5 Ways James Bond Was WAY More Insane In The Books
Sean Connery's James Bond is like that first older friend that you make who seems super established, knows all of the best types of whiskey, and doesn't want to hang out with you as much as you'd like. George Lazenby's Bond is the guy you text when Connery is busy. Roger Moore's Bond is the guy you meet at the bar with Lazenby who first tells you that he's 65 and promptly follows that up with "Are there any girls here?" Timothy Dalton's Bond is the guy in the black pea coat who tries to give you dating advice and then stands awkwardly by himself for the rest of the night. Pierce Brosnan's Bond is the guy who gets drunk really fast and starts making out with the girl who also got drunk really fast. Daniel Craig's Bond is the guy who plays guitar.
Ian Fleming writes Bond as the guy who might try to strike up a conversation with you and your friends, but might also try to kick your ass for no reason. Equal chance of both, really. Fleming's Bond is insane. And it's that insanity which renders a few of Fleming's plots unfilmable. Many times, you watch a movie series and wish that it would be a little more like the thing that inspired it. In the case of Bond, you hope for the same, but only under special circumstances, as Fleming not only crafted Bond's greatest adventures, but also his dumbest ones.
Live And Let Die Has Painfully Awkward Representations Of Black People
Ian Fleming wasn't great at writing characters who weren't James Bond, James Bond's bosses, and the guys who wanted to kill James Bond. And he especially wasn't great with people who apparently don't talk like Bond does. In You Only Live Twice, the novel in which Bond dyes his skin, cuts his hair, and dresses to resemble a Japanese person, the results are mixed. You can tell that Fleming definitely had an appreciation for Japanese culture and liked the beauty of the region that he set the novel in, but everything he describes sounds far goofier than he intended. In Live And Let Die, Bond travels to Harlem, and the journey is excruciating.
From the outset, you definitely get the feeling that Fleming is trying to compensate for something. Every sentence in the first half of Live And Let Die may as well end with "... but I'm not racist." For example, if Fleming was to write a piece of dialogue like "They won't even let a white man in there ..." it would end with "... but they do enjoy jazz." Fleming stumbles over himself to make sure that he is as ignorantly nice about things as possible. At one point, a black woman is driving a car, and Bond feels the need to remark about how amazing it is that a black woman is driving a car, and driving it well.
"'Smashing,' said James, as he was able to sleep with a black woman, and not get Sickle Cell of the Ebola."
It would be different if this kind of thing didn't happen repeatedly. When he's not out narrowly avoiding death, Bond spends most of his time in the company of rich white people in '50s/'60s England. He's not worldly so much as he just has access to a lot of train tickets. One would logically expect him to go to Harlem and be taken aback somewhat. But he's never this grating in any other book, or when dealing with any other situation.
Again, this continues for 50 percent of Live And Let Die, with Fleming using his characters to make awkward commentary and then doubling back on himself to try to prove that he's not being racist. Would a racist talk negatively about an entire neighborhood of black people, only to say that some of them are not bad? That's the question that Fleming asks you over and over. It's obvious that he really wants to approach the issue of race relations, but has absolutely no idea as to how to do it properly. He says nice things, but they're all obliterated by the fact that the shit that he wrote just before the nice thing was way more awful than the nice thing was nice.
"For someone dumb enough even amongst his own race to lose his hand, he was smart enough to figure out the replacement."
It doesn't help that he often goes out of his way to try and write black peoples' dialogue phonetically, so that you'll get a conversation between two people that looks like:
Bond: "So, you expect me to talk?"
Villain: "No, sir' eee'. Ah do in'a'deed' nah be expectin' dat, Mist' uh' Bond. Ah is expectin' you'se ta mebbe die."
What kind of exotic dialect did Fleming imagine when he wrote it out? Did he write it normally and figure that no one was going to believe him? Was no one going to take him seriously if he didn't take the extra measure to ensure "authenticity" and write every word as if the characters had to struggle to remember what they were saying right in the middle of saying it?
"I do declare tis a pleasa to meet ya, mista ... uh, Band."
