January 21, 2012
“Ian Fleming has shaped British sensibilities now for over half a century and by almost any standard the Bond novels have to be viewed as modern classics,” said Simon Winder, the publishing director of Penguin Press and the author of The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond, a humorous look at the Bond phenomenon.
“At a time when many of his contemporaries from the 1950s have dropped from view, Ian Fleming’s invention, thanks to the overwhelming success of the films, continues to resonate in a world fantastically different from the one in which Bond was invented.”
Winder ran Penguin Modern Classics and was involved in buying the rights for Penguin to publish the Bond novels. He said it struck him as both provocative and correct to put the Fleming novels in the series.
“Fleming is one of the three great 1950s visionaries in British literature–together with Arthur C. Clarke and J R R Tolkien – all despised at the time as ‘genre’ writers, but who have between them had an incalculable effect on world literature, while their notionally more serious contemporaries have almost faded from sight,” Winder said.
Winder said he wrote his book on Fleming and Bond as he was trying to make sense of his own experience – that of a fan in the early 1970s, who at age ten, first watched Live and Let Die.
“I thought it was the pinnacle of sophistication, only to realize as an adult that it was rubbish,” Winder said. “The book takes this point to go back over Ian Fleming’s life, the books and the early films to pick apart, in a jokey way, what made them tick.”
“Bond sprung into being in the 1950s because Britain was in a sort of horrible free-fall – the empire falling to bits, the economy in tatters, no real friends, and run by a gang of weird gentlemen with no real vision of how to get out of the mess.”
Bond was invented by Fleming, Winder explained, to reassure the British that while the day-to-day reality was a humiliating fiasco, in secret they were still saving the world. This struck him as an amusing, though admittedly not entirely original, perception and the book plays with this idea through Fleming’s life, through the books and the films.
January 21, 2012
The duality of the fantastic and the real in the character of Bond relies to a great extent on the basic narrative format of the novels and the films. Bond’s world is familiar to us in its oddity. We all know the basic elements of a James Bond story: there is Bond, the good guy; a grotesque villain with a megalomaniacal plan; a beautiful woman who is either an innocent or connected to the villain; M who decides Bond’s morality for him; and Q who equips Bond with virtually everything he might need. Added to this mix is a sprinkling of black tie functions, a high stakes gamble, exotic locations, gunplay, dangerous car chases, and usually a plot device which somehow involves water. As viewers, we anticipate all these elements and so then are provided with access to the secret agent world of 007. However, as Van Dover comments “Fleming’s underlying fable is the simplest, and perhaps, therefore the most powerful” . “Ultimately Bond’s appeal derives from the fairy-tale quality of his adventures” . Ian Fleming himself recognized as much when he said: “Bond is really a latter-day Saint George” and included references to the similarity in the novels. For example, in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Bond mused, “It would be amusing to reverse the old fable-first to rescue the girl, then to slay the monster.” While in Fleming’s “You Only Live Twice” Tiger Tanaka comments “You are to enter this Castle of Death and slay the dragon within” .
The organization of Bond stories is eerily similar to the fable of St. George and the Dragon. There is a monster, a damsel to be rescued, a threat to avoid, and distance to be traveled. Bond is “a chivalric hero who rides out to vanquish a grotesque villain embodying social and moral evil…he rides for queen, country and the liberal tradition…[and] again and again rescues a damsel, slays a monster, and averts a holocaust” .
January 21, 2012
While emphasizing the unreality of the tales as fantasy, the novels and films have always remained current to the year they were produced. The result is an emphasis on externals. Many critics have noted that there is nothing to Bond himself except externals. This is an effect of Fleming’s use of third person instead of first person commonly used in spy and detective fiction to produce a speed of identification and an efficiency and credibility of story telling. Fleming’s style of narration is largely due to his tendency to orient his novels to his market of readers. Fleming’s literary philosophy was to rely on what his middle-to-upper class British readers were familiar with, rather than putting them in situations they know nothing about. As a result, Fleming’s “Goldfinger” has thirty pages dedicated to a golf match between Auric Goldfinger and Bond, as opposed to 10 pages dealing with the villain s plot: the arrival at Fort Knox, the gold robbery, and Goldfinger’s escape.
In terms of the Bond films the world of consumerism is emphasized more and more. In “The Incredible World of 007” Lee Pfeiffer and Philip Lisa state that “Bond is the quintessential capitalist, who works hard and rewards himself with every earthly pleasure imaginable” . Endorsing brand names was originally a function of Fleming’s to “bind his hero in his time” and provide Bond with a “knowledge of the ways of the world” to establish a credibility from which he can “enforce justice” . Now the Bond films have become highly sophisticated advertisements blatantly connecting story to aspirations of consumerism. In “Tomorrow Never Dies” Bond escapes capture and death with a prominently displayed BMW, remote-controlled by an Erikson mobile phone. Bond’s gadgets indicate an inherent interdependence between working hard and being rewarded.
Merely having the gadgets is a reward for Bond just as it is an advertisement for whatever real world product it is created from. But the ultimate reward for 007’s continued loyalty and hard work, as a secret agent is his lifestyle as a secret agent. A multitude of dry martinis “shaken not stirred” made with specifically requested brands of vodka drunk in casino’s, banquets, expansive restaurants and exclusive parties; Rolex and Omega watches, Aston Martins, Lotus’, BMW s, exotic locations and expensive hotels. That is the lifestyle of 007, and also a highly developed advert influencing the viewer to consume those products as James Bond consumes life.
The seemingly simple image of James Bond is in fact a highly complex figure that relies more on audience identification with the character itself rather than character development. Bond works hard at an interesting job and is rewarded accordingly. Both a representative of highly desirable cultural icons and a cultural icon himself, Bond is the ultimate consumer and so a positive advert for capitalism. Bond’s basis in capitalism and the function of the films as highly sophisticated advertisements establish the illusion of reality through the rendering of circumstantial details. The more fantastic elements of Bond’s lifestyle are then based on the illusion of reality and the fairy tale structure of St. George and the Dragon. What is produced is a desirable icon at once familiar and fantastic, guaranteeing that Bond will return, again and again. Ultimately, if we are to question the allure of James Bond as a cultural icon we must analyze our own attraction to him. With the focus taken from Bond and placed on us as addicted viewers, should we not ask “What is the worth of the man whose name is a number?”, but instead consider “What worth do I put on the man whose name is a number?”