Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Enduring Charm of James Bond

Sandra Parshall

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 -- –- 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
not amused.

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.


Karen (Euro Crime) said...

My favourite Bond is Timothy Dalton. I wasn't that fussed by Brosnan but enjoyed Casino Royale. I don't think the films reflect the written Bond that well but from my limited reading there doesn't seem a lot of personality to go on.

All the recent publicity has made me go to the Ian Fleming exhibition in London (I'm in the UK so not that expensive!) and begin reading the books though I've only managed the short stories so far. The Living Daylights short story is very good indeed and seems similar to the beginning of the film.

It's great for the UK film industry to have such an anticipated home-grown film release - we don't have many!

Gerald So said...

I discovered James Bond with the movies. Though admittedly uneven, they set a standard for big-budget globe-trotting action that's still followed today. I also appreciate how most of the movies manage to convey sex appeal while keeping a PG rating.

The Bond books were some of the first I read for pleasure, and I found a character more serious and more vulnerable than in many of the movies.

I think Timothy Dalton's Bond was closest to Fleming's intent, and his two movies (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, LICENCE TO KILL) brought a seriousness and realism to the franchise that hadn't been seen since early Connery.

I think James Bond has endured because he appeals to the enduring fantasies of men and women. He's a sexy character who, when not living dangerously, gets to indulge in the finest life has to offer.

caryn said...

I became a fan of 007 thorugh the movies. I think that Sean Connery was the best, but Pierce Brosan was also good.
Goldfinger is my favorite I think. For several years, one of the TV stations would rerun all of the Bonds around the holidays, but I don't think they did it this past year. That was a problem because I'd get hooked every single night!

Anonymous said...

This will date me, but I was about 13 when the Bond books became big. They were among the first contemporary "adult" books I bought (I'm not counting classics), and I swear I thought book sellers were going to tell me I was too young to be reading such stuff and turn me away. I read them and reread them all; I even bought a copy of one in French. I learned so much about the glamorous life of secret agents (yeah, right), and helpful practical information such as, don't sit on a wicker chair if you're wearing black velvet. The line "say goodbye to it, James" still resonates in my memory.

Sean Connery was the ultimate, the ur-Bond. Timothy Dalton was too rough-edged, and Pierce Brosnan, much as I enjoy him, was too smooth. Haven't seen the Daniel Craig attempt, but I have to save something to look forward to, don't I?

The Bond series led to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and my first real writing effort--a script that I co-wrote with a friend and actually submitted to the network. Somewhere in the attic lurks my very first rejection letter.

Karen Kirkpatrick said...

I confess I found Bond through the movies, which I love. Daniel Craig became my new favorite Bond after Casino Royale came out.

But now that I have a 14-year-old nephew who loves to read as much as I do, and thinks James Bond is almost as great as Guitar Hero, I've discovered the books. Eli reads them, enjoys them and passes them on to me, because he loves having someone to talk to about what he's reading.

mybillcrider said...

For me, it was the book. I'm an old guy, and when I started reading Fleming, there weren't any movies. There had been a TV show, but I hadn't seen it or even heard of it. I read an article that said JFK was a fan of the Bond books, picked up one in paperback, and was hooked. When Dr. No opened, I was there, and I've been there for every one since. But for me it was, and is, the books.

Anonymous said...

I became a fan of Bond by watching all the old films as they ran back to back on TV.

My favorite Bond is Pierce Brosnan. I like him as an actor and was peeved when the show Remington Steele wouldn't release him. My personal thing aside, I've enjoyed all the movies and Sean Connery would be my second most favorite.

I've never read the books, but would love the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

My first date was to a Bond movie; I'm not sure if it was Dr No or Goldfinger (but I suspect it was the former). It took some doing to get used to anyone but Connery playing Bond! Though the truck chase in Licence to Kill was a nice (if unrealistic) switch on the usual car chase.
Sandra (Henry the waiter on DL)

rumcake said...

I read the Man with the Golden Gun, many years ago. Purchased it at a church rummage sale.

But most of all i am another Bond through the movies fan. We watch the 12 Days of Bond every holiday season.

Sean Connery is my favorite Bond, Daniel Craig is a close second. The other actors are too pretty.

I have read the Man with the Golden Gun.

Jennifer M

Anonymous said...

Sandra: This about Ian Fleming is wonderful, thank you. I don't want my name entered to win the set (let someone else have a better chance - I'm already a fan who is convinced tha 'nobody does it better' than Sean Connery when it comes to Bond - James Bond.) Both of them are georgeous, sexy, smart, and what wooed this cozy mystery lover into his fan club was he's also INTERESTING AND ENTERTAINING. Thanks for the interesting blog and picture. And good luck to all us other mystery writers.
Love, best and cyber hugs,

Anonymous said...

