Fleming, Ian (Lancaster)
Ian (Lancaster) Fleming 1908–1964
English novelist, short story writer, essayist, scriptwriter, and journalist.
Fleming's secret agent James Bond is one of the most widely known characters in popular fiction. The fourteen books in the series—including Casino Royale (1953), From Russia, with Love (1957), Doctor No (1958), and Goldfinger (1959)—have sold millions of copies and all of them have been made into successful films. Bond's immense popularity has been attributed to his appearance at a time when readers were especially receptive to a glamorous and heroic character with whom they could identify. In addition, the Bond books have three elements basic to their appeal: beautiful women, grotesque villains, and extravagant plots. Fleming intended Bond himself to be a "dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened"; thus Fleming gave him no extraordinary characteristics or achievements. However, their exotic backgrounds, elegant surroundings, and Bond's dangerous exploits made the novels an effective focus for readers' wish-fulfillment. Critics also attribute the success of the series to Fleming's ability to blend convincingly realistic details into the preposterous elements of his stories.
From 1939 to 1945, Fleming was personal assistant to the director of British naval intelligence and he sometimes used his own wartime experiences as the basis of Bond's escapades. Fleming once attempted to take the money of some German agents in a card game just as Bond did with Le Chiffre in Casino Royale; however, where Fleming failed, Bond succeeded. Critics have been tempted to see Bond as the personification of his creator. They do have certain interests in common, such as gambling, sports, and cars, but Fleming maintained that Bond is simply the incarnation of his own adolescent fantasies.
Critical response to Fleming's books has varied. Some reviewers have commended Fleming's ability to build suspense and his sense of place and atmosphere; others have castigated him as a purveyor of bad fiction and an offensive code of moral principles. In a 1958 attack on Fleming's work, Bernard Bergonzi criticized the Bond adventures as morally destructive. Paul Johnson focused this attack when he called Doctor No the "nastiest book" he had ever read, and then went on to denounce Bond and his creator for excessive displays of "sex, sadism, and snobbery." Kingsley Amis's book The James Bond Dossier is an extended defense of Fleming and a laudatory examination of his works. The Bond books have also been analyzed as modern treatments of ancient myths and legends. Despite this attention from critics, Fleming insisted that his intent was not to write "literature," but to keep the reader turning the page.
(See also CLC, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 9.)
R. D. Charques
Casino Royale. An alternative title, I suggest, having never quite known how baccarat is played, would be The Gambler's Vade-Mecum. A Secret Service thriller, lively, most ingenious in detail, on the surface as tough as they are made and charm-ingly well-bred beneath, nicely written and—except for a too ingeniously sadistic bout of brutality—very entertaining reading. Bond, a bold and all but heartless British secret agent, versus Le Chiffre, an enigma of a Soviet agent wrapped in M.V.D. mystery. The scene is a rakish small gambling resort near Dieppe, where, with really terrific aplomb on Mr. Fleming's part, the first desperate round is fought at the baccarat table. Enter—or, more exactly, exit—at this point the stunning Vesper, blue-eyed and sensual-lipped, Bond's No. 2 chosen by headquarters. It is, as it happens, the cue for (the prettily imagined) Smersh, the pinnacle of the Soviet secret police structure, a name derived from two words meaning—not "roughly," by the way, but quite literally—"Death to Spies." There are spills and thrills, stratagems and surprises still to come, and at any rate for Bond, by now not quite so heartless, there is a shattering and awful eye-opened at the very last. The public schoolboy in him, I suspect, would be inclined to murmur, "Well done, Smersh!" In its kind, Casino Royale is equally well done.
R. D. Charques, in a review of...
(The entire section is 242 words.)
The Times Literary Supplement
Mr. Ian Fleming's first novel [Casino Royale] is an extremely engaging affair, dealing with espionage in the [L.] Sapper manner but with a hero who, although taking a great many cold showers and never letting sex interfere with work, is somewhat more sophisticated. At any rate he takes very great care over his food and drink, and sees women's clothes with an expertness of which Bulldog Drummond would have been ashamed…. [The] especial charm of Mr. Fleming's book is the high poetry with which he invests the green baize lagoons of the casino tables. The setting in a French resort somewhere near Le Touquet is given great local atmosphere and while the plot itself has a shade too many improbabilities the Secret Service details are convincing. Altogether Mr. Fleming has produced a book that is both exciting and extremely civilized.
