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.)