A Bond For All Seasons

 

James-Bond-Exhibition-Sean-ConneryThe walking, talking microagression that is James Bond is getting a remake:

In a new book, however, James Bond will be getting a dose of modern morality, as author Anthony Horowitz reveals the tricks he used to drag the spy kicking and screaming into the era of political correctness.

Horowitz, the writer of new Bond novel Trigger Mortis, said he had worked carefully to preserve Ian Fleming’s original character and ensuring his 1950s attitudes remained in tact.

But he has introduced a cast of new characters to point out the error of his chauvinistic ways, including messages about smoking causing cancer, women who give him a run for his money, and an “outspoken” gay friend.

Because if there is anything James Bond needs it’s an “outspoken” gay friend. Apparently, a character who is gay but not “outspoken” would be unimaginable. The novel is set in 1957, so it would be interesting to imagine how many “outspoken” homosexuals were working for MI6 at the time. Since homosexual conduct was – in theory – a fireable offense in every intelligence and military organization in the world for years afterwards, I suspect that any outspokenness exists only in the author’s exquisitely sensitive imagination.

Please keep in mind that the above refers to the Bond novels, not the films which are in many ways an entirely separate enterprise. Something like half of all the people on earth have seen a Bond film, very few of those have read Ian Fleming’s original novels or the subsequent “tribute” stories that have been written in the half-century since his death. This is something of a pity. While I haven’t read — nor do I plan on reading — any of the pseudo-Flemings, I have read some of the originals. Ian Fleming was a master prose writer, as was his now largely forgotten brother, Peter.

Ian Fleming isn’t the only one to get the post-mortem ghost-writer treatment. The same has been done to Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy. Back in the early 1990s Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind was mated with a much hyped sequel, Scartlett. I think the two-time Bond actor Timothy Dalton was in the TV adaptation version. I’d look it up on IMDB, but I doubt anyone cares. These are examples of marketing going to war with art. A fair fight it is not.

Not being modern enough with an appropriately gay friend, James Bond has in this new novel also acquired a live-in girlfriend. In the early Connery films Bond was paired with a girlfriend named Sylvia Trench. You can see her at the very beginning of Dr No and From Russia With Love. The character was dropped from the later films. Since no one remembers Sylvia Trench, Bond is instead being paired with no less a Bond girl – sorry Bond woman – than Pussy Galore.

Now imagine living with a woman like Pussy Galore. Heck, imagine living with the actress who immortalized her, Honor Blackman. If you’re thinking action, adventure, and wild nights of passion … you’d be wrong:

Trigger Mortis sees the new couple living in 1957 Chelsea and irritating one another over their boiled eggs, with “an uneasy silence full of dark thoughts and words unsaid”.

Given the flaccid nature of what I’ve read so far, I’m certain the thoughts aren’t dark enough. The author explains himself with the brazenness you’d expect:

“My first duty, my first responsibility was to be true to the original feel of the book, to be true to Ian Fleming: his creation, his world and his ideas.

“What I was trying to do was wrap myself in his mantle and write a book that would be worthy of him.”

Ian Fleming was, for his time, an unusual enlightened and far sighted man. Perhaps if he was writing a Bond novel in 2015 there would be an outspoken gay friend. Fleming, however, didn’t live long enough to experience the New Jerusalem that has subsequently been built in England’s green and pleasant land. Instead this pseudo-Fleming is using the real article as a puppet for his personal views.

Perhaps if Mr Horowitz’s version of Fleming’s version of Bond was set in 2015, then adaptations could be justified. But it isn’t. The novel is set six decades in the past, but with modern sensibilities slipped in under the guise of a dead writer. The Bond of the novels was a man of his times. He smoked like a chimney and shagged anything that moved.

Trigger Mortis is the sort of sophomoric re-writing of literary history you’d expect from a militant feminist, the type that likes to re-imagine Queen Elizabeth I as a lesbian being oppressed by the Tudor patriarchy. An attempt at cleverness that becomes wearily predictable. Even the novel’s title, Trigger Mortis, has the feel of a failed attempt at mordant wit.

