Ian Fleming’s James Bond vs. Film Bond

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This blog rarely drifts into the entertainment world but I’m going to make an exception since it’s not often enough that one of my favorite authors receives an accurate and fair review.

So it was gratifying to read an article in The Wall Street Journal Literature column on “Will the Real James Bond Please Stand Up?” by Allen Barra. Unlike other writers who show through their critiques that they have not actually read Ian Fleming’s series of Bond books, Barra clearly has. His well written and concise article illustrates how the spy of Fleming’s books is almost a completely different person to the spy portrayed on film.

Like many people, I was first introduced to the film 007 and was shocked (and hooked) when I first began reading Fleming’s books as a teenager, as most films in the Bond series have little in common with Fleming's books beyond the titles. (“From Russia, With Love” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” are the Fleming books that share the most commonality with their celluloid counterparts.) The 2006 film “Casino Royale,” did retain some of the plot lines and even incorporated a few lines of dialogue from Fleming’s “Casino Royale,” the first Bond book that Fleming wrote in 1952 during his annual winter vacation at his Jamaica home called Goldeneye (named after a wartime operation).* Fleming combined all the elements of his own well lived and traveled life and career into his so-called “fantasies for grownups.” He used his experiences as a Naval Commander in WWII, a reporter for Reuters, and columnist and foreign editor of The Sunday Times. Fleming’s writing style is descriptive without being verbose.

“Quantum of Solace” the new Bond movie opening today, returns to the title only commonality between Fleming's story and the film's plot.** “Quantum” is one of five short stories compiled into the book “For Your Eyes Only.” The “action” takes place at a dinner party in Nassau where the Governor of the Bahamas tells Bond a story of betrayl. The title comes from the governor’s “Law of the Quantum of Solace,” describing when an intimate relationship breaks down to the point where one partner no longer cares if the other partner lives or dies. To which Bond replies: “That’s a splendid name for it. It’s certainly impressive enough. And of course I see what you mean. I should say you’re absolutely right. Quantum of Solace – the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you, it’s obviously the end. The Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You’ve got to get away to save yourself.”

Despite his double-0 designation giving him a “license to kill,” Fleming’s Bond makes an effort where feasible to avoid that aspect of his job description. Barra uses a passage from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” as an example of the stark contrast between the “Bond girls” of the films and the independent and resourceful women in Fleming’s books who as Barra writes, “Bond sometimes didn’t seem worthy of them.” Unlike the films where Bond always ends up with the girl, the book Bond has faced rejection on more than one occasion.

And thank you, Mr. Barra for writing that the Cold War has not vanished as “old enemies become new allies and then old enemies again with startling swiftness,” as this is something that family members have heard me harp about since 1989. Readers who prefer to understand the Cold War through fiction should read “From Russia, With Love,” one of President Kennedy’s favorite books.

*For more on Goldeneye (now a resort), see “Ian Fleming’s Jamaica” in The New York Times.

**I have not seen the film.

Related Post: “Islamic bonds rescue James Bond’s favorite car”

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