It was the Bond books that intrigued me first. And for a teenager (which I was then) Bond was soooo sophisticated.
Now I simply think he's fun, whether in books or movies. I have a friend who swears there hasn't been a good Bond since Sean Connery, but I enjoy them all.
Liz Rose

Anonymous said...

There are three additional Bond-related comments in the comments section of my post from yesterday. I'd move them over here, but every time I try to make a change, Blogger kicks me out of the system.

Anonymous said...

I learned about James Bond from the movies with Sean Connery as my favorite James Bond.

If I get to the UK this year I hope to see the special exhibition.

Thanks for giving us an opportunity to win a set the Ian Fleming books.

Anonymous said...

This new novel is getting a lot of press, but everyone seems to overlook all of the James Bond novels (more than a dozen) penned by John Gardner (with the blessing of the Fleming estate) and the nearly a dozen Bond novels by Raymond Benson.

Anonymous said...

It's such a cliche to say you like Sean Connery the best, but there it is. I like him best as Bond.

Anonymous said...

I've been a Bond fan since the beginning-- I love the books, the movies, the stars who have portrayed Bond through the years. My favorite? May well become Daniel Craig. But the actor who LOOKS most like the character Fleming described was George Lazenby.


Cheryl said...

I was introduced to James Bond through the movies. Sean Connery is my favorite although Daniel Craig is a close second. Much as I like Pierce Brosnan, I just see Bond as a rugged individual and Pierce Brosnan is too suave and sophisticated-appearing to do the character justice (at least as I see him in MY mind). I have not read any of the Bond books but think maybe I'll have to give them a try.

Cheryl S.

WellesFan said...

Like a lot of people, I became a fan through the films. I don't remember the first movie I saw (probably Goldfinger or From Russia With Love), but the first book I read was Gardner's Scorpius. From then I migrated to my father's first-edition paperbacks of Fleming and the recent Benson books (good stuff).

For the most part, the films have created their own vision of Bond. The early Connery ones (up until You Only Live Twice) were close to the Fleming Bond, but then things went sideways when Moore took over.

The best Bonds are Connery and Daniel Craig. I liked Brosnan's as well, but he was more "movie Bond" and "Fleming Bond"...and most of the scripts for his movies were trash.

I think Bond himself is the reason the series has been popular for close to 50 years. He's a handsome rogue with a devil-may-care attitude and an endless string of gorgeous women and witty one-liners. But in my limited experience with the literary Bond, he's a knight in shining armor in the hardboiled school. Whenever he actually opens up to a woman (Casino Royale, OHMSS), he ends up getting hurt and losing a piece of himself. It's the same reason guys like Chandler and Hammett are still read today.

Beth Groundwater said...

I became a fan of James Bond through the movies, but my husband was a fan of the books first. He said that the infamous torture scene in the first book, Casino Royale, made quite an impression on a 15 year old boy! And according to him, the movies mostly have nothing to do with the plot of the books, except that the latest one of Casino Royale followed the original story fairly well.

To me, Sean Connery epitomized James Bond. He could throw out those lame double entendres and make them seem classy, almost like he was making fun of himself, instead of sexist. And, man, did he look good in a tuxedo! Second choice is Pierce Brosnan, who I'd already developed the hots for when he played Remington Steele on TV.

Anonymous said...

Much as I love reading mystery/thriller/suspense, I have somehow never picked up any of
Fleming's novels. Since I tend to start reading any mystery series I 'discover' with the first of that series, I would of course make Casino Royale my first taste of Fleming. Reading the other posts here, and thinking of the various film incarnations of Bond makes me think of the differences in Sam Spade as written by Hammett and as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart (who looks nothing like the original description of Spade in The Maltese Falcon!).

Sandy, I'm a Guppy, so if you draw my name for the books you can reach me through that Sisters in Crime forum (and you may still have my e-mail address from our correspondence before the VA Festival of the Book). Thanks!

Cat Dubie said...

Sandy, I'm not entering the contest but just want to comment. I've enjoyed the James Bond movies over the years--to me Sean Connery was the ultimate Bond. But my favorite Bond movie was On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as our hero, Diana Rigg as the woman he marries, and Telly Savalas as a suitable supervillain.

I've never read the books, but may do so at some point.

Thank you, Ian Fleming, for entertaining the world with your creation.

Anonymous said...

Nightline just paid tribute to Ian Fleming. It was fun to watch Fleming on film, explaining how and why he named his character Bond, James Bond.

It was also interesting to see the reaction of Fleming's friends to the first Bond novel. One of them was aghast at what he had written, and begged him not to publish it under his own name!

Anonymous said...

Good for people to know.

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