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Ian Fleming has never received his due as a man of letters. His centenary this year is not going unnoticed: there is a new Bond exhibition, a new Bond adventure written by Sebastian Faulks, and various new Bond-related titles. But, cumulatively, they feel more like a celebration of a famous brand than a recognition of a literary master.

Fleming’s entry in the Oxford Companion to English Literature is three sentences long and ends in a sneer: “Bond has appeared in many highly popular films which mingle sex and violence with a wit that, for some, renders them intellectually respectable.” One can almost sense the feminist editor, Margaret Drabble, holding her nose.

Fleming will never become a feminist icon. His sexual attitudes — laid comically bare in the closing scene of Goldfinger — belong to another era. Bond to lesbian: “I thought you only liked women.” Lesbian to Bond: “I never met a man before.” It is an ungainly courtship. But if one judged all writers by their sexual attitudes, who would ’scape whipping?

The least Fleming deserves, in his cent­enary year, is to be judged by his books, not the films they spawned. If the cinema has ensured his immortality, it has also cruelly distorted his work. Some of the strongest Bond books — Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever — are cinematic travesties. People think they know James Bond in the way they know Sherlock Holmes. They don’t. Flippancy, ubiquitous in the films, plays no part in the books, which are tough, lean thrillers, rooted in character and situation, not glib one-liners.

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February 24th, 2013
11:02 AM
I came across first edition copies of The Spy who Loved Me and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Both are well written and entertaining. They are a breath of fresh air after all the hi-tech Bond movies.

July 4th, 2009
12:07 PM
Great Article,Few writers match his skill at concise, vivid, descriptive prose, and the ability to keep readers turning the pages

October 29th, 2008
1:10 PM
Ian Fleming is indeed a good writer. Even in the way he chooses title like "Diamonds Are Forever". The title itself can catch people's interest as diamonds is the most special among all the jewelry

Oliver Strate
September 6th, 2008
5:09 PM
Thanks for this great article. I am German and it was my dad who gave me some of the Pan pocketbooks. He spent some time in the UK in the sixties and he wanted to learn the English language. He turned to Ian Fleming because the novels were exciting and things were described very vividly. What better way is there to learn a language? Some time in my first year of English I picked up one of the novels and tried to read it. I knew then that there still was a lot of studying ahead of me until I could read it cover to cover and understanding every word. I would even go as far and say that this marked the beginning of my love for the English language. Of course, I also like the Bond movies but somehow Fleming's books captivated me more than any of the film adventures. Ian Fleming died way too young. I admire him a lot. If you see a guy running around London carrying a Fleming biography, it's probably me walking in his footsteps.

July 10th, 2008
4:07 PM
damn straight. i got 'octopussy' free with the times. quality writing. just picked up a stack of vintage pan covers for c.£1.50 each. yes, there's the real writer's feel for words here. the comparison with conan doyle is apt.

July 10th, 2008
11:07 AM
I, too, am a fan of Fleming's work. I've just taught Casino Royale to American high school students, and many of them enjoyed the book. After briefly sharing the history of WWII spycraft with them--especially bits of the fabulous documentary Spytek-- a new, dangerous and sinister side of the real world opened up before them. Our eloquent tour guide was Ian. As Mark Twain observed, "Truth is stranger than fiction."

June 6th, 2008
3:06 AM
A terrific article, as it recognizes Fleming's significant literary talent. Fleming had a keen, journalistic eye for detail. His novels reflect a wide range of knowledge: foreign affairs, marine life, industry and trade, technology, Intelligence, the Arts, cuisine, and of course card games, etc. Few writers match his skill at concise, vivid, descriptive prose, and the ability to keep readers turning the pages.

David Leigh
June 5th, 2008
6:06 PM
It's about time that Ian Fleming escaped the shadow of the movies and was recognised as the great writer he really was. Great article.

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