Saturday, June 9

Live and Let Die (1954)

By Ian Fleming (James Bond 007 vol. 2 [ previous volume here ])

As is well known, the order of the James Bond series of films is totally different from that of the original novels. And my own fleeting hope a few years back that with the release of the 2006 Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale showing a James Bond near the beginning of his career we might actually have a total reboot that would indeed remake the movies based on the books in their proper order did not prove out … but that's a separate story. The point is that this second James Bond novel was the eighth to be filmed (“officially” – i.e, not counting the parody production of Casino Royale from 1967), way down in 1973, more than a decade into the film series. Another oddity is that with this one we still haven't gotten to a novel that became a film starring “my” James Bond, Sean Connery. … But that's a separate story as well, except that in what few comments I make relating this book to the movie of the same name I may be referring to Roger Moore.

I actually finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but all kinds of things got in the way of me sitting down to write up a post about it except for the introductory paragraph above. And when I checked my Notes app on my iPhone where I customarily jot down my thoughts as I read, the page seems to have disappeared. So I'm winging it from memory from here on out. And frankly, my memory sucks, but here goes. Mainly I'm lacking the specific examples and quotations I had intended to use.

I'm not absolutely sure this
 is Solitaire – I just wanted to
include a picture of Jane Seymour!
It's another great read, this time with the action beginning in the United States. “Mr. Big” is a Harlem crime lord and agent of SMERSH who has seized a recently discovered treasure trove from a British pirate of the Caribbean and is smuggling the coins into the US to finance SMERSH's operations there. Mr. Big has cultivated an identity as a Voodoo god incarnate to intimidate a vast network of African Americans as well as a white Caribbean psychic named Solitaire into his service. In short order Solitaire has defected to Bond but is recaptured by Mr. Big in Florida. The climax comes in Jamaica, where Mr. Big comes to a grisly end.

Perhaps the most jarring element in this novel for the modern reader is the overt racism that pervades it. African Americans as well as black Caribbeans are portrayed almost uniformly as childish caricatures who hold Mr. Big in gibbering superstitious awe. It's quite embarrassing, really. Perhaps this novel should come with a warning similar to that included at the beginning of the pulp reprints published by Sanctum Books (The Shadow, Doc Savage, etc.): “These stories are works of their time. Consequently, the text is reprinted intact in his original, historical form, including occasional out-of-date ethnic and cultural stereotyping.” The film is characterized by Wikipedia as part of the “blaxploitation” era of the early 1970s, but frankly the racism inherent in that genre is nothing compared to that which spilled from the pen of Ian Fleming here!

In very broad strokes, once again the stories of the novel and the movie are similar. But only in very broad strokes. (Again, the late 1950s newspaper comic strip adaptation of the novel reprinted in The James Bond Omnibus [ see my review of Casino Royale ] is very faithful but condensed, as well as toned down both in sex and violence.) The motivation and goods smuggled by Mr. Big are drugs in the movie, for one thing. Most interesting to me, however, is how a couple of the more memorable scenes from this novel did not make it into the movie of the same name, although they ended up being used in later James Bond movies. First – and this surprised me because he has been such an omnipresent character in the films (although played by even more actors than played James Bond himself!) – this is where James' CIA friend Felix Leiter is half-eaten by a shark and left to be found by Bond with the taunting note, “He disagreed with something that ate him.” He survives although he loses an arm and a leg. In the films, however, Leiter would continue as an ally to James Bond for another decade and a half or so, until 1989's Licence to Kill (and of course, be “rebooted” hale and whole for 2006's Casino Royale). Secondly, at the end of the novel, Bond and Solitaire are dragged behind a ship across a coral reef in shark- and barracuda-infested waters, a sequence that would remain unfilmed until four movies later, 1981's For Your Eyes Only.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

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