And how skillful author was Sir Ian Fleming. The father of 007 was born 100 years ago, on May 28, 1908.
1. Is probably impossible to compare Ian Fleming for example with Fyodor Dostoevky but in your opinion how good author he was? What was his greatest strength as a writer and what was his weakness?
2. Fleming starts to write novels about 007 many decades ago. Do you think Bond is immortal and why?
James Chapman, Professor of Film Studies, University of Leicester
1. Fleming was a very good writer of genre fiction – superior thrillers with a sophisticated veneer – though would hardly be considered a ‘literary’ writer. His particular strengths were exposition and swift narrative. His background as a journalist comes through in his ability to describe places and locations with great atmosphere. What is most striking about the Bond books is how good they are as travel writing – quite often the best passages are Bond’s journey overseas to foreign locations. The ritualistic game-playing is also highly memorable, such as the card games in Casino Royale and Moonraker and the golf game in Goldfinger. In contrast the action sequences often seem quite perfunctory.
2. It’s too early to say whether Bond is literally immortal, though it’s fair to say that as a cultural and ideological construct Bond has endured remarkably well and looks set to be around for a while yet. There are various reasons for this. I think the main one is the flexibility of the Bond narrative in responding to social, cultural and political change. For this reason Bond can be seen in relation to different aspects of the British historical experience since the mid-twentieth century, including the Cold War, the end of empire, the rise of consumer society and the cultural revolution of the 1960s. The Bond films have been particularly adept in negotiating changes in popular culture and in responding to changing historical circumstances. Bond is also a powerful fantasy figure – a fantasy of male power and of British prestige – which clearly resonates with audiences today as much as in the 1950s.
Stephen Watt, Professor of English and of Theatre and Drama, Indiana University Bloomington
1. It would be difficult to compare Ian Fleming with Dostoevsky. One central difference is Fleming’s method of characterization, especially insofar as his villains are concerned. That is, Fleming’s skill was creating intriguing conflicts between James Bond and a figure of obsessive menace: Goldfinger loves gold, for example, and we are never really told why. He just does. The most notorious of these villains, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, seeks world domination and power, especially in THUNDERBALL and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Such characters are usually deformed–both physically and psychologically–but Fleming doesn’t dwell on the causes or origins of this deformation. He just sets such figures in motion. Perhaps this is characteristic of melodrama, not tragedy (though allusions to Shakespeare, especially HAMLET, surface in his novels).
It’s also difficult not to see Bond as an emblem of post World War Two England, an England whose power is waning (the Suez incident, etc.) and whose virility–his masculinity–seems almost always on trial. This is precisely why emasculation is often an explicit threat in the novels (CASINO ROYALE, for example).
2. I’m not certain 007 is “immortal,” but he certainly adapts well to the 21st century. Notice, too, that Fleming was way ahead of his time in anticipating the greater threat international terrorism poses to world security. Yes, in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and elsewhere in the novels, the threat to the West comes from the Soviet Union. But with his invention of SPECTRE, the terrorist network composed of underground cells, in THUNDERBALL, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Fleming foresees the threat such groups can pose. Indeed, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE anticipates the use of chemical and bacterial agents on civilian populations, and such toxins are delivered by a set of beautiful women who have been programmed to deliver them, not by a national military.
The present century seems, sadly, to understand such things–to live them.
1. Not a lot of people know that Ian Fleming helped draft a charter that was used as the basis for what would become America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Fleming’s greatest strength as a writer was his journalism background. He learned to write quickly and descriptively. He loved travel and would immerse himself in a location, learning all he could before he would write about it. His weakness was probably the plotting of his novels. He had trouble coming up with them and repeated plots a few times.
2. Ian Fleming’s creation, James Bond, is immortal because he is the ultimate male fantasy. James Bond has no commitments, other than service to his country. He has an expense account and can order the best food and drink without worrying where the money is coming from. He has the best gadgets in the world created for him. He drives the fanciest, fastest cars. He wears the best clothes. He has a license to kill anyone he doesn’t like. Every man wants to be James Bond.