Ian Fleming’s James Bond, created in a series of novels and short stories from 1953 to 1966, is unforgettable. But his attitudes often now feel dated (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Can one dislike Bond’s views, for example on women, yet still admire, or enjoy, his single-mindedness and style? I think so. If you cannot discount dated attitudes in cultural artefacts, you risk missing out on countless historical treats.
For writers, a character like James Bond is gold dust. Like him or loath him, he is well written: he thinks about his actions, has values and opinions, behaves within a clearly defined framework, yet is full of ambiguity. No wonder movie-makers want to exploit him.
Mention of movie-makers raises a key question: can you, or should you, attempt to update or adapt a character such as Bond? That is what movie makers do, drawing on the original material in Fleming’s novels to create stories set in the present day which seek to update Bond selectively. Results are mixed, although as I say in the piece at the link, many of us keep going back to cinemas in the hope Bond’s next outing will be better than the last.
Debate swirls around a black or female Bond: my view is that this would be perfectly permissible, so long as the character retained key characteristics such as sophistication, humour, gadgets, great grooming, and a merciless streak.
The cover of my Folio Society “Casino Royale” is suitably dated both in style and content – get a whiff of that cigarette smoke
Some adaptation and updating is essential. A modern movie which used Bond’s line about a key – and formerly much-loved – female character from the novel of Casino Royale, ‘The bitch is dead now’, would send modern cinema audiences streaming towards the door.
In this context, I was intrigued recently to discover a book called “Solo”, by contemporary author William Boyd. I am a fan of Boyd, including such gems as A good man in Africa, the underrated An Ice Cream War and The New Confessions. “Solo” is his authorised effort to write a book whose protagonist is Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
The cover of “Solo” is reminiscent of a 1970s Bond movie title sequence
Solo is not a bad effort: the story hums along nicely, and I finished it in a day. The style is similar to Ian Fleming. The book avoids some pitfalls by setting the story in the 1960s; Boyd writes that I have been governed by the details and chronology of James Bond’s life that were published in the ‘obituary’ in You Only Live Twice. This puts Bond’s date of birth in 1924 (he would be 94 now).
But it’s so hard for a top author to resist a few original tweaks! Boyd illustrates the difficulty of writing an authentic Bond whose values are in any way updated when he includes James Bond’s recipe for salad dressing in a footnote.
No, no, no. It is right and proper that Bond should have an encyclopaedic knowledge of handguns, Martinis, Russian intelligence organisations and how to order caviar. But making his own salad dressing? Surely utterly wrong.
Indeed, seeing Boyd’s salad recipe made me cringe almost as much as seeing Bond ask for a Heineken beer, by name, in Skyfall, instead of a Martini. Apparently this was part of a $45m product placement deal in which the Dutch brew replaced Bond’s usual tipple. Bond doesn’t drink Heineken, or drive BMWs. Period.
My advice? Treat those changes with caution – and let Bond stick to the Martinis. After all – they’re one of the healthiest drinks around.
And if you want to read a good contemporary thriller with some startlingly original characters who are entirely up to date, have a look at my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.
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