2003. The fiftieth anniversary of the birth of James Bond.
And if the birth date of the character of James Bond was 1953 than its conception occurred in January 1952 when Lieutenant-Commander Ian Fleming wrote the first paragraph for Casino Royale.
The scent of smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling—a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension—becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.
Even within this prose of the seeds of the future are laid. The juxtaposition of grime and luxury, excitement and tension, are themes that have carried with Bond to this day. As Fleming continued his story, he filled it with action, sex, alcohol, high-stakes gambling, and even—believe it or not—romance. All elements that make up the Bond of past fifty years were spelled out. Within two months of starting Casino Royale was completed and the blueprint was set.
At first the novel then sat. Fleming, as he would later recall, was not sure of his work. ‘I did nothing with the manuscript. I was too ashamed of it. No publisher would want it, and, if one did, I would not have the face to see it in print’. His comments, however, were unlikely to been a true reflection of how Fleming felt of this new creation. More likely, it was the nerves of releasing a radical form of story that had roots in what some would call the lower-class pulp fiction to world. And it was also likely that Fleming was to be moving to counter the likely criticism of such a novel.
If he had ever intended to keep Casino Royale’s manuscript private, it was a thought that did not last long. Over lunch at London’s The Ivy Fleming revealed to friend William Plomer that he had written a book. Plomer encouraged Fleming and used his influence at Jonathan Cape, where he served as both author and part-time reader, to ensure a publication for Fleming’s book.
On April 13 1953 Casino Royale was published in Great Britain. The novel had a print run of 4750 copies in the country, a figure that puts James Bond of 1953 into perspective compared with that of later books, Moonraker, for instance, had a print run of 9900 copies despite being published only two years later.
Casino Royale inarguably set the tone for future Bond adventures, whether they are literary or cinematic. For starters, foundation of the character of James Bond was created. While some Bond enthusiasts will comment that there is little in the way of characterisation of Bond in Casino Royale (an issue to be addressed in the previous article of ‘The 007 Days of Casino Royale’), the major elements of the character are present. Casino’s Bond is the hard-smoking, hard-drinking, cold, calculating, epicurean, misogynistic, woman-loving, gambling, self-doubting, loyal, independent secret agent that we still see today. The only thing that is actually missing is evidence of his extraordinary skill as a secret agent. Fleming tells us that Bond was ‘a compound of all the secret agents and commandos’ he met during his time within His Majesty’s Royal Navy, but it was Fleming himself that the pieces of these other men were!
grafted to create his hero. In fact, there exists an item that Fleming gave to a dear friend as a gift on which Fleming refers to himself as ‘OO7’. Fleming inscribed the gift prior to the publication of Casino Royale. So while huge details of Bond’s world did not abound from the pages of Casino Royale, the basis for Bond was there and much of it based on Fleming himself. Even today the elements that Fleming moulded can be seen in Pierce Brosnan’s interpretation of the role, as they have been seen in all of the actors who have portrayed James Bond.
There is nothing grand about the novel’s villain Le Chiffre. He is, perhaps, the most normal of all the villains. While he still has his ties with SMERSH, he lacks the power of subsequent villains who would steal nuclear missiles and command private armies. He is simply a man in trouble, a floundering fish whom Bond is sent to put out of its misery. The more powerful villain would become an archetype for both following Bond novels and, more influentially, the cinematic Bond series. Le Chiffre, however, did still possess the seeds of what is to follow. There are the oddities of the classic Bond villain, such as the wide-face, the false teeth, and the eyes ‘with whites showing all round iris’. Le Chiffre does have the aura of power present in nearly all Bond villains. Lastly, Le Chiffre possess the strange polite evil of Drax, Kananga, or even Graves.
Vesper Lynd, who maybe the least known of Bond women (save perhaps Moonraker’s Gala Brand), serves as the template for the women who would follow. She has the strange, poetic name, although it lacks the overt sexual meaning that would later become infamous. (Vesper means ‘evening star’.) Vesper is a woman of strengths and vulnerabilities. She has methodical control, yet exerts a raw sexuality. The standard of the thawing ice-princess has been repeated many times through the books and films, most recently with Miranda Frost in Die Another Day. Similarly Bond’s melting from misogynist to romantic for the woman has been used to different degrees in nearly every one of his adventures.
The side characters are an important part of a Bond Story. In Casino Royale, we see in Mathis and Leiter the two who set the standards. Mathis is the friendly, almost-fatherly advisor. This type is spread sporadically through the books and films with characters such as Kerim Bey, Colombo, and was recently resurrected in Raoul. Felix Leiter, the jovial friend in the business, serves as the mould for the likes of Niko Litsas, Lt. Hip, Vijay, Chandra, Wade, and… well, Felix Leiter. These allies serve an important a role in the Bond story. For one, they move the plot along by explaining things to Bond rather than having Bond have to go find these facts themselves. Plus, they add an important element of colour and familiarity; we see these men as further evidence that Bond is fighting on the right side.
The battleship-grey, supercharged Bentley 41/2-Litre convertible coupe set a standard for Bond cars that is often overlooked and misunderstood, particularly by those who later attempting to imitate Bond. Most think that the Bond car is about flash, and they couldn’t be farther from the truth. You often see the want-a-be-Bonds in the likes of red Ferraris or black Porsches, but the Bond car if not about flash—the battleship-grey proves that—rather it is about power and performance. The Bond car, starting with the Bentley, is more elegant than sexy; more about the Amherst Villiars supercharger than the gull-wing doors. The silver Aston Martin DB5 and more recently the Vanquish are perfect examples of this. These cars do not have the frilly protuberances found on the overly exotic sports cars that some think the world’s top spy would drive. Instead they are gracefully beautiful and, more importantly, a highly honed machine. Just !
as the original Bentley was.
The Story Arc
The blueprint laid out in Casino Royale is arguably incomplete, despite the establishment of key elements Fleming had yet to lock down his true formula. However, Fleming’s formula is more complex than film series’ formula. A major element in the Fleming formula is mixing up the order. Casino Royale starts in what could be chapter 5 and then proceeds to backtrack to catch the reader up. The mixed continuity is used often in the literary series, but would never have worked well in the films. Continuity is not the only way Fleming mixed-up the story; Casino hits its climax near the middle of the book and then continues on as what seems to be an odd love story. While this was exact technique was not repeated, Fleming did have similar experiments with his story arc. The Spy Who Loved Me is most obvious experiment, leaving all of the action (and the series’ main character) until the end. While Spy was not widely regarded as a!
success, You Only Live Twice was nearly as—and in some ways more—experimental and is considered one of Fleming’s best works. Future Bond authors, John Gardner and Raymond Benson would create story arc experiments of their own. Cold and DoubleShot being the best examples of this.
Casino Royale initially was by no means the huge success that the book’s hero was destined to become, but nonetheless Fleming continued with what he termed the ‘next instalment’ of his life and built upon this initial blueprint set in his first book. Within a year Jonathan Cape had published the second of Fleming’s novels Live And Let Die, this time the print run had increased to 7500 copies. Fleming’s Bond books, of which there would be fourteen including two short story collections, continued to be published annually through to 1966 and continued to build upon and expand the layout set in his first book.
Casino Royale may be somewhat lost in today’s world. James Bond is now best known as a cinematic series as opposed to a literary one. However, as people become fans of the cinematic series they from time to time turn to the literary series and enjoy the original exploits of James Bond. After all, it is with Casino Royale that James Bond began and the blueprint was laid. The Bond films acknowledge this every time when Eon Productions presents Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
And no one else’s.