007 Chatter: (Ian) Fleming’s Bond – The James Bond of the original novels compared to the 007 movies Part 2

Welcome to another edition of 007Chatter!
Just because Skyfall has been released in the US now, doesn’t mean we can’t continue talking about Bond. So this is the second part of Marcus’ post where he compared the Ian Fleming’s Novels to the Bond Films. In this post, Marcus takes a closer look at what is going on inside Bond — his relationships to the two important women in his life provide a great contrast to his movie image.

Check out PART I if you haven’t already.

Thanks again to Marcus Clearspring for these two-part posts!
Check out his movie blog Cinesprit and his writing blog.

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My introduction to Bond movies were double features at our small town cinema. Two Bonds on the big screen for half the price of one blockbuster ticket in London. Once I discovered that deal, I was eagerly opening the weekly listings to see when the next double feature was showing. Like most people who were happy with the movies, I wasn’t really aware of the books. Then I discovered several Bond books on the family bookshelves which changed my view of the Bond character completely.

Only five of the movies really follow Fleming’s novels closely. Dr No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. All the first movies made, with the exception of You Only Live Twice, which mixes in so much new stuff that it greatly differs from the novel.

The novel would be difficult to adapt to the screen. The first one hundred pages consist largely of Bond and Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service, talking about cultural differences between British/Western ways and Japanese/Asian perspectives. The final showdown does not take place in a hollowed-out volcano as in the movie. You Only Live Twice is an exception, a very strange novel in many ways. The final showdown is quite literally fantastic. Definitely to be recommended if you are open to a different kind of 007 narrative.

In general, the movies liberally mix and match individual scenes and characters from the novels. The best example is Live and Let Die. The movie has very little to do with the novel except for Bond chasing Mr. Big’s drug ring and visiting Harlem. However, some of the most memorable action scenes from Live and Let Die are mixed into other movies. For example, the scene in For Your Eyes Only with Bond and Melina, the woman  with the crossbow, being dragged as shark bait behind a boat.

Then two scenes in Licence to Kill. The one where Felix Leiter has been fed to sharks and has a classic Fleming line attached to him saying “He disagreed with something that ate him“. The other is when Bond breaks into the warehouse belonging to Crest. The scene is much longer in the novel and has far more suspense. As I said in my first post, its surprising that many action scenes are more engaging in the novels.

I’d like to focus on two topics which generally put Bond’s character in a negative light. His relationship to women and the perception from the movies that he’s merely a blunt instrument, an assassin with no introspection. Both topics are different in the novels.

There is a common perception that Bond is a misogynist and only sees women as “disposable pleasures.” Particularly for the movies of the 1970s that is often true. The phrase, I believe, is from Fleming’s Casino Royale and quoted in the movie. However, in the novels, I would argue that’s only a setup by the author to get Bond more emotionally involved.

It’s like in romantic comedies and dramas. In the beginning, the male or female lead declare to their best friend how they are totally finished with serious relationships because men/women are so awful. We all know that’s a setup, that they will hook up at the end with the person they disliked the most in the beginning. The greater the distance created, the greater they can fall in love later on. I think Fleming does this too. Only, it’s not served as a fluffy romance, so many people don’t seem to recognize it behind the rough and tumble macho disguise. Why else would Fleming have Bond literally call  himself a misogynist, then have him fall in love? Bond gives a simple explanation. It’s because he has never met a woman he could have an interesting conversation with. Surprising insight, if you only know the movies.

Bond only falls in love twice in the novels. That is with Vesper in Casino Royale and Tracy in On her Majesty’s Secret Service. Vesper, the sphinx, is the first woman he can talk to with ease. Tracy, a woman with “issues”, becomes Mrs Bond.

These are some of the most fascinating parts in any of the Bond novels. It’s this very tough character, an assassin, being caring and tender, able to relate to another person. Mixed with action and imminent danger this delivers a great result. It goes far deeper than the stock “hero getting the girl” because Fleming adds so much interior to Bond’s character.

Bond’s introspection is what sets him apart from many other action heroes. He will question what he needs to do and what he has done. He will ponder the moral and ethical sides of his actions, question the service he works for. There is an entire short chapter in Casino Royale, where, while recuperating in the clinic, Bond speaks to Mathis about his job, pondering whether he should quit. He questions whether his actions are any better than those of the villains he hunts. Some interesting thoughts and answers from Mathis which are worth reading and thinking about.

One thing to keep in mind is that the novels were written in the 1950s and obviously do not reflect what’s considered politically correct today (see note below on Live and Let Die). It’s a post World War II era. The onset of the Cold War.

Here’s a brief personal ranking of the novels.

Best:

  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  • From Russia with Love
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Dr No
  • Thunderball
  • Goldfinger

Mediocre:

  • The Man with the Golden Gun
  • Live and Let Die*

* Caution: “Live and Let Die” contains many racial references considered highly offensive today.

Weak:

  • Diamonds are Forever

Special mention:

The Spy Who Loved Me is an exception in the series, written entirely from the perspective of a woman. James Bond only has a short appearance. You can’t really count it as part of the normal Bond novels. It is interesting though and I plan on re-reading it.

There would be lots more to say. I can only encourage anyone interested in Bond, to check out the novels and discover a depth of character not present in any of the movies to date.


So that concludes the two-part post on how the Ian Fleming’s Bond books compare to the Bond movies. 

What are your thoughts on this topic?

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7 thoughts on “007 Chatter: (Ian) Fleming’s Bond – The James Bond of the original novels compared to the 007 movies Part 2

  1. Another great article Marcus, pretty much agree with what you wrote. I think for people who considered themselves a Bond fanatic, they should give the books a read too.

    “One thing to keep in mind is that the novels were written in the 1950s and obviously do not reflect what’s considered politically correct today (see note below on Live and Let Die)”, so true with this statement, Fleming didn’t know much about other ethnic groups so some of what he wrote would be considered very offensive in today’s PC world, especially in Live and Let Die.

    As for the final showdown in You Only Live Twice, I thought it was great too and Mendes admitted that he took a lot of elements from that book for the showdown in Skyfall.

  2. Just finished Casino Royale novel and am now reading Live and Let Die. You rate it as mediocre, but i am thoroughly enjoying it. Voodoo…scary stuff!!!

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