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Reading James Bond- Guest Post by Walter Lawn

March 10, 2010

The following is a guest post by my dear friend Walter Lawn. Thanks so much for writing this, Walter. Definitely putting the Bond novels on my reading list!

2008 was Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday, and to celebrate, Penguin came out with an all-new set of James Bond, with wonderfully tawdry cover art by Richie Fahey. If you only know Bond from the movies, these books are an opportunity for a special treat.

Bond, like Nero Wolfe and Jeeves, arrives completely imagined in his first story (Casino Royale).  Sure, things happen to him.  Over time, his secretaries move on to a more stable life and leave him unchanged. But fundamentally neither he, nor M, nor the apparatus of his workaday world, change.

There are some deeply pleasing differences between the books and the movies. In the movies, Bond never lacks confidence.  He is supremely sure that he will be back on the next release.  In the books, he makes mistakes at the beginning of a case, and knows with sickening certainty that he will have to face the consequences.

Fleming is a younger contemporary of Chandler, and he regularly produces a sentence or phrase that echoes Chandler’s stylistic confidence.  From On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, after a night of hard liquor and garlic sausage with the Capu of the Union Corse:  “The next day, after lunch, Bond made his way by plane and train to the Hotel Maison Rouge at Strasbourg, his breath bearing him close company like some noisome, captive pet.”

The movies often have humor – adventure films require humor – but rarely or never at Bond’s expense.  Imagine Bond, about to set forth on one of his best adventures (written or filmed), In Thunderball, he lectures his housekeeper on the virtues of health foods.  Yes, Bond, for a while at least – following M’s lead – was a health food nut. He ate yogurt when it was still spelled with an “h.”

Rich in character, humor, and intrigue, the Bond books are worth reading.  You may choose a movie as your greatest love, but don’t do it without first reveling in writing that is so competent you forget it’s there.

And as a final treat for those who have got so far:  if you like Fleming’s books, go out and get Wasp by Eric Frank Russell, a colleague of Fleming’s at Intelligence during WWII.  Packaged as science fiction, the story is a fantasy (based, just as firmly as Fleming’s work was, on fact) on insurgency against the Japanese secret police, the Kaitempei.  If you like James Bond . . .

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