Monday, July 23, 2012

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming (1953)

It was this book that made me want to start this blog again. And it seemed like a fitting first post, combining two of my passions: James Bond and literature. I've always been into Bond films, but the books are a new to me. Something I really want to read, so I can more intellectually and adequately talk about the movies.

Casino Royale is the introduction of James Bond. Although I am interested in discovering more of the textual history of this and Ian Fleming's other Bond works, I know little about how the characters and plots came to exists. What I do know is that Fleming supposedly based the series off of his wartime naval adventures and people/spies he worked with at that time.

Of the many accolades regarding the new/current big-screen Bond, Daniel Craig, one of the biggest arguments I hear in his favor is that he is a "more human" Bond. I don't know about that cinematically, I do feel that the Bond written by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale is more human than any of the film portrayals. Because the films are presented in the third person the viewer is immediately less connected to the character of Bond (not that his womanizing, sexism, racism, and lifestyle don't do that on their own). I'm sure some kind of deeper depiction of Bond could have been considered, but for the first 20 movies, it wasn't. The medium of the book, however, allows the reader to know what the character is thinking through the omniscient narrator's descriptions. It's an extremely effective method without creating what would be an off-putting first-person story.

I've flagged some of the passages that struck me as particularly humanizing, or indicative of Bond's character, or that simply showcased brilliant and enticing writing on Fleming's part. In the films we see Bond's actions as a manifestation of his thoughts on women and work, but here we actually find what's driving those actions. It's fascinating. In some instances, he thinks everything as we would expect--and actually more so--while in others, we find the iconically confident, strong character has doubts we would never have imagined. Reading Bond gives us the opportunity to experience his character in a more emotional and contextual way, from knowing his exact thoughts to gleaning them from the words of the surrounding text.

Unfortunately, I did not track page numbers when I saved these quotes--the English student in me is furious. There will be more of these, I'm sure, as I look back through my saved notes from the last two years.

Ian Fleming's Humanized James Bond

Character description
Bond had always been a gambler. He loved the dry riffle of the cards and the constant unemphatic drama of the quiet figures round the green tables. He likes the solid, studied comfort of card-rooms and casinos, the well-padded arms of the chairs, the glass of champagne or whisky at the elbow, the quiet unhurried attention of good servants. He was amused by the partiality of the roulette ball and of the playing-cards--and their eternal bias. He likes being an actor and a specter and from his chair to take part in other men's dramas and decisions, until it came to his own turn to say that vital 'yes' or 'no', generally on a fifty-fifty chance.
Above all, he liked it that everything was one's own fault. There was only oneself to praise or blame.

Doubts about his work
"The hero kills two villains, but when the hero Le Chiffre starts to kill the villain Bond and the villain Bond knows he isn't a villain at all, you see the other side of the medal. The villains and heroes get all mixed up. [...] Patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right, but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date. [...] History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts."

"The Devil has a rotten time and I always like to be on the side of the underdog. We don't give the poor chap a chance. There's a Good Book about goodness and how to be good and so forth, but there's no Evil Book about evil and how to be bad. The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no team of authors to write his biography."

And now when he could see her again, he was afraid. Afraid that his senses and his body would not respond to her sensual beauty. Afraid that he would feel no stir of desire and that his blood would stay cool.

Bond's View on Women

He sighed. Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.

And luck in all its moods had to be loved and not feared. Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued.

Sexual Innuendo

Bond drove it hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure.

Bond was excited by her beauty and intrigued by her composure. The prospect of working with her stimulated him. And at the same time he felt a vague disquiet. On an impulse he touched wood.

Descriptive Writing

The girl sat silent. She accepted one of Bond's cigarettes, examined it and then smoked it appreciatively and without affection, drawing the smoke deeply into her lungs with a little sigh and exhaling it casually through her lips and nostrils. Her movements were economical and precise with no trace of self-consciousness.

The one more of less behind Le Chiffre's right arm was tall and funereal in his dinner-jacket. His face was wooden and grey, but his eyes flickered and gleamed like a conjurer's. [...] Bond guessed that he would kill without interest or concern for what he killed and that he would prefer strangling. He had something of Lennie in Of Mice and Men, but his inhumanity would not come from infantilism but from drugs.

The night-club was small and dark, lit only by candles in gilded candelabra whose warm light was repeated in wall mirrors set in more gold picture-frames. The walls were covered in dark red satin and the chairs and banquettes in matching red plush. In the far corner, a trio, consisting of a piano, an electric guitar and drums, was playing 'La Vie en Rose' with muted sweetness. Seduction dripped on the quietly throbbing air. It seemed to Bond that every couple must be touching with passion under the tables.

Other Notable Passages 

Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas.
This view of Americans is very evident and heavy-handed in the films. 

It is not only the immediate agony, but also the thought that your manhood is being gradually destroyed and that at the end, if you will not yield, you will no longer be a man. 
This is a particularly well adapted moment in the Casino Royale film. Le Chiffre's torture is dark, darker than any moment previously seen in the Bond film franchise. 

19 / The White Tent
You are about to awake when you dream that you are dreaming.
Brilliant opener to a chapter. Simple idea, a little complex to word, but that simple-complex balance creates a strong start that connects with the reader, putting them into the moment and experiencing it with Bond. 

That was the end of the integrity of their love. The succeeding days were a shambles of falseness and hypocrisy, mingled with her tears and moments of animal passion to which she abandoned herself with a greed made indecent by the hollowness of their days.
The film version ends very, very differently than the novel. I'm undecided on which is more appropriate (I don't know how the next book follows from this point), but I think the dramatic and unclean, uneven end to their relationship is not only more poetically portrayed here, but that it's also a harder event in Bond's life. Like Bond, Vesper's character development thrives in a textual setting that can propagate their relationship and her betrayals. Perhaps the original death would be too humanizing, even for the newest hard-ass Bond. 

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