It’s interesting how Ian Fleming, whose centenary will be celebrated next month, has been overwhelmed by his singularly most famous creation, James Bond. Like Charles M. Schulz, the creator of another superstar agent, Peanuts, Fleming saw his character first grow into something more than a book character and then into something roaringly kitschy and beyond his control.
Bond, unlike Mickey Mouse, never started off right away in the Pop Cultural Big Top that would see 007 branch out into adult versions of soft toys and key chains. That happened, of course, with the films that started in 1962 with the Sean Connery-starring Dr No directed by Terence Young.
Fleming’s Bond was a Commando-comics-in-Saville Row-gent with an eye for the ladies and a finger on his Beretta. Never quite Le Carré’s Smiley, Fleming’s Bond — right from Casino Royale (1953), the first lines of which would have made Raymond Chandler chuckle: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning” — was literary, inasmuch that era could bestow ‘literariness’ upon high quality pulp fiction before it became ‘cool’.
His last Bond book, the posthumous 1966 collection of short stories, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, had little to do with the film versions of the (supposed) stories in the title, with the 1980s Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton playing out their Bonds. For those fond of the movies, the novels are likely to disappoint if the same parameters are used. The books always have a post-war ‘noir’ quality to them even with the ‘latest’ gadgets and brushes with the KGB. The films are prime Technicolour stuff.
This year we’ll have new Bond novel (Devil May Care by British author Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming) and a new Bond movie (the Daniel Craig-starring Quantum of Solace). But if you want the real Fleming, read his Bond novels — or see the film based on his book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You’ll get a whiff of Fleming, Ian Fleming.