"Spices and Charlatans," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 2672, April 17, 1953, p. 249.∗
(The entire section is 151 words.)
Mr. Ian Fleming's latest thriller [From Russia With Love] will be another shot in the arm for addicts, and it would be unfair to him and them to reveal the plot beyond saying that its author has undoubtedly studied Sherlock Holmes and that a lot of it takes place in Istanbul. These new surroundings, however, bring with them no slackening of tension. Perhaps we could have done without the conducted tour of the Russian Secret Service which Mr. Fleming provides in his early chapters, but guns and knives are used freely later on, and there are plenty of those little touches, so revelatory of character, which Bond's fans have learned to look for….
For, after all, the strength of these thrillers lies in the man Bond. Mr. Fleming's plots have deteriorated a good deal since Casino Royale. He now no longer even tries to obtain from his readers that willing suspension of disbelief which we accord so readily to Eric Ambler. In the Amberland south of the Danube and east of the Adriatic his local colour stands up particularly badly to the comparison. I never feel that Mr. Fleming really knows what it is like to beard a Macedonian Komitadji in his den, and the political background of his novels is not so much shaky as non-existent….
In style Mr. Fleming could do with some transatlantic lessons. Raymond Chandler's descriptions of furniture or clothing invariably help the plot along by establishing either character...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
The substance of Mr. Fleming's book [The Diamond Smugglers] is a series of reminiscences by a pseudonymous 'John Blaize,' describing his experiences as an official of the International Diamond Security Organisation…. The trade in illicit diamonds is described as 'the greatest smuggling racket in the world'; and it is clear there are many people and a great deal of money involved in the business.
When we get down to cases, however, the difficulty is—as Mr. Fleming himself admits—that realistic writing about such matters is likely to be 'full of loose ends, and drabness and despair'; and the reader who goes to the book in search of high adventure may find that the malefactions of 'Sammy Silberstein' and 'Henry Orford' and the rest are no more necessarily thrilling to read about than a place like Kimberley, say, is to visit. On the other hand, Mr. Fleming has not given himself nearly enough space to individualise—and thus make interesting, for another reason—the very drabness and shabbiness of the people and the operations he describes. The author does try hard to generate the thriller atmosphere, with many significant asides, and even more significant reticences; but the material he has gathered together is recalcitrant. (pp. 844-45)
The most interesting section of the book is that dealing with the situation in Sierra Leone. Apparently there are hundreds of square miles of bush in that country being...
(The entire section is 334 words.)
A reviewer in The Listener described Casino Royale as 'Supersonic John Buchan', and a comparison between the two authors is extremely revealing. Fleming's hero, James Bond, like Buchan's Richard Hannay, is a Secret Service agent, continually either chasing or being chased by enemy spies, often at the point of death but always saved by some improbable turn of events. Hannay's adversaries, before and during World War I, were the somewhat casual and heavy-handed emissaries of Imperial Germany: in the Bond stories, which are set against the background of the Cold War, the enemy is the far more efficient and deadly Soviet counter-espionage organization called S M E R S H (except in Diamonds are Forever, where Bond takes time off to deal with a team of American gangsters and diamond-smugglers)…. [Bond] is a thoroughgoing professional, and at the top of his class; he is one of the three double 'O' numbers in the British Secret Service, which means he has liberty to kill when necessary; he is an expert pistol shot, boxer, and knife thrower, is always armed and sometimes wears steel-capped shoes (one can't imagine Hannay doing that). (pp. 220-21)
The professionalism of Mr Fleming's hero is reflected in the far greater slickness and pace of the writing; one is well aware that [Ernest] Hemingway and the American thriller have intervened since Buchan, who often seems, in comparison, wordy and excessively leisurely....
(The entire section is 1599 words.)
