A black female Bond would not conflict with the core values of Ian Fleming’s brilliant but dated creation. We should try it.
Bond is dated
Ian Fleming’s James Bond, created in novels and short stories from 1953 to 1966, is a magnificent, unforgettable creation. But how much of a problem is it that his attitudes often now feel dated? Links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.
Can one hate Bond’s views, for example on women, yet still admire his single-mindedness and style? I think so. If you cannot discount dated attitudes in a historical context (“Plato was a slave-owner”), you risk missing out on countless treats and truths.
A brilliant character
For writers, characters like James Bond are gold dust. Like him or loath him, he is a terrific creation. He thinks about his actions, has values and opinions, behaves within a clearly defined framework, yet is full of ambiguity. No wonder movie-makers adore him.
Updating James Bond
Can you update a character such as Bond? Movie makers have been updating James Bond for years, drawing on the original material in Fleming’s novels to create stories set in the present day. Results are mixed. But as I say in the piece at the link, many of us keep going back to cinemas in the hope Bond’s next outing will be better than the last.
A black female Bond?
Debate swirls around a black or female Bond: my view is that this would be fine, so long as the character retained key Bond characteristics such as sophistication, humour, gadgets, great grooming, and a merciless streak.
The cover of my Folio Society “Casino Royale” is suitably dated both in style and content – get a whiff of that cigarette smoke
Updating is essential
Some updating is essential. A modern movie which used Bond’s line about his former lover from the novel of Casino Royale, ‘The bitch is dead now’, would send modern cinema audiences streaming towards the door. In fact, the views of Ian Fleming’s James Bond on many issues, including homosexuality and even votes for women are, as I set out in my review of “From Russia with Love”, antediluvian.
William Boyd’s Bond
In this context, I was intrigued recently to discover a book called “Solo”, by contemporary author William Boyd. I am a fan of Boyd, including such gems as A good man in Africa, the underrated An Ice Cream War and The New Confessions. “Solo” is his authorised attempt to write a book whose protagonist is “Ian Fleming’s James Bond”.
The cover of William Boyd’s “Solo” is reminiscent of a 1970s Bond movie title sequence
Solo is not a bad effort: the story hums along nicely, and I finished it in a day. The style is similar to Ian Fleming. The book avoids some pitfalls by setting the story in the 1960s; Boyd writes that I have been governed by the details and chronology of James Bond’s life that were published in the ‘obituary’ in You Only Live Twice. This puts Bond’s date of birth in 1924 (he would be 96 now).
But it’s hard for a top author to resist a few original tweaks. Boyd illustrates the difficulty of writing an authentic Bond whose values are in any way updated when he includes James Bond’s recipe for salad dressing in a footnote.
No, no, no. It is right and proper that Bond should have an encyclopaedic knowledge of handguns, Martinis, Russian intelligence organisations and how to order caviar. But making his own salad dressing? Surely utterly wrong. (NB: a wise reader – see comments – has pointed out that in Moonraker there is a reference to James Bond’s own [salad] dressing, which thoroughly upends my views on this and shows Boyd got it right.)
Bad product placement
Seeing Boyd’s salad recipe made me cringe almost as much as seeing Bond ask for a Heineken beer, by name, in Skyfall, instead of a Martini. Apparently this was part of a $45m product placement deal in which the Dutch brew replaced Bond’s usual tipple. Bond doesn’t drink Heineken, or drive BMWs. Period.
My advice? Treat those changes with caution – and let Bond stick to the Martinis. After all – they’re one of the healthiest drinks around. And next time, let’s try a black, female Bond.
If you like thrillers, take a look at my Berlin-set Blood Summit. I’d love to hear what you think of it.