James Bond isn’t real. Even by the standards of the novels – which were far more realistic than the films – he is a creature of fantasy. To imagine a politically correct Bond is to imagine Merlin as a research chemist or Prospero as a climatologist. Even in a world of pure fiction we cannot be left alone. Our imaginations must be made to conform to the dictates of our pedantic times.

Published in Culture, Literature
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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Bummed.  John Bummed.

    • #1
  2. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Thank you for saying this.

    • #2
  3. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    The people that do this stuff are out of their [redacted] minds.  But why do we have to suffer for it?

    • #3
  4. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Miffed White Male:The people that do this stuff are out of their [redacted] minds. But why do we have to suffer for it?

    You will not be allowed rest until the soil over your grave has been mulched with the blood of your friends.  This is defeat.

    • #4
  5. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody
    @HankRhody

    I dislike reading period novels where the characters have suspiciously modern sensibilities. This goes for fantasy too.

    But this, this sounds like the equivalent of a woman marrying a man, hen-pecking him into a perfect simp, and then divorcing him because “He isn’t the man I married.”

    • #5
  6. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    In 1957 England, homosexual acts were illegal, and if you were in the military, a good way to get arrested (cf. Alan Turing), and if you were in intelligence, a good way to get blackmailed or otherwise induced to get out (cf. Guy Burgess).

    Fleming’s Bond is a tortured soul—a Scot who’s not keen on being Her Majesty’s anything, let alone her “blunt instrument,” a guy who would like to settle down and have a normal life—his sex life is real, but tinged with desperation and lack of fulfillment. The problem is he’s good at his job, and it needs doing.

    The Bond of the films is as much four-time director Terrence Young’s creation as Ian Fleming’s, if not more. Flashy playboy Bond would be dead on his first mission. But film is a visual medium, it actually was the era that gave rise to Playboy, and anyone who doesn’t get the connection between danger and sex is dead below the waist anyway.

    But the books and films both got that the Cold War was deadly serious, even if the films started to veer strongly into “evil corporation” territory and, inevitably, self-parody later. This book does indeed sound like a vanity project. Fair enough—we all have our vanities. I’ll just likely not indulge these—while noting the irony that the Daniel Craig films seem to successfully recapture the serious global stakes of the Fleming books.

    • #6
  7. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    My sensibilities are shaken, but my interest is not stirred.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Richard Anderson: Even the novel’s title, Trigger Mortis, has the feel of a failed attempt at mordant wit.

    This Mitchell and Webb sketch has some material that’s a little salty for Ricochet, but seem eminently relevant to this point.

    • #8
  9. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    I assume that by “staying true” what we are talking about is words and phrases and plot twists and things like that. But of course, that’s not the thing. The characters are the thing. If you change the thing then you have something entirely different. It’s a different thing.

    What bothers me is that this is a general life attitude. That we should keep all our words the same but just fundamentally alter human nature. Which is nuts.

    • #9
  10. Mister Magic Inactive
    Mister Magic
    @MisterMagic

    Ironically, Mr. Horowitz has gotten himself in hot water for suggesting that Idris Elba is “too street” to play Bond after Daniel Craig retires the role.

    • #10
  11. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Casey: What bothers me is that this is a general life attitude. That we should keep all our words the same but just fundamentally alter human nature. Which is nuts.

    It’s also a hideous wave that crashed over literature in the last two to three decades that has destroyed lasting fiction. I can’t name any seminal novel that has been published since Bonfire of the Vanities – from 1987.

    • #11
  12. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Because if there is anything James Bond needs it’s an “outspoken” gay friend. Apparently, a character who is gay but not “outspoken” would be unimaginable.

    Oh . . . I think I see a future episode of “Sassy Gay Friend” in the making!