Mr Bergonzi's extremely interesting essay … 'The Case of Mr Fleming' [see excerpt above] raises two important points about the examination of popular culture. The first is the necessity of getting close to the audience for the particular form under study. We often speak of the literature of wish-fulfilment, without considering how seriously the public takes this sort of thing. I think that Mr Bergonzi is guilty of this fault in castigating the New Statesman public for its approval of Mr Fleming's books, which, he claims, rely for their appeal on sex, snobbery and violence.
How could the New Statesman call Casino Royale 'a thriller for an intelligent audience', Mr Bergonzi asks in amaze. I want to attempt an answer: what these books offer besides sex, violence, etc. First of all, there is the literal excitement of the story (what will happen next?); but equally important is the extravagant absurdity of the situations. Although, as Mr Bergonzi noted, irony is quite lacking in the narration, there is an irony of situations; the comedy lies in telling a story of glaring implausibility with an absolutely straight face. For example, when we learn that the Secret Service branch in Istanbul is entirely staffed by the children of its polyphiloprogenitive director Darko Kerim, we cannot help laughing—but it would be fatal if Mr Fleming laughed too. Similarly, the vulgar parody of 'gracious living' is meant...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
I have just been reading a long complaint, in the monthly The Twentieth Century, about the unsatisfactory tone of Ian Fleming's novels. The author of this complaint, Bernard Bergonzi [see excerpt above], having remarked that these novels are similar to John Buchan's in subject (spies and pursuits), then goes on to say that, whereas Buchan's books are fundamentally decent and do depend on an ethic of sorts, Commander Fleming's tales are without any ethical frame of reference and have an 'affective superstructure' of a perverted and anti-social nature….
Now this is a quiet and well-argued article, but it does appear to reach a most naive conclusion. I mention it here because this type of complaint, about Commander Fleming and others, is increasingly in evidence and has always seemed to me to be entirely beside the point. Since when has it been remarkable in a work of entertainment that it should lack a specific 'ethical frame of reference'? I don't suggest that any of Fleming's books, least of all the latest one, Dr. No, should be left around in the nursery any more than [John Vanbrugh's] The Relapse or [Ovid's] Ars Amatoria. What I do suggest is that Commander Fleming, by reason of his cool and analytical intelligence, his informed use of technical facts, his plausibility, sense of pace, brilliant descriptive powers and superb imagination, provides sheer entertainment such as I, who must read many novels,...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read. It is a new novel entitled Dr No and the author is Mr Ian Fleming…. By the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away, and only continued reading because I realised that here was a social phenomenon of some importance.
There are three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr Fleming has no literary skill, the construction of the book is chaotic, and entire incidents and situations are inserted, and then forgotten, in a haphazard manner. But the three ingredients are manufactured and blended with deliberate, professional precision; Mr Fleming dishes up his recipe with all the calculated accountancy of a Lyons Corner House….
Fleming deliberately and systematically excites, and then satisfies the very worst instincts of his readers. This seems to me far more dangerous than straight pornography. In 1944, George Orwell took issue with a book which in some ways resembles Fleming's novels—No Orchids for Miss Blandish. He saw the success of No Orchids, published in 1940, as part of a discernible psychological climate, whose other products were Fascism, the Gestapo, mass-bombing...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
Fleming's tradition is sub-literary. Since 1954 he has written novels at the rate of one-and-a-half a year; you can read them without undue strain at the rate of one-and-a-half a night. His field is the secret service thriller—a well-recognized, well-paid, almost routine English trade. Why then should his books have sold more than a million copies, why should the responsible English critics be in a state of outrage; why, for example, should Paul Johnson devote a leading article in The New Statesman [see excerpt above] to an attack of boisterous passion against this entertainer? (pp. 566-67)
[Americans] are not going to be so taken by surprise. We have had Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler and one gets hardened to such things. Though it must be admitted that Mr. Fleming is a concentrated example of published nastiness. His stock in trade contains, first, the snobbish accoutrements that one expects in diplomatic thrillers. His hero, James Bond, eats, smokes, drinks, drives and sleeps with only the fanciest products of our civilization. He is, in a word, a god-awful false gentleman, but so are most British sleuths.
