find out why he is determined to keep the beaches open.
Meadows discovers Vaughn has ties to the Mafia , who are pressuring the mayor to keep the beaches open in order to protect the value of Amity's real estate, in which the Mafia has invested a great deal of money.
Meadows also recruits ichthyologist Matt Hooper from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for advice on how to deal with the shark. Meanwhile, Brody's wife Ellen is missing the affluent lifestyle she had before marrying Brody and having children. She instigates a sexual encounter with Matt Hooper, who is the younger brother of David Hooper, a man she used to date.
The two go to a motel after Ellen invites him to lunch at a restaurant several miles away from Amity. Throughout the rest of the novel, Brody suspects the two have had a liaison and is tormented by the thought.
With the beaches still open, tourists pour into the town, hoping to glimpse the killer shark. Brody sets up patrols on the beaches to watch for the fish. After a boy narrowly escapes another attack close to the shore, Brody closes the beaches and hires Quint, a professional shark hunter, to kill the shark.
Brody, Quint and Hooper set out on Quint's vessel, the Orca and the three men are soon at odds with one another. Quint dislikes Hooper, dismissing him as a spoiled rich College boy. Hooper is angry over Quint's methods, especially when he disembowels a blue shark , and uses an illegally caught unborn baby dolphin for bait.
Brody and Hooper also argue, as Brody's suspicions about Hooper's possible tryst with Ellen grow stronger; at one point, a heated argument ensues with Brody strangling Hooper for several seconds. Their first two days at sea are unproductive, although they do come in contact with the shark by the end of the second day.
Upon seeing it for the first time, Hooper estimates the fish must be at least twenty feet long, and is visibly excited and in awe at the size of it. Larry Vaughn visits the Brody house before Brody returns home and informs Ellen that he and his wife are leaving Amity.
Before he leaves, he tells Ellen that he always thought they would have made a great couple. After he is gone, Ellen reflects that her life with Brody is much more fulfilling than any life she might have had with Vaughn, and begins feeling guilty over her prior thoughts of missing the life she had before marrying Brody.
On the third day, after seeing the size of the shark, Hooper wants to bring along a shark-proof cage , to take photos of it and then to use it in an attempt to kill it with a bang stick. Later that day, after several unsuccessful attempts by Quint to harpoon the shark, Hooper goes underwater in the shark cage. However, the shark attacks the cage, something Hooper did not expect it to do, and, after destroying the cage, the shark kills and eats Hooper.
Brody informs Quint that the town can no longer afford to pay him to hunt the shark, but Quint no longer cares about the money and vows to continue pursuing the shark until he has killed it. When Quint and Brody return to sea the following day, the shark begins attacking the boat. After Quint manages to harpoon it several times, the shark leaps out of the water and onto the stern of the Orca , tearing a huge hole in the aft section which causes the boat to start sinking.
Quint plunges another harpoon into the shark's belly, but as it settles back into the water, Quint's foot becomes entangled in the rope attached to the harpoon, and he is dragged underwater to his death.
Brody, now floating on a seat cushion, spots the shark slowly swimming towards him; he closes his eyes and prepares for death. However, just as the shark gets within a few feet of him, it succumbs to its many wounds. The shark rolls over in the water and dies before it can attack Brody.
The great fish slowly sinks down out of sight, dragging Quint's still entangled body behind it. The lone survivor of the ordeal, Brody watches as the dead shark disappears into the depths and then he paddles back to shore on his makeshift float. Peter Benchley had a long time fascination with sharks, which he frequently encountered while fishing with his father Nathaniel in Nantucket. In , Benchley worked as a freelance writer struggling to support his wife and children.
Congdon did not find Benchley's proposals for non-fiction interesting, but instead favored his idea for a novel about a shark terrorizing a beach resort. Benchley only began writing once his agent reminded him that if he did not deliver the pages, he would have to return the already cashed and spent money.
The hastily written pages were met with derision by Congdon, who did not like Benchley's attempt at making the book comedic. The manuscript took a year and a half to complete. Congdon did not feel that there was "any place for this wholesome marital sex in this kind of book".