    • #12
  13. Grosseteste Thatcher
    Grosseteste
    @Grosseteste

    Before you mentioned Scarlett, the post reminded me of this quote from Alexandra Ripley, who was drafted to write the Gone With The Wind sequel: “I am trying to prepare myself for a universal hatred of what I’m going to do. Yes, Margaret Mitchell writes better than I do — but she’s dead.”

    I wonder if this’ll be commercially successful.  The problem is with the publishing house or the market itself; the supply of this kind of garbage is evergreen and bountiful (a Google search for “James Bond fanfiction” just made me sad).

    • #13
  14. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Harold Bloom argued that Shakespeare invented the human.  I think there is something to that. Even when his characters act out of character they are still consistent within themselves. In a way that feels very real.

    Imagine a politically correct Romeo. Even a moment imagining what that might look like pops the Romeo bubble. He no longer seems real.

    The minute Bond argues about eggs he is no longer Bond. He’s a name in a book by the checkout stand.

    • #14
  15. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    I could maybe see this book succeeding a a movie if there is a scene where Bond accidentally clocks the outspoken friend, then winks at the camera.

    Could a conservative writer take some hippie trope and write a sequel where the protagonist gets religious & patriotic in his later years?

    • #15
  16. AldenPyle Inactive
    AldenPyle
    @AldenPyle

    If you don’t like Ian Fleming’s James Bond, wouldn’t it be easier to just, I don’t know, write a new novel with an original character?

    • #16
  17. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Pencilvania:Could a conservative writer take some hippie trope and write a sequel where the protagonist gets religious & patriotic in his later years?

    Sounds more like a biography: Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper… although, to be fair, Cooper always was conservative. He just kinda-sorta accepted that his ground-breaking arena rock theatrics (including contracting the Amazing Randi for some of his stage effects) let people judge his book by the cover that he himself created. And Simmons is a vociferous free-market capitalist, but the Kiss front-man and husband of a Playboy centerfold is no one’s idea of a SoCon.

    I’d love to have a beer with both, but I’m not entirely sure that Cooper drinks alcohol.

    • #17
  18. Ray Kujawa Coolidge
    Ray Kujawa
    @RayKujawa

    Richard Anderson: Perhaps if Mr Horowitz’s version of Fleming’s version of Bond was set in 2015, then adaptations could be justified. But it isn’t. The novel is set six decades in the past, but with modern sensibilities slipped in under the guise of a dead writer. The Bond of the novels was a man of his times. He smoked like a chimney and shagged anything that moved.

    Mr. Fleming’s novels gave their readers a healthy dose of reality. How about if we compromised on the time period, say the 1980’s during the AIDS epidemic. As Mr. Fleming was not averse to killing off supporting characters, a gay character would likely be killed off by AIDS by the end of the first novel he appeared in.

    • #18
  19. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    AldenPyleIf you don’t like Ian Fleming’s James Bond, wouldn’t it be easier to just, I don’t know, write a new novel with an original character?

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying about black bond.  There’s nothing wrong with a black superspy, but he’s not bond.  Just like there’s nothing wrong with a little black orphan – she’s just not Annie.  It’s stupid.  Make new characters.  Make new movies.  Why do we have to transform old ones?

    • #19
  20. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Great Ghost of Gödel: I’ll just likely not indulge these—while noting the irony that the Daniel Craig films seem to successfully recapture the serious global stakes of the Fleming books.

    But not with real threats though, correct?  Not with Russia, or Islamic Jihadists or Arab dictators or Cuban/Venezuelan thugs or Communist goons as the bad guys, correct?  That cop out makes me just loathe the Hollywood crowd.

    • #20
  21. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Ryan M:

    AldenPyle:

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying about black bond. There’s nothing wrong with a black superhero, but he’s not bond. Just like there’s nothing wrong with a little black orphan – she’s just not Annie. It’s stupid. Make new characters. Make new movies. Why do we have to transform old ones?

    I disagree with the anti-change argument here – with a qualifier.

