The key to James Bond's appeal (opinion)
"We were a generation brought up on adventure stories," writes Graham Greene in Ways of Escape, the second volume of his autobiography, "a generation who had missed the enormous disillusionment of the First World War, so we went looking for adventure â¦ "
Greene's near contemporary, Ian Fleming (who was just five years younger), also went looking for adventure, found it in naval intelligence during the second world war, and spent the post-war years executing a series of literary escapes in successive James Bond espionage thrillers -- so writes Robert McCrum in the Guardian
Fleming was not the only writer of his generation to create a series hero. You could argue that Wodehouse did it with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, or that Agatha Christie had a similar success with Poirot and Miss Marple.
Yet, for some reason, 007 endures. And now the very canny Fleming estate has commissioned the "gruesome" US thriller writer Jeffery Deaver to become the latest contributor to the Fleming franchise, following Sebastian Faulks, Raymond Benson, Kingsley Amis (aka Robert Markham) and John Gardner.
So Deaver will publish the provisionally titled Project X in about a year, and the Fleming estate will enjoy another massive payday.
The durability of Bond, compared with Poirot or Wooster, is intriguing. The world of Aston Martins and the dry martini is just as remote as the world of Mayfair drones, spats and monocles. The daring British spy with "a licence to kill" is now as much a historical figure as the gentleman's gentleman or the amateur detective. Yet Bond unfailingly lives to fight another day while Wooster and Poirot are heading for retirement.
Part of the explanation for the durability of Fleming's series must lie with the power of Hollywood. Fleming is still box office in a way Wodehouse and Christie are not. But that's not the whole story.
I think the key to Bond's evergreen appeal is that, as well as some enjoyable nostalgia, he delivers the reader a harmless slice of old-fashioned adventure in a readily digestible form. Finally, I note that the Fleming estate is exceedingly well run. It knows where its strengths lie (genre, genre, genre) and unerringly picks writers (Deaver is an inspired choice) who will deliver the goods.
Fleming's heirs are neither literary giants, nor in consequence ashamed to enter into the spirit of 007. Faulks, the last incumbent, mischievously did his best to inhibit his hero's afterlife, and had Bond telling his mirror image: "You're tired. You're played out. Finished". But he was wrong. No one ever went broke overestimating the British reading public's appetite for ripping yarns, as Greene knew to his finger ends.
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