Wednesday, May 28, 2008

“Bang, Bang, Bang, Kiss, Kiss”


The Writer’s Almanac reminds us--as if we really needed to be reminded--that today would have been the 100th birthday of journalist-author Ian Fleming, the creator of British secret agent 007, James Bond. Garrison Keillor writes:
[Fleming] wanted to be a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Office examination and decided to go into journalism. He worked for the Reuters News Service in London, Moscow, and Berlin, and then during World War II, he served as the assistant to the British director of naval intelligence.

After the war, he bought a house in Jamaica, where he spent his time fishing and gambling and bird watching. He started to get bored, so he decided to try writing a novel about a secret agent. He named the agent James Bond after the author of a bird-watching book. Fleming said, “James Bond is ... the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been--bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It’s what you would expect of an adolescent mind--which I happen to possess.”

The first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), sold about 7,000 copies, and Fleming followed it with four more that sold less and less well. Critics said he was good at writing about places, but that was about it. Fleming had a newborn son at home, and he was disappointed that these books weren’t making more money to help support the family, so for his next Bond story, he wrote the book specifically for the movies. He filled it with more psychopaths and beautiful women than usual. No one in the movie industry was interested at the time, but the novel From Russia, with Love (1957) became a huge international best seller.
As I wrote before, there’s no point in trying to ignore the worldwide hype surrounding Fleming’s centenary and the release, today, of Sebastian Faulks’ new Bond novel, Devil May Care. So we might as well have fun with it. Everybody else seems to be.

• Sandra Parshall exploresThe Enduring Charm of James Bond,” in the Poe’s Deadly Daughters blog.

• National Public Radio talks with author Faulks about taking up “the challenge of continuing the Bond saga.” You’ll find that interview here.

• Bruce Grossman tackles three of Charlie Higson’s ambitious “Young Bond” novels in Bookgasm, while Material Witness’ Ben Hunt enjoys a fourth.

• Sarah Weinman collects the first, not wildly enthusiastic assessments of Devil May Care here.

• And at least in the spirit of the day, Pop Sensation’s “Rex Parker” looks back hilariously at a very different sort of secret agent, the particularly long-limbed protagonist in Bob Tralins’ 1966 novel, The Chic Chick Spy.

One final note: I had planned to introduce this post with a straightforward clip of the by-now-familiar and (for some of us) goosebump-inducing gun barrel opening sequence from the James Bond movies. But the video above--a montage of excerpts from the various films--is so much more fun, and suggestive of the extremes to which Hollywood has taken Fleming’s famous espionage agent, that I had to use it instead. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Deborah Lipp, author of The Ultimate James Bond Fanbook, fields an interesting observation in her blog:
Ian Fleming gave his greatest villain his own birthday. Ernst Stavro Blofeld was born on May 28, 1908. In The Bond Code, Philip Gardiner makes much of the relationship between Fleming and his villains; how he used them as alter egos to exorcise his own dark side. And certainly if Blofeld is your dark side, you’ve got some serious exorcism to do!
Meanwhile, Bish’s Beat points me at Steve Holland’s very cool collection of classic British James Bond covers. And List Universe serves up its list of the “Top 10 Badass James Bond Villains.”

READ MORE:Car Firms Clash Over Bond Credentials,” by Jorn Madslien (BBC News); “Bond Gadgets: Never Say They Will Never Work,” by Duncan Graham-Rowe (New Scientist Tech); “Top 10 Bond Cars,” by Brendan Plant (The Times).

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