But they are not usually pathological killers and sexual oddities. Bond enjoys hurting people and he enjoys being hurt. He also fattens on horror, crawling horror, for the most part, with many legs. In Doctor No, the newest book, Fleming indulges him in this taste by letting a centipede...
(The entire section is 797 words.)
The cruelly sophisticated yet boyishly winsome mask of British intelligence agent James Bond (007) conceals the identical mask of Commander Ian Fleming, RNVR. In this collection of frivolous travel articles about thirteen cities around the world ["Thrilling Cities"] …, the fictitious mask is off, but the inner one remains impenetrable. Fleming really tells very little about the essence of his experiences abroad while ostensibly telling all. Nevertheless, for the countless people who enjoy the squeaky-clean, anxiety-free hazards and the smear-proof Playboy sex of the Bond novels, here is a sizable package of raw materials for do-it-yourself escapism….
Ian Fleming's thrilling clichés invoke a feeling of Anglo-Saxon superiority to Abroad and the lesser breeds who live there. Unlike Kipling, however, Fleming condescends without preaching—not, it seems, because of any new-fangled recognition of international moral equality. It is simply that he has nothing to suggest, except that might is still right, make-believe might is better than nothing, and, whatever you do, shake, don't stir, the Martinis…. When he travels, Fleming's attention is focused, he says, "on the bizarre and perhaps the shadier side of life." A melancholy confession.
Although the articles are not new, at the end of each of them a reasonably up-to-date practical guide is appended, listing hotels, restaurants, and other amenities recommended by...
(The entire section is 251 words.)
O. F. Snelling
The Spy Who Loved Me … is the most unusual [James Bond book] of all. It marked a new departure for Ian Fleming. Hitherto, he had played the part of God, so to speak, looking down upon his remarkable creation and describing Bond's thoughts and actions in the third person. He did it well, better than any of his contemporaries, in my submission. I think there is little doubt that he could have gone on for many years doing much the same sort of thing…. (pp. 94-5)
I admire Ian Fleming for attempting what he did attempt. But when I first read the book I did not. Conditioned to expecting narratives written to something of a formula, as far as the broad plot is concerned, this book had a disturbing effect on me as well as on a great many others. For a start, James Bond does not make an appearance in it until more than halfway through it…. Then again, when Bond does show up, we get little of that engaging character-drawing we have come to expect, hokum though it may be. No cocktails, 'shaken, not stirred', no new information about Bond's fads and prejudices, and not a sign of M and the old crowd at Universal Export. This time we get a yarn purportedly written by the girl in the case, and so every observation, every description of her adventures is set down as it is seen by her. (p. 95)
It has been suggested that in this book Ian Fleming had dried up, that he had no ideas for a lengthy James Bond adventure in the...
(The entire section is 2271 words.)
[The Man with the Golden Gun is] a sadly empty tale, empty of the interests and effects that for better or worse, Ian Fleming had made his own. Violence is at a minimum. Sex too…. And there's no gambling, no gadgets or machinery to speak of, no undersea stuff, none of those lavish and complicated eats and drinks, hardly even a brand-name apart from Bond's Hoffritz safety razor and the odd bottle of Walker's de luxe Bourbon. The main plot, in the sense of the scheme proposed by the villains, is likewise thin. Smuggling marijuana and getting protection-money out of oil companies disappoint expectation aroused by what some of these people's predecessors planned: a nuclear attack on Miami, the dissemination throughout Britain of crop and livestock pests, the burgling of Fort Knox. The rank-and-file villains, too, have been reduced in scale.
In most of the Bond books it was the central villain on whom interest in character was fixed…. Scaramanga is just a dandy with a special (and ineffective) gun, a stock of outdated American slang and a third nipple on his left breast. We hear a lot about him early on in the 10-page dossier M consults, including mentions of homosexuality and pistol-fetishism, but these aren't followed up anywhere. Why not?
It may be relevant to consider at this point an outstandingly clumsy turn in the narrative. Bond has always been good at ingratiating himself with his enemies, notably with...
(The entire section is 770 words.)
