28 June 2010

James Bond vs. the Giant Squid

Mania, my dear Mister Bond, is as priceless as genius.

Some time ago in the earlier days of the Black Gate blog, E. E. Knight wrote a post about the James Bond movies as classic fantasies. No argument here—especially when I consider things like The Spy Who Loved Me and Bond-drives-an-invisible-car Die Another Day.

However, the conventional wisdom about the divide between the long-running movie franchise and the series of novels and short stories that Ian Fleming wrote in the fifties and sixties is that Fleming is the realistic, grim, down-to-earth Bond, where the movies are outrageous action-filled rides.

I’m a hardcore Bond fan, but unlike most Bondians my age (born into the ‘70s and Roger Moore’s tenure) I grew up on Fleming’s Bond, not cinema’s. I read all the novels for the first time in junior high school, and at that point had only watched perhaps three of the movies. I ended up approaching the film series from the perspective of a Fleming Purist. This doesn’t mean I flip out when anything un-Fleming occurs in the movies—for Apollo’s sake, I actually get a kick out of the Space Opera/Chuck Jones Cartoon called Moonraker—but it does mean I have a very different lens on than film series than even most serious Bond fans.

And here’s something I’ve learned over the years from watching the films series develop and tracing the history of the earlier movies (Goldfinger is my favorite of the movies, in case you’re interested): Fleming ain’t realistic. His novels are extremely romanticized views of espionage life, and were thought so at the time. Read John le CarrĂ©’s extraordinary The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, meant as an answer to Fleming’s spy-romances, and you’ll immediately see what flights of fantasy Fleming really took with his super-spy. Compared to many of the movies, the novels Casino Royale and From Russia, With Love seem relatively believable, but they are still escapist romances.

Here’s the key difference between the escapism of the films and the books: The movies are fantasies. The novels are pulp adventure—almost literally so.

Read the rest at Black Gate. . . .