02/12/07 - bond villains

In today's excerpt - the attraction of Ian Fleming's larger-than-life villains in his James Bond novels:

"[I]n the hierarchy of reasons for Bond's endurance his villains perhaps stand highest. It is quite hard to find fully comparable figures in earlier fiction, not least of course because plans for genuine global domination become feasible only in the wake of Hiroshima. An entirely new level of apocalyptic imagination becomes available to all sorts of writers and Fleming, along with Tolkien perhaps, makes best use of it.

"Mr. Big in Live and Let Die, the second Bond novel, is the prototype for all others. ... He is the first to give one of those self-exculpating speeches, which have so often been enjoyed and burlesqued ever since: 'Mr. Bond, I suffer from boredom. I am prey to what the early Christians called 'accidie', the deadly lethargy that envelops those who are sated ...' Or even better: 'Each day, Mr. Bond, I try and set myself still higher standards of subtlety and technical polish, so that each of my proceedings may be a work of art, bearing my signature as clearly as the creations of, let us say, Benvenuto Cellini.' ...

"This sense of tremendously clever men, caged in by the dreariness of the diurnal, planning vast and devastating schemes more for their own pleasure than any rational gains ... is enough on its own, in my view, to justify Fleming's literary career.

"After a while, it becomes clear that Fleming is far more besotted with villains than with Bond: the impossibly ruthless Emilio Largo, dabbing his forehead with his Charvet handkerchief soaked 'with the musky scent of Schiaparelli's Snuff;' Rosa Klebb in her blood-smattered smock rushing down the corridors of SMERSH so as not to be late for a torture session; Blofeld in his castle of suicide in You Only Live Twice. ... Who would not want Dr. No's Caribbean lair, Blofeld's Alpine fastness, Goldfinger's Kentucky stud? Even as we are picking our noses or clipping our toenails, there is a piece of us saying 'Mr. Bond, all my life I have been in love. I have been in love with gold. I love its colour, its brilliance, its divine heaviness."


Simon Winder


The Man Who Saved Britain


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 2006 by Simon Winder


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