I do not care for Mr. Bond. I do not care for him at all. In this I am at variance with Mr. Amis, who in The James Bond Dossier convicts me and all like me of being perishing little snivelers [see excerpt below], nearsighted 20th-century weaklings whose sexual inadequacies lead us, twisted little devils that we are, to condemn a fully committed man who does things his way and only his way. Priggish Puritan prude snipes at never-bend stout English oak. Red glare gleams in eye—Mr. Amis points out that all Bond-villains have a red glare in their eyes—as cheapmake Everyman says bad things about keen hero.
With the lines drawn, and with only a wistful thought about the jokes that could be made concerning Mr. Amis' first name, let us look at The Man With The Golden Gun, the last book to come from Mr. Fleming's typewriter before his death a year ago. The book begins where You Only Live Twice has left off. In that opus, it will be recalled, Bond's memory has been driven away by a conk on the head. He has forgotten who he is and what he is…. [He] has forgotten that you can recognize a Jew by his ear lobes (Casino Royale) and that you can't hurt a Negro by hitting him in the head (Live and Let Die)…. With the opening of The Man With the Golden Gun, we learn that Bond has somehow gone off to Russia, where he's been brainwashed. Now he is back in London giving his Chief, old M, a glazed-eye look...
(The entire section is 988 words.)
"ENDIT": this single cablese word, prophetic and appropriate, is the title of the last chapter of the last James Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun. From the hospital bed where he lies recovering from bullet wounds, Bond cables M, refusing the knighthood which a grateful government has offered him.
In You Only Live Twice we left Bond, bemused from the holocaust which closed his duel with Blofeld, heading blindly for Vladivostok. We now learn what happened to him there, and in what strange condition he returned to London. This opening sequence is the most interesting part of the book. Afterwards, Bond is perfunctorily de-brainwashed and sent, good as new, to hunt down "Pistols" Scaramanga, the deadliest gunman in the Caribbean….
The plot, as in several of Fleming's later books, contains little more than would make a respectable short story, and both its setting and some of its incidents are reminiscent of previous adventures. The Man with the Golden Gun is undeniably slight, but like everything Fleming wrote, intensely readable.
I saw him last a few weeks before he died. He seemed very tired. The effort of invention had become increasingly difficult. He found it particularly hard, he said, to think of new villains; and indeed Scaramanga is scarcely in the same league as Mister Big or Sir Hugo Drax or Rosa Klebb. Outrageous devices no longer bubbled up in his mind; it had...
(The entire section is 1021 words.)
What Bond is, obviously enough, is a secret agent. He sees himself in these terms, rather self-consciously, at a climactic point in Moonraker. Bearers of this designation, which no doubt belongs more to fiction and imagination than to life, have flourished at least since the turn of the century. It's a nebulous calling, ranging from the almost completely freelance status of a Bulldog Drummond to the straight Foreign Office employment of William le Queux's Duckworth Drew, one of the earliest practitioners. This breadth of scope makes the idea more evocative, so much so that it probably focuses more daydreaming and fantasy-spinning than any other semi-mythical occupation. (p. 2)
Bond's professionalism is one of the best things about him, both as a moral quality and as a relief from that now defunct and always irritating personage, the gifted amateur who is called or just happens to wander in when MI5 is baffled and the Cabinet in despair. However, Bond is given to lapses of judgment so appalling and so rich in dire results that he needs every particle of our esteem for his forethought on other occasions, and every ounce of Mr. Fleming's talent for camouflaging such blunders by pace and mystification, in order to avoid forfeiting our respect forever. (p. 10)
[In Dr. No] Bond, with all his experience, always up to things like putting hairs in the locks of his suitcases so that he can tell whether or...
(The entire section is 3623 words.)
[In Octopussy] Commander James Bond, British Secret Service Agent 007, shows himself to be the dove some of us had long suspected. Dispatched by his frosty-eyed chief, "M," to Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin to kill a Soviet sniper. Bond disobeys for sentimental reasons….
Without further question, Bond now joins the knightly company of story-book heroes. All of them are athletic, daring and handsomely virile, but their chief mark of distinction is that their patron saint is George and they chivalrously spend much of their time saving pretty girls from dragons of one kind or another. That, in essence, is what Bond does in his last adventure, at Checkpoint Charlie.
