Saturday, August 13, 2011

Audible Alert: The James Bond Novels

Though it’s clear that I love football, or else I wouldn’t have started this blog, there will be times that I need to spit out some random thoughts about a completely different topic so I can return to instruction fresh and enthusiastic.  This is just how my mind works; a bit like defragging a computer.  I will call these posts “Audible Alerts.”  Why?  An “audible” is when the quarterback makes a last second change before the play, based on what he sees in the defense.  (So, even when we are off-topic, we can’t escape football learning entirely!)

Our first Audible Alert topic:  Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.

My husband and I are both lifelong fans of the James Bond movies, and have seen every movie at least twice.  A little over a year ago, I decided to read all the novels, in order of publication (which is different from the order of the movies; Casino Royale was the first novel).  That I hadn’t read any seemed a bit lazy, but I was also curious about how much the movies followed the books.  I’ve read seven so far (my reading pace took a hit after my son was born), and here are some of my thoughts so far:

·         Ian Fleming was a cool guy.  He was a war correspondent before World War II, and during WWII he served as Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, ultimately achieving the rank of Commander.  After the war he got back into the newspaper business in Jamaica, where he built a home he named “Goldeneye.”  There he started writing the James Bond novels at the age of 43.  He also wrote the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Who knew!?!

·         Some of the movies followed their novels exactly; From Russia With Love and Goldfinger* are two good examples;

·         Some of the movies bear little or no resemblance to their novels; Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever being two examples;

·         There’s no Q!  Sure, James has plenty of gadgets that are only useful for the precise set of circumstances he finds himself in, but there’s no quirky, nutty-professor character to explain how they work and get exasperated with Bond’s immature jokes and short attention span;

·         Some movies changed plot details to coincide with the times.  In Casino Royale, for example, the bad guy in the novel is not an investment banker for terrorists.  Instead, he is the Soviet officer in charge of the pension plan for the KGB.  He has embezzled money from the pension fund and must win it back to avoid detection and elimination by SMERSH, the Soviet agency in charge of assassinating its own maverick spies and other undesirables within the Soviet Union.  SMERSH appears in other novels as well.

The only disappointment so far (aside from the missing Q) is the way Bond seems to become hopelessly attached to the female leads at the end of each book.  Though James loves the ladies, he is not the womanizer with the teenage libido depicted in the films; there hasn’t been much hanky-panky in the books so far.  Since he is a first-class spy, and a bit of a chauvinist, he maintains a professional coolness with the woman he’s become saddled with.  Over the course of the story, he does manage to develop a protective, almost paternal attitude toward the female lead, but that is generally the only emotion you feel from him.  However, from nowhere, the final chapter reveals a love-struck school boy that has become completely emotionally attached. 

At the beginning of From Russia With Love, we learn that Bond actually lived with the woman he met in Diamonds Are Forever, Tiffany Case.  Huh?!?  Fortunately they had separated, because his mission in From Russia With Love is to meet a Soviet bureaucrat, Tatiana Romanova, who claims to have fallen in love with Bond from reading his file and wants to provide the British with a secret decoding device in exchange for a meeting with Bond.  As M describes the mission to Bond, he has to ask Bond about the status of his love affair with the Diamonds Are Forever woman.  Very awkward for everyone involved, including the reader.

At the end of Thunderball, Bond wakes up recovering in the hospital after the female lead, Domino, rescues him in the throngs of an underwater hand-to-hand sea battle.  Dazed with pain killers, Bond runs through the hospital until he finds her room and collapses at her bedside.  Only two chapters earlier, James had coolly accepted the fact that he may have sent Domino to her death by convincing her to return to Largo, the villain, to spy for him!

Today I checked out the next novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, from the library.  As the title suggests, I may once again be disappointed by the sappiness of my favorite protagonist, but I know I’ll keep coming back for more.

*Warning:  Goldfinger is a great book.  It is definitely one of my favorites so far.  However, there is one chapter that was painful to read.  You may recall from the movie that Bond and Goldfinger play a “friendly” round of golf for money.  Bond shocks Goldfinger by producing a bar of gold to sweeten the stakes.  In this chapter, Fleming describes the play of nearly every hole in excruciating detail. 

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