It also doesn't help that Fleming has created the antagonist, Mr. Big, and rather than put him in some sort of fantastical or "classy" location like he did with every other criminal mastermind, sets him in Harlem, where apparently people painstakingly separate each syllable when they attempt their native form of speech. I guess it's cool that Fleming decided to make a black man (in what would become a hugely popular series) such an important character in 1954, but he managed to sabotage all of it. The Live And Let Die movie would go on to have the same kind of undertones, but never to the degree of the novel, which makes a shift into the uncomfortable within the first few pages, and then wallows in it.
Dr. No Is Smothered In Bird Shit (After Bond Fights A Giant Squid)
Crafting an obstacle course of death for your enemy to run through is always a gamble. On the one hand, you want to make sure that there is a grand finale to it all. On the other hand, the odds are pretty good that the intrepid spy that you've dropped in your maze is just going to get halfway through the thing, fail to notice the pit full of spikes in the middle of it, and die. In Dr. No, the titular evil genius was super sure that Bond was going to be able to make it to the end.
You can't make it too easy, either, because then you're just an asshole with a laser tag arena.
So sure, in fact, that the final part of his death run was an encounter with a giant squid. Now, giant squids are not "companion" animals. Unless you're a villain in the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon, you don't capture a giant squid to just have that unpersonable motherfucker around. You capture it because you are 100 percent positive that some dude is going to get on your nerves to the extent that you feel that the only right way to deal with him is to feed him to a giant squid.
Luckily, Fleming's Bond is able to deal with a giant squid in under three pages. He stabs it with a spear, forcing the squid to realize that the man that he's dealing with is actually some kind of undying martini demon. From there, Bond goes on to cover Dr. No in a mound of bird shit. And not just a Biff Tannen amount of shit. A smothering amount of shit.
An A View To A Kill amount of shit.
Bond kills the main villain of the book by dropping guano all over him. And it would be anti-climactic if it didn't happen all of a sudden. There is no final, heavy chat between Bond and Dr. No in the novel, nor is there an attempt by Dr. No to escape or fight back when he realizes that his plan to feed Bond to a giant squid has failed. Of course, who can blame him? He put his trust in a giant squid. The only giant squid I know is the one under the skin suit that Cracked columnist Pauli Poisuo wears, and that dude has handled every problem that I've released into his enclosure.
Bond sneaks up on Dr. No while No is just hanging out on his dock, takes control of a crane, and spills all of its contents on him. Afterwards, Bond takes the time to smugly wonder what it would be like to pathetically die under tons of crap, which is kind of like Fleming telling his readers "And you know what? Dr. No wasn't that good of a villain anyway." And that reaction is the purest example of the difference between Movie Bond and Novel Bond. There is no "Hope he remembers to flush!" with Novel Bond. Novel Bond just understands that the way that Dr. No's life ended is the worst way, and that he now needs to find that girl that he was talking to earlier.
Red Grant Wants To Kill Whenever There Is A Full Moon
Red Grant is James Bond's coolest enemy because he's basically a James Bond Mechagodzilla. He's been trained to take out Bond, and (at least in the film that he's in) he's the only guy who has the chance to out-handsome Bond as well. In the Connery era of Bond films, this second thing was extremely rare, as the '60s were populated by Sean Connery and the midlife crises who translated for him. That's why Bond so violently chokes Grant to death in the From Russia With Love film. When you discover that you're the only good-looking man in the world, any other dude with decent hair and a muscular chest is going to be your archnemesis.
However, in the novel, Red Grant is the creepiest villain that Bond has ever faced. The Red Grant of the novel stepped out of a true crime story and decided to go to work for a terrorist organization. Usually, Bond villains try to maintain an air of class and decency, because you gotta stay fly when you're stealing nukes. But Red Grant has more in common with Ed Gein than he does with the accent-clad megalomaniacs who usually fill these books. Red Grant is an animal and people killer, and he gets the urge to strike ... when the moon is full.
When he transforms into an Aryan superman.
