Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The secret origins of James Bond

A TRADITIONAL view of Ian Fleming, familiar from dozens of articles, books and academic treatises, is that he updated the 'clubland heroes' of John Buchan, Dornford Yates and Sapper for a modern era. That view gained currency, I think, partly because of Richard Usborne's 1953 book Clubland Heroes, which was a light-hearted and very enjoyable examination of the work of those three authors. Perhaps because Usborne's book was one of the few of its kind, both Kingsley Amis and O.F. Snelling concluded that Fleming had been influenced by these writers, and that view has made its way down to us today.

There's no doubt that they were influences to a degree, but when researching my 2005 article on Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, I started to wonder if a thriller-writer who came after them was not much more of one: Dennis Wheatley. I first read Wheatley's spy thrillers as a schoolboy, but on rereading them for the Casino Royale piece I thought I sensed something much closer to James Bond than Richard Hannay and Bulldog Drummond. So I delved back into Wheatley. This took me a couple of years (he was very prolific), and I also expanded my reading to other writers to fill gaps in my research and make sure I wasn't making unjustified leaps.

The result of my research was a long essay - a very long essay! I feel it makes a strong case for Wheatley being Fleming's most significant influence in the genre, and reveals a lot of previously unknown information about the origins and development of the character of James Bond. It was published in January on the website, but the site's owner, Wes Britton, and I have now refreshed its layout to make it more readable. It is now laid out more like a magazine article, with several photos and illustrations, and I've corrected a couple of typos and minor errors and added a paragraph about Peter Fleming along the way. You can read this brand spanking new version of The Secret Origins of James Bond right here.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific essay! Thanks for taking the trouble to write/research it.