    If you cast Idris Elba as Bond because he’s the best actor to play Bond (I don’t know enough about other British male actors to say one way or another) and not because he’d be a black actor to play Bond it would probably work pretty well.

    My opinion is slanted of course, I’m a big fan of his from The Wire, Luther and Pacific Rim. Worry not however because I wanted Clive Owen instead of Daniel Craig so I have a terrible Bond forecasting record.

    The problem with these changes is the motivations behind them often seem to be moral preening and it wrecks the movie.

    But take a terrible movie – Daredevil – where the white comic character Kingpin was played by black actor Michael Duncan Clarke. He was great, and they didn’t make a deal – at all – that he was black. It can work.

    • #21
  22. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Great Ghost of Gödel:In 1957 England, homosexual acts were illegal, and if you were in the military, a good way to get arrested (cf. Alan Turing), and if you were in intelligence, a good way to get blackmailed or otherwise induced to get out (cf. Guy Burgess).

    Fleming’s Bond is a tortured soul—a Scot who’s not keen on being Her Majesty’s anything, let alone her “blunt instrument,” a guy who would like to settle down and have a normal life—his sex life is real, but tinged with desperation and lack of fulfillment. The problem is he’s good at his job, and it needs doing.

    The Bond of the films is as much four-time director Terrence Young’s creation as Ian Fleming’s, if not more. Flashy playboy Bond would be dead on his first mission. But film is a visual medium, it actually was the era that gave rise to Playboy, and anyone who doesn’t get the connection between danger and sex is dead below the waist anyway.

    But the books and films both got that the Cold War was deadly serious, even if the films started to veer strongly into “evil corporation” territory and, inevitably, self-parody later. This book does indeed sound like a vanity project. Fair enough—we all have our vanities. I’ll just likely not indulge these—while noting the irony that the Daniel Craig films seem to successfully recapture the serious global stakes of the Fleming books.

    GGofG,

    GG you are my film reviewer on this. I agree completely with you. This kind of thing isn’t worth your time and money to go see. However, there is something about Bond that is worthwhile. Most of the original Bond novels were not fantasy but based on Bond’s own experience in Naval Intelligence in WWII. This documentary (see below) is all about that and is well worth any serious person’s time. Given it was the height of the cold war Fleming could not have written a memoir about his experiences. Instead he constructed this fantasy world and characters to get across what he wanted to say.

    https://youtu.be/nVBP0fUJLlo

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #22
  23. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Manfred Arcane:

    But not with real threats though, correct? Not with Russia, or Islamic Jihadists or Arab dictators or Cuban/Venezuelan thugs or Communist goons as the bad guys, correct? That cop out makes me just loathe the Hollywood crowd.

    I dunno. Quantum of Solace has Bolivian thugs.

    Bond is fantasy, so it draws heavily from a conspiracy theory view of the world. Even in the books, SMERSH—a real organization—wasn’t shadowy or scary enough. We needed SPECTRE, something above and beyond a government agency, more sinister, less amenable to the tools of diplomacy and other conventional political pressures. The product of an evil genius, so the story is yin-yang, id-ego, all broad strokes and archetypes. Joker’s right, after all: Batman is just his dual, and just as insane as he is. Just to different ends. Bond needs his Blofeld.

    There’s a different category, “technothriller,” of which the late Tom Clancy was the master. Colombian drug lords, Soviet spymasters, middle-eastern jihadists… they’re all there. It’s just that that can descend into its own political fever-swamp, e.g. Rainbow Six‘s non-tiny-ineffectual ecoterrorist group.

    All good fun. None of it should be taken seriously.

    • #23
  24. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Great Ghost of Gödel:

    Manfred Arcane:

    But not with real threats though, correct? Not with Russia, or Islamic Jihadists or Arab dictators or Cuban/Venezuelan thugs or Communist goons as the bad guys, correct? That cop out makes me just loathe the Hollywood crowd.

    I dunno. Quantum of Solace has Bolivian thugs.