Usually, when someone says that a part of a work of fiction is "inappropriate," they mean it in the sense that "This movie seemed like it was going to have no penises in it, but it had almost four. That is 360 percent more penises than I am accustomed to witnessing on my screen." But here, I mean it as "Ehhh. I don't buy it." Bond facing someone who has the murder pattern of a werewolf is going to be sick in my fan film, Thundermaul, but in From Russia With Love, it just seems like Fleming ignored an editor's note. One that read "Great book, Ian. Quick suggestion about the stupidest thing ever, though."
A Book Where Bond Barely Appears At All
Fleming said that he was unhappy with his work on The Spy Who Loved Me, and it's very apparent why when you read the mess that he produced. A novel from the viewpoint of a woman who meets James Bond could be a pretty cool premise, because the women in James Bond movies have typically been around to do cool stuff but still remain a little less cool than Bond, so that he gets to pun them into bed. It would be interesting to see how one with some depth and motivation views him. Sadly, that is not present in The Spy Who Loved Me, as the main character in it basically gets dumped the entire novel.
That's not an exaggeration. Her first boyfriend takes her virginity in a field and dumps her. Her second boyfriend angrily pressures her into an abortion, and then dumps her. Bond saves her from getting raped in a motel room, kills her assailants, and then leaves her before she wakes up the next morning. Another problem is the fact that there are barely any grand stakes in Spy. If Fleming wanted to actually write a Bond story from the perspective of someone else, he probably should've come up with a setting that has a little more scale than a hotel room. Ian Fleming's Women And Their Dumbass, Flighty Emotions (But James Bond Is So Cool! *Air Guitars Wildly And With Great Passion*) isn't so much a work of fiction as it is a declaration of just how great Fleming's prized character is.
Meanwhile, in the movie, her main job is to wear a variety of goofy bikinis.
The prologue to the novel also includes Fleming stating that he received the story from the woman in the book. We get it, Ian. James Bond is rad. You don't need to support that agreed-upon notion with some fourth-wall-breaking nonsense about the lead deciding to pen a letter to the author of her life which details just how good at boning and shooting Bond truly is. Did Fleming really hate the story so much that he decided to lay partial blame for it on some fictional lady of his own invention? That's not the key for fixing anything. That's like George Lucas blaming the story of the prequels on a hologram that he found in an old R2 unit. But what do I know? I've never experienced the amount of displeasure that it would take to write a prologue that would turn a story into Ian Fleming's Retelling Of Some Lady's Account Of How Bad Her Life Is (But James Bond Is So Cool! *Air Guitars Womanly And With Great Passion*)
Octopussy And The Living Daylights is a short story collection that was published after Fleming's death. And the last piece of the original Bond run that the world was left with is a story called "007 In New York." Not a title that could later be adapted into an almost totally unrelated Bond film. Nope, just James Bond and his location. I can respect that. And to cap off the series, Bond takes the time to relay how his secretary cooked her crazy good scrambled eggs.
This isn't an unfathomable thing, and it's kind of a welcome respite from James Bond's usual fever dream of an internal monologue. A lot of it is played up for drama and tension, but Fleming's books do a great job of letting the reader know what it's like to have the abilities of a secret agent. And it's exhausting. The movies are wish fulfillment that try to convince you of how cool it would be to be cool in various scenarios. The books are wish fulfillment for those that would like to be in a nearly constant state of panic, followed by a short span of calm, followed by a lengthy span of vodka. You don't finish the books wanting to be James Bond. You finish the books hoping that James Bond just gets a night of uninterrupted sleep.
"I can't believe he just wanted to cuddle for a few minutes."
This is the last story that I read for this column, and it was pleasant to see Bond taking a breather and musing about scrambled eggs -- one of my favorite subjects. Of course, he does more things in the story, but I prefer to end it with Bond's thoughts on good breakfast. His whole life had been one climax after another. He had nowhere to go but eggs.
Daniel has a blog.
Ian Fleming might have written some racist and nutty book plots, but that doesn't mean the movies were all Citizen Kane. See why James Bond is nothing like the modern spy in 5 Ways Modern Espionage Has Left James Bond Behind. And you'll groan louder than a "Bond Girl" when you read The 15 Most Cringe Worthy James Bond Puns.
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