28 May, 1908 – 12 August, 1964
28 May, 1908 – 12 August, 1964
Article by Revelator
After the narrative slack of Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming decided to better himself with From Russia with Love. Because its story was entirely structured around a deathtrap for one man, it was important for that man to be human enough to hold the audience’s empathy. This demanded a more rounded Bond, and Fleming was forced to further personalize his hero, giving an exact physical description of character and filling in his past history.
In Moonraker Fleming gave us details of Bond’s everyday life in London. Now we’re given a fuller portrait, and see Bond bored at work, reminiscing about the innocence of his teenage years in Kitzbühel, worrying that he’s “pimping for England” (and wondering if he’s capable of it), experiencing fear when his airplane’s caught in a storm, and so forth. This Bond even has an outright distaste for cold-blooded killing, in…
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Words by Revelator
Here is part 1 of 3 that we’re calling “the three ages of Bond.”
Thanks to Daniel Craig (and his underrated predecessor Timothy Dalton) we’ve heard a lot of the phrase “Fleming’s Bond,” as in “Craig comes closest to Fleming’s Bond, the ruthless government assassin” and so on. This phrase has always rang false to me, because Fleming’s version of the character was never fixed. “Fleming’s Bond” assumes that James Bond remained a static character, but Fleming lived with Bond for over a decade, during which his relationship with the character changed. There are several Bonds we could call “Fleming’s Bond”—the different versions of the character roughly correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of Fleming’s career as a novelist.
Fleming’s original conception of Bond, the characterless government assassin: “The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was…
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1. One book that changed your life: While young I came across Oedipus the King…I mean, I thought my family was strange up until that point.
2. One book you have read more than once: There is not just one book, I read all of Waugh, O’Brian, Flashman, Dance to the Music of Time, Beerbohm, Wodehouse in a cycle which works out to about once per year, maybe two for each author…
3. One book you would want on a desert island: Symthson’s Guide to Boat Making
4. One book that made you cry: Just the thought of reading The Beats makes me cry…
5. One book that made you laugh: A. G. MacDonnell’s Autobiography of a Cad makes me laugh, as does Augustus Carp, Esq. by Himself…Two of the funniest books you’ve never heard of…
6. One book you wish had been written: Waugh died before he could finish his autobiography…He only finished the first volume, covering his early years, I would have liked to have seen the rest…And dammit, the Civil War Flashman would have been nice.
7. One book you wish had never been written: Only one? That’s hard…But we could surly have done without Kahlil Gibran…I mean, that guy’s got a lot to answer for….
8. One book you are currently reading: Max by Lord David Cecil
9. One book you have been meaning to read: I have been meaning to read John Boot’s Waste of Time, but haven’t got around to it yet…
Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.
Don’t hold your parents up to contempt. After all, you are their son, and it is just possible that you may take after them.
I put the words down and push them a bit.
I think to be oversensitive about cliches is like being oversensitive about table manners.
In the dying world I come from, quotation is a national vice.
It is a curious thing… that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.
Money is only useful when you get rid of it. It is like the odd card in “Old Maid”; the player who is finally left with it has lost.
My unhealthy affection for my second daughter has waned. Now I despise all my seven children equally.
Not everyone grows to be old, but everyone has been younger than he is now.
Of children as of procreation – the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable.
One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.
Other nations use ‘force’; we Britons alone use ‘Might’.
Perhaps host and guest is really the happiest relation for father and son.
Pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.
Professional reviewers read so many bad books in the course of duty that they get an unhealthy craving for arresting phrases.
Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.
The truth is that Oxford is simply a very beautiful city in which it is convenient to segregate a certain number of the young of the nation while they are growing up.
There is a species of person called a ‘Modern Churchman’ who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.
We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us, but for ours to amuse them.
We class schools into four grades: leading school, first-rate school, good school and school.
What is youth except a man or woman before it is ready or fit to be seen?
When we argue for our limitations, we get to keep them.
Your actions, and your action alone, determines your worth.
Will Cuppy (August 23,1884-September 19,1949)
The good news is that Titan Books has begun reissuing the Matt Helm series (1960 – 1993) of books by Donald Hamilton in attractive paperbacks with the obligatory scantily clad “dame” on the cover. This, I think, harkens back to the book’s roots as classic pulps from the 50s and 60s. Although one must note, that the girls portrayed on today’s covers are a bit more, should we say, svelte, or a little less Marilynesque looking than those in the wonderful Robert McGinnis covers (he did over 1200) which adorned the originals.
Helm, who was introduced in 1960 with the publication by Fawcett of Death of a Citizen, seven years after Bond, but before Bond took off in the United States (this would happen in 1964 with the publication of JFK’s manufactured reading list) continued on for about twenty books into the 1990s. These were the glory years for the pulps, and all of Helm’s adventures were published as paperbacks. Hamilton and Helm ruled for many years until giving way to a man named Travis McGee. So much so, that the final Helm book is still unpublished (Titan are you listening?).