    Bond is fantasy, so it draws heavily from a conspiracy theory view of the world. Even in the books, SMERSH—a real organization—wasn’t shadowy or scary enough. We needed SPECTRE, something above and beyond a government agency, more sinister, less amenable to the tools of diplomacy and other conventional political pressures. The product of an evil genius, so the story is yin-yang, id-ego, all broad strokes and archetypes. Joker’s right, after all: Batman is just his dual, and just as insane as he is. Just to different ends. Bond needs his Blofeld.

    Here is where we part company.  How do you make SPECTRE credible as an entity?  Very hard, as it would be opposed by all governments that could not use it to further there own ends.  It just wouldn’t survive, nor could it attract many adherents.  I guess if escapism is the goal though…

    I always found that the Bond movies always packed more of a wallop when the threats were real world.  It would make an interesting thread here on Ricochet to pick out where to situate the next Bond villain within the real world scene we have today.

    • #24
  25. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Manfred Arcane:  It would make an interesting thread here on Ricochet to pick out where to situate the next Bond villain within the real world scene we have today.

    A criminal financier trying to wash captured gold and/or artifacts through Europe, Asia and the Middle East to finance ISIS’s reign of terror would be the best in my opinion, although that would be too similar to Le Chifre for comfort!

    Bond has to move through elevated circumstances, he’s not a down in the dirt spy.

    • #25
  26. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Austin Murrey:

    Manfred Arcane: It would make an interesting thread here on Ricochet to pick out where to situate the next Bond villain within the real world scene we have today.

    A criminal financier trying to wash captured gold and/or artifacts through Europe, Asia and the Middle East to finance ISIS’s reign of terror would be the best in my opinion, although that would be too similar to Le Chifre for comfort!

    Bond has to move through elevated circumstances, he’s not a down in the dirt spy.

    Not bad.  But ISIS seems mostly confined to their corner of the ME.  Need some kind of existential threat.  Suppose ISIS commanders needed some leverage to make rest of the world back off?  Suppose they found Saddam Husseins chemical weapons that had been evacuated from Iraq when the US invaded (with Spetsnaz commandos escorts guarding a van of semi-trailers, it is rumored)?  What about an Iran nuke breakout scenario?  How about China adventurism stoked by looming financial catastrophe?  Work in those new islands they are building in South China Sea.  Who wants to ghost write this for me?  I pay my gw’s well.

    The name’s, ‘Arcane’, ‘Manfred Arcane’.

    • #26
  27. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Ryan M: Why do we have to transform old ones?

    Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

    They’re exercising their control

    Orwell was a prophet.

    • #27
  28. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Tuck:

    …Orwell was a prophet.

    Looking forward to the rewrite of 1984, where Big Brother assumes his proper role as hero.

    As he always was…

    • #28
  29. Grosseteste Thatcher
    Grosseteste
    @Grosseteste

    Ryan M:

    AldenPyle:

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying about black bond. There’s nothing wrong with a black superhero, but he’s not bond. Just like there’s nothing wrong with a little black orphan – she’s just not Annie. It’s stupid. Make new characters. Make new movies. Why do we have to transform old ones?

    I’m mostly with you, but also with Jonathan Last that if there is to be a black Bond, Chiwetel Ejiofor is the guy.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Richard Anderson: In a new book, however, James Bond will be getting a dose of modern morality…

    Puh-leaze. The publisher’s marketing people have make this claim with every James Bond novel they’ve published since the death of Ian Fleming.

    Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver was, IMHO, the best “reboot” so far.

    It introduced the innovation that Bond’s license to kill only applies when he is not on UK soil. When he is in the UK he still has to abide by British gun control laws, meaning that the bad guys have an advantage when they try to ambush him in a British warehouse.

    Also, the bad guy owns a green energy company.

    (Deaver also changed Bond’s birth date to 1979, making him a veteran of Afghanistan rather than WWII.)

    • #30
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