The debonair manner, the confidence in the face of danger. The tailor-made clothes and meticulous grooming. The cool gadgets and the hot women.
Is there any corner of the world where James Bond is unknown? Agent 007 is the perfect spy, without baggage or scruples, a refreshing over-the-top contrast to Le Carre’s angst-ridden heroes and the morally muddled types springing up in today’s espionage fiction. Bond has never been about making us think. Bond is entertainment, and he’s still going strong 56 years after he first appeared in Casino Royale.
It’s only fitting that we pause today to raise a glass to Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, on the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth. To mark the occasion, everyone who leaves a comment about Bond today will be entered in a drawing to win a complete 14-book set of Penguin’s new paperback editions of the Bond novels and short stories. Penguin began releasing the new editions, with appropriately sexy cover art, in 2002, the 50th anniversary of Casino Royale’s publication.
In Britain, Fleming and his creation are being celebrated in a year-long exhibit at London’s Imperial War Museum and a set of commemorative stamps. A web site -- www.ianflemingcentenary.com –- is devoted to the author’s life and career. Not bad for a guy who called his first book “an oafish opus” and declared, “I’m not in the Shakespeare stakes. I have no ambition.”
By most accounts, Fleming drew on his own experiences and habits when he wrote about Bond. As a foreign correspondent, a banker and stockbroker, and a senior naval intelligence officer, he moved in sophisticated circles and had the reputation of a ladies’ man. He once borrowed his mother’s chauffeur-driven Daimler for a date with a dancer named Storm and returned it with black boa feathers strewn over the back seat. Mum was
By the time Fleming began publishing the Bond books, he had married, and for the last 12 years of his life he followed a rigid writing schedule. He produced the children’s classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a travel memoir titled Thrilling Cities in addition to 12 Bond novels and two collections of short stories about the character. He died of pleurisy in 1964 at age 56.
Forty million copies of the Bond books were sold during Fleming’s lifetime, and the first Bond film – Dr. No, starring Sean Connery – was released two years before his death, but he didn’t live long enough to see Bond mania hit its true zenith, propelled by the most successful movie franchise in history. Today a whole generation knows Bond primarily as a movie character who never ages even as the plotlines and the weapons evolve to mirror the changing times. Another new Bond movie comes out in the fall. Published reports have Leonardo DiCaprio planning a biopic in which he’ll play Fleming.
Bond’s adventures have also been turned into graphic novels, and this year – today, in fact – Doubleday brings out a new full-length Bond novel, Devil May Care, written by Sebastian Faulks. But to find the real Bond, the original, you have to turn to Fleming’s novels and short stories.
If you’d like a chance to win the complete set of Penguin’s handsome new paperback editions, leave a comment about what James Bond means to you. What do you think explains the enduring popularity of the character? Did you become a fan through the books or the films? Do you think the movies are true to the character as Fleming wrote him? Which actor do you think has best brought Bond to life on the screen? Everyone who comments will be entered in a drawing for the books, and I'll notify the lucky winner in a couple of days.