After various revisions and rewrites, alongside sporadic payments of the advance, Benchley delivered his final draft in January Benchley was also partly inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of where there were four recorded fatalities and one critical injury from shark attacks from July 1 through July 12, The story is very similar to the story in Benchley's book with a vacation beach town on the Atlantic coast being haunted by a killer shark and people eventually being commissioned to hunt down and kill the shark or sharks responsible.
Shortly before the book went to print, Benchley and Congdon needed to choose a title. Benchley had many working titles during development, 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". 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? For the cover, Benchley wanted an illustration of Amity as seen through the jaws of a shark.
Congdon and Gotfryd eventually settled on printing a typographical jacket, but that was subsequently discarded once Bantam editor Oscar Dystel noted the title Jaws was so vague "it could have been a title about dentistry". The subsequent drawing became the eventual hardcover art, with a shark head rising towards a swimming woman.
Despite the acceptance of the Bacon cover by Doubleday, Dystel did not like the cover, and assigned New York illustrator Roger Kastel to do a different one for the paperback.
Following Bacon's concept, Kastel illustrated his favorite part of the novel, the opening where the shark attacks Chrissie. For research, Kastel went to the American Museum of Natural History , and took advantage of the Great White exhibits being closed for cleaning to photograph the models.
The photographs then provided reference for a "ferocious-looking shark that was still realistic. Following a photoshoot for Good Housekeeping , Kastel requested the model he was photographing to lie on a stool in the approximate position of a front crawl. The story of Jaws is limited by how the humans respond to the shark menace. In the meantime, the impact of the predatory deaths resemble Henrik Ibsen 's play An Enemy of the People , with the mayor of a small town panicking over how a problem will drive away the tourists.
Benchley says that neither he nor anyone else involved in its conception 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 and paperback houses. The Book of the Month Club made it an "A book", qualifying it for its main selection, then Reader's Digest also selected it.
The publication date was moved back to allow a carefully orchestrated release. It was released first in hardcover in February ,  then in the book clubs, followed by a national campaign for the paperback release. Upon release, Jaws became a great success. According to John Baxter 's biography of Steven Spielberg , the novel's first entry on California 's best-seller list was caused by Spielberg and producers Richard D.
Zanuck and David Brown , who were on pre-production for the Jaws film, buying a hundred copies of the novel each, most of which were sent to "opinion-makers and members of the chattering class". However, sales were good nationwide without engineering. The paperback version was even more successful, topping book charts worldwide,  and by the time the film adaptation debuted in June the novel had sold 5.
An unabridged audio adaptation read by Erik Steele was released by Blackstone Audio in both CD and downloadable format in Despite the commercial success, reviews were mixed. The most common criticism focused on the human characters.
Michael A. Rogers of Rolling Stone declared that "None of the humans are particularly likable or interesting" and confessed the shark was his favorite character "and one suspects Benchley's also. Critics also derided Benchley's writing.
It's boring, pointless, listless; if there's a trite turn to make, Jaws will make that turn. Some reviewers found Jaws 's description of the shark attacks entertaining. John Spurling of the New Statesman asserted that while the "characterisation of the humans is fairly rudimentary", the shark "is done with exhilarating and alarming skill, and every scene in which it appears is imagined at a special pitch of intensity.
Jones described Jaws as "much more than a gripping fish story. It is a tightly written, tautly paced study," which "forged and touched a metaphor that still makes us tingle whenever we enter the water.
Peter Bradford Benchley May 8, — February 11, was an American author, screenwriter, and ocean activist. He is known as the author of the bestselling novel Jaws and co-wrote its film adaptation with Carl Gottlieb. Later in life, Benchley came to regret writing such sensationalist literature about sharks , which he felt encouraged excessive fear and unnecessary culls of such an important predator in ocean ecosystems and became an advocate for marine conservation. His younger brother, Nat Benchley , is a writer and actor. After graduating from college in , Benchley travelled around the world for a year. The experience was told in his first book, a travel memoir titled Time and a Ticket , published by Houghton Mifflin in Following his return to America, Benchley spent six months reserve duty in the Marine Corps , and then became a reporter for The Washington Post.
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