Thunderball Themes
by Ian Fleming

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Nuclear weapons often figure in the James Bond tales. In Thunderball (1961), nuclear blackmail is the focus of the story. SPECTRE, a terrorist organization, steals two nuclear bombs and demands that Great Britain and America pay it $100,000,000 or it will blow up first a valuable government installation and then a large city. This theme of terrorists struck a nerve in a public worried about the potential of nuclear war, and Thunderball was a spectacular best seller.

SPECTRE'S scheme is intricately worked out. Bribes to a corrupt pilot in the Royal Air Force yield a stolen aircraft, a dead aircrew, and two nuclear bombs. Pretending to be treasure hunters, SPECTRE operatives hide the bombs at sea, off the Bahamas. A British rocket testing center in the Bahamas is their first target; Miami is the second. The narrative moves too fast for readers to worry much about the improbability of the plot, and the chosen targets are logical enough to give the terrorism a hard edge of menace.

Another social concern focuses on healthy and unhealthy living. The novel begins with James Bond having a "hangover, a bad one, with an aching head and stiff joints." Heavy drinking and smoking and fast living in general have left Bond in terrible physical condition. "There is no way to health except the natural way," declares M, the head of the British Secret Service. He sends Bond for mandatory treatment at a health club called Shrublands. The results are miraculous: "He had never felt so well in his life. His energy had doubled." In fact, "Bond awoke so early and full of beans that he had taken to arriving at his office early and leaving late, much to the irritation of his secretary." Bond even takes to drinking tea, which he had always regarded as a sissy's beverage. He and M take to discussing whole wheat bread, natural grains, and yogurt, as well as to decrying "dead" foods: "denaturized foods — white flour, white sugar, white rice, white salts, whites of egg." Even after he resumes some of his old bad habits, Bond is a healthier and more energetic foe for SPECTRE.