Dan Sandman

10: Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Spy on 04/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

Live and Let Die by Ian FlemingJames Bond is arguably the greatest spy hero in fiction. He is highly intelligent, incredibly charming, unafraid to die, and invulnerable to pain. When faced with an elaborately conceived death trap, he resourcefully escapes to enact revenge upon the baddies. Surrounded by cigarette smoke, name-checked booze, beautiful woman, expensive hotels — and even more expensive cars — 007 always saves the day.

For the British reading public of 1954, Ian Fleming offered an alternative to post-war rationing and the unpopular Churchill government. His work was the early rock n’ roll of English literature, strutting its stuff on the page with controversial flair. Bond was the adolescent fantasy of an upper class former navel intelligence officer; the popular creation of a well-travelled journalist with his finger on the pulse of the British public. Riffing on 1950s anxieties surrounding sex, race and Russia, Fleming managed to perfectly thrill the imagination of his readers.

And it is the 1950s way in which these anxieties — sex, race and Russia — are presented that rightly appears so dated now. Although there is still inequality between the sexes, feminism has entered the mainstream, with page three of The Sun no longer including a photograph of a topless female model. Despite their being a lack of black nominees at The Oscars, America now has its first non-white president. And although Russia continues to act in a provocative way towards the west, the threat of nuclear war is less prescient.

It has been over fifty years since Ian Fleming died, and the cinema version of the franchise continues to enjoy popular success. These days, M can be played by a woman and Moneypenny is no longer the butt of Roger Moore’s sexist jokes. Today, novelists writing in the style of Ian Fleming are less likely to refer to gangsters in racially discriminant terms. The baddies continue to crave world domination, but the criminal masterminds have mostly severed their ties with the Russian government.

The public gets what the public wants.

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