The Bond franchise completes 50 years this October with the release of Skyfall. Incidentally, it’s also the longest running franchise in movie history. The first Bond film, Dr.No, was released on October 5th, 1962, with Sean Connery essaying the role of the suave, dangerous British secret agent in his inimitable style, that many argue still remains unmatched. While we all have our favourite Bond, be it the legendary Sean Connery from the first Bond films or the dangerous yet vulnerable Daniel Craig from the latest films in the franchise, the character of 007 still continues to hold us in thrall.
Ian Fleming created the character of James Bond, code name 007, in his 1953 novel Casino Royale, and wrote eleven other novels and two short story collections based on the character of 007. Fleming, who worked in the British Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, sculpted the character of Bond from his own experiences and those of his colleagues. (Interesting trivia- Ian Fleming created the character of James Bond at his Goldeneye Estate in Jamaica and also wrote many of his James Bond novels there.) He also spent many hours mulling over the opening lines of the book before settling on ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a Casino are nauseating at three in the morning’. The name for his character came from that of an American ornithologist, a copy of whose book- A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies, Fleming owned. Ironically, the name, chosen for its innate dullness, to simply create a character who was an uninteresting man to whom interesting things happened, went on to represent a man who was anything but uninteresting. For Bond has been many things, and as Judi Dench (M) says in Goldeneye, “You are a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, Mr.Bond,” but dull isn’t one of them. Fleming’s books differ from the movies in the Bond franchise, in that they make the legendary agent more human. The books also present readers with multiple narratives that are very different from the film storylines. For instance, in the ninth novel in the series- The Spy Who Loved Me, the story is narrated by a young Canadian woman called Vivienne Michel and is written in three parts- Me, Them, and Him, to describe different stages in the story. On the whole, the Bond books are darker than the movies, which have a lighter narrative and are peppered with Q branch gadgets, tongue-in-cheek humour, and double entendres.
After Fleming’s death in 1964, several Bond sequels were written by celebrated authors like Kingsley Amis, Raymond Benson, and Sebastian Faulks, with the latest being Jeffery Deaver's 2011 novel- Carte Blanche. There have been over 30 sequels to date, not counting comic strip, video game, and young adult adaptations. And like they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.