Helm suffered a similar fate at the cinema as that of his counterpart across the pond. As with Bond, movies were produced that bore little or no resemblance to the books from which they sprung. Even more so in Helm’s case, as the films were purposely presented as camp comedy. You know it’s a bad sign when Dean Martin is chosen to portray you’re ruthless counter assassin.
Both literary characters are both darker and less humorous than their movie counterparts. One could say Bond was “humorless” until the release of the first Bond film which in turn influenced Fleming’s writing. The men in the books are sociopaths, just good looking ones who happen to work for the government. Bond, really had no personality, which was Fleming’s intent. He had “things” and habits, but he was a blank slate that the reader could write on. Helm is a bit more fleshed out, but although he attempted to live a “normal life” he was most comfortable in the world of assassination and mayhem. Helm also did not benefit from the “Fleming Effect” (a term coined by novelist and Bond fan Sir Kingsley Amis) which was what would become known as “product placement”, although Fleming was doing it for free. When Helm looked at his watch, it was just a “watch”, Bond on the other hand looked at his “Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet”. Fleming felt that this “grounded” Bond in a world that readers would recognize, even if they did not know it.
Helm was much more of a middle class character whereas Bond (Eton, Fettes, Royal Navy Officer) was more upper U. Both men were highly trained professional killers, although Helm is not a spy, he is a counter-assassin for an unnamed United States government agency. Helm’s unit (with which he served during World War II) was a Nazi hunting group which the government thought would work on dirty red bastards as well, so was kept going after the war’s end. Helm is much more ruthless and brutal than Bond. In one story Helm is sent to “convincingly beat up” a fellow female agent, armed with instructions from the agency doctor on what to break, etc. no less (we are told he trained for this, a school I’d like to see) but accidently kills her when she has an alcohol induced heart attack midway through the session. Hate when that happens. He always carries a Buck Knife and doesn’t like to carry a gun (when he has to it is usually a .38) because they can’t be explained away if caught. Helm’s adventures are less exotic and the Bentleys and Aston Martins are replaced with Fords, Chevrolets and Volkswagens from the car pool. Helm’s personal vehicle was an old pick-up truck equipped with a camper shell. Not exactly sexy. He shops at Brooks Brothers not Savile Row, and we never learn if he eats off Minton china or prefers eggs from particular hens. He definitely buys his smokes (probably Lucky Strikes or Chesterfields) at the commissary and not at Morland of Grosvenor Street.
Having read the books back in the day, I was pleased to find them being republished after many years of out-of-printness. I enjoy these mid-20th century pulp novels. So politically incorrect and surprisingly frank about sex and violence for books written in the early 60s. Yes, like Bond, Helm has a way with the ladies, not as suave and debonair, but he pulls in the tail nonetheless. Definitely worth a look for those with a nostalgic bent. Actually a little more believable than the Bond stories, just not as well dressed.
For those interested, check out The Matt Helm Dossier, which covers all the books in detail and has an hilarious on-going riff on the use of the word “darling”. Which is a word one comes across in any book of this time period. Excellent resource.
Fantastic post by man BAMF…Actually one of the best rundowns on Bond out there. I’m a fan of the literary Bond and really don’t care for the movie version. But I can stomach the Sean Connery Bond. Very good stuff.
Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1964), wearing the closest cinematic approximation of the suit imagined by Ian Fleming for his character. Inset is a drawing created by Fleming and commissioned for the Daily Express comic strip.
James Bond, British government agent
106 years ago, on May 28, 1908, Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in Mayfair to an eventual member of parliament and his wife. Throughout his life, Fleming would be a journalist, a Naval Intelligence officer, and – the role in which he is most remembered – the author who introduced the world to James Bond.
After World War II, Fleming was demobilized from his position at British Naval Intelligence and began working as a newspaper manager, a job allowing him three months vacation. Fleming, whose ambition had long been to write a spy novel, used those winter months to retreat to Jamaica.
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I love satire. So it comes as no surprise that H. H. Munro (Saki), Waugh and Wodehouse are at the forefront of my shelves. Each is different of course, Waugh is hilariously mean, Wodehouse gentle and Saki downright brutal. But all satirical geniuses of the first water. But in his virtually unknown masterpiece, Augustus Carp, Sir Henry Bashford out does them all. And in that company, that’s saying something….
The book was published anonymously in 1924 by physician Henry Bashford. It was a neglected masterpiece for many years until Anthony Burgess singlehandedly got it back into print in 1966. Since that time it has slowly built up a following and the cause has been taken up by some heavyweights like Michael Dirda.
No one, that I’ve read, has so effectively skewered the self righteous and hypocritical church goer as does Bashford. I have always wondered what event, or, what person(s) pissed off Sir Henry to the extent that he took the time to write this classic. Obviously it was a private venting, as he published it anonymously. One suspects that the good doctor might have alienated much of his client base had he signed his name to it.
Read the reviews, and by all means read the book. You won’t regret it.
Laughing at Augustus by Michael Dirda
The Literary James Bond Magazine
The unexamined life is not worth living.
(n): An office or position that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue.
The world of P.G. Wodehouse
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