Probably there should never have been any doubts about Bond being a true-blue hero…. Nevertheless, Fleming, presumably deliberately, caused many readers to confuse Bond with the currently more prevalent anti-hero. Fleming did this by two devices. He supplied Bond with a different girl in every story, instead of a steady; and he had Bond treat her more like a whore than a heroine. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service the heroine actually gets bumped off, and in Live And Let Die she commits suicide. More than once Bond disgustedly describes his Secret Service missions as dirty as well as dangerous.
Fleming was keen to be "in." He wanted to be the best-seller he became, and he knew the vogue was for tough anti-heroes who...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Bernice Larson Webb
The legendary Teutonic superman Beowulf would seem to have a counterpart today in the teenagers' culture hero James Bond, secret agent 007…. [An] essential similarity exists both in general framework of the narrative and in plot details of the two bodies of work.
Elements common to traditional hero-romances are present, of course, in both the Beowulf epic and the Bond novels: improbable adventures, heroic ideal of brave leader and loyal followers, concept of the hero as representative of good, pagan culture with overlay of Christianity, and absence of romantic love. But in addition to these general correspondences, interesting similarities in detail strengthen the strange parallelism found in the careers of these two supermen. Fleming's last novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, provides a particularly startling set of comparisons with Beowulf and should, perhaps, be scrutinized at this time despite the possibility of Anglo-Saxon scholars' accusations of irreverence and irrelevance. (p. 1)
Mythological and supernatural connotations, appropriate to the legends of heroes, appear in both Beowulf and The Man with the Golden Gun. The villains of Beowulf—Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon—who represent threats to the security of the lands they inhabit, are markedly difficult to combat because they exist outside the normal order of life. The Danish monsters become so great a...
(The entire section is 2607 words.)
Ann S. Boyd
Don't try to read any of the Bond adventures seriously! To read Bond as a scholastic exercise surely would smack of what's been termed "comic incommensurability." Bond was meant for fun, for escape, and legitimately requires the "willing suspension of disbelief"! Just like the fairy tale of the princess and the pea, real literary critics can't sleep very well when they try to read Fleming just like they'd read James Joyce. If Fleming was interested in what Kierkegaard termed "indirect communication," the least we can do is to read him the way he intended! The only real value in rereading Fleming is to discover that there is more to his series of thriller adventures than one originally might suspect. (p. 26)
[The] series of Bond novels is directly relevant to "adolescents" searching for values and a hero figure, one who would defend justice and humanity. (p. 27)
[A] careful analysis of the completed work reveals it as the saga of a modern knight of faith whose adventures involve a gallery of modern demons which have been attacking contemporary mankind just as diabolically as Medusa and all the other legendary demons and dragons attacked mankind in ages past. Rather than casting pearls before swine, Fleming's genius has cast swine as the personifications of the devil before a hero who is willing to sacrifice all for the great pearl of life and faith.
Individually the Bond adventures parody the form of...
(The entire section is 2582 words.)
LeROY L. PANEK
The perspective given by eighty-odd years of spy novels shows Ian Fleming to be a minor writer who, himself, did little to advance the form. Fleming possessed only meager talents as a maker of plots, and he fails absolutely when compared with the men who are popularly assumed to have been his teachers—Buchan and Sapper. He fails to render more than cartoon reality in his characters, either major or minor. With setting Fleming does do a bit better, as he needs to create settings to cover the lacunae in these other areas and to pad out his books in order to make them novels, and short novels at that. Finally, he has little to say in the way of theme: his conservatism is inarticulate and muzzy-headed when compared to, say, Buchan's or even Cheyney's. (p. 201)
More than anything, Fleming as a writer brings to mind [Graham Greene's] Our Man in Havana …, where an author's fantasies, sometimes innocent, sometimes playful, grow out of the writer's grasp and become reshaped by the world. Fleming's creations certainly live lives of their own and plenty of people believe in them, but Fleming himself was hard-pressed to continue creating them out of Edwardian materials, padding from his travels, and from half-serious, half-fake fragments from his own fantasy life.
There are any number of traps for anyone trying to deal with Fleming's novels as novels. He eggs us on to play along with his psychological foolery; he...
(The entire section is 2965 words.)