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A Cold-Hearted Bastard

That’s the James Bond from Ian Fleming’s novels.  

A few years ago, Allen Barra wrote a terrific overview of the Bonds books for Salon:

The Bond of the books was physically smaller than [Sean] Connery by about 2 inches and 20 pounds, and not quite so “cruelly handsome” (as many early reviewers described Connery). I had forgotten that James Bond wasn’t really a spy at all but a cross between the commandos Fleming had known during World War II and a highly trained assassin — obviously, or else why would he be licensed by his government to kill? The literary Bond chafed at the paperwork he was obliged to do plenty of, and unlike his movie counterpart — whose budget for sports cars, rocket-powered backpacks and speedboats, to say nothing of tuxedos, seemed to exceed the entire GNP of Great Britain — was always mildly resentful about his lack of funding.

In “You Only Live Twice,” he apologizes to Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese secret service, for his meager expense account: “Under ten million pounds a year doesn’t go far when there is the whole world to cover.” In “From Russia With Love,” he ruefully compares his own arsenal with that of his Soviet rivals. “If only,” he laments, “his cigarette had been a trick one — magnesium flare, or something he could throw in the man’s face! If only his Service went in for those explosive toys!” And in “Thunderball” he envies the “CIA the excellence of their equipment, and he had no false pride about borrowing from them.”

Readers often come to, well, bond with Bond precisely because of his ordinariness. Unlike the Bond of the movies, the Bond on the pages doesn’t seem radically different from most of us. With the right background and training — and, of course, a willingness to kill in the line of duty — it’s easy to feel we could be the hero of those adventures. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe is somebody you’d like to have a drink with. Bond doesn’t interest us in that way; he’s more like someone you’d want to be if you had another life. Which seems to be precisely why Fleming wrote the books, to create a fantastic yet believable alternative existence.

The new Bond movie was released yesterday and Mr. Barra again looks at the differences Bond on the page and Bond on the screen (Wall Street Journal).

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1 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 15, 2008 11:55 am

I read most of the Bond novels growing up; my friends were reading all the Lord of the Rings series, but fantasy and magic never appealed to me. One thing I loved about the Bond novels more than the films was the detail with which Fleming would breathe life into all of his characters. Even if you hated villains like Auric Goldfinger, you'd understand their motivations better.

For example, in "From Russia With Love", Fleming really delved into the background of assassin Red Grant (the one who tried to murder Bond on the train while posing as a British agent). The reader learns that Grant doesn't care about money, women or power, but that his real passion is committing murder, much like a sociopathic serial killer. He became a much more frightening and dangerous rival to Bond in the novel than in the movie. When Bond finally kills him the scene is painted in gruesome detail.

Don't get me wrong, I loved most of the movies too, but the books were fantastic.

By the way, one thing I didn't realize until recently, when I was reading a story to my children, but Ian Fleming also wrote "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". He wasn't just a spy novelist, but also was a great story teller.

2 Evil Empire   ~  Nov 15, 2008 11:21 pm

Alex, looks like we're the only Bond fans 'round these parts.

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