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Octopussy And The Living Daylights: Reviewed

30th June 2014

Guest writer Mark Gayton inspects the final Fleming publication and its legacies

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Bond fans across the globe will be lighting 48 candles on the cake this year as the 23rd June marks the anniversary of Ian Fleming's posthumous short story collection "Octopussy and The Living Daylights". The all-too-brief compilation contains the final original works of Fleming to have been published and mark a subtle end to the original James Bond literary canon. The stories, admittedly to varying degrees, manage to maintain the Fleming magic that has been carried right through to the premature end and certainly should not be underestimated.

"Octopussy" and "The Living Daylights" were first published as a united collection by Jonathan Cape in 1966 and from the original artwork on the front cover (produced by none other than resident Bond cover artist Richard Chopping) eerily depicting a fly-covered spiny shell next to a dead lion fish, to the back cover, readers are gifted with a bittersweet treat making us savour the final pages that contain Fleming's Bond.

Fleming tapped out Octopussy in 1962 in the comfort of his Jamaican home, Goldeneye and after his death in 1964 Glidrose Productions (now Ian Fleming publications) gave the green light for Octopussy's publication. The major quirk of Octopussy, similarly to The Spy Who Loved Me, is that 007 sits as a secondary character with war veteran Major Dexter Smythe taking the role of the protagonist thus leading to the rare pleasure of being able to observe Bond through the scope of another character.

But before the short story anthology was released, "Octopussy" appeared in print in 1965 as part of a serialisation in the Daily Express. Octopussy weaves its narrative through the form of Major Smythe's flashbacks as a fateful house call from Commander James Bond makes him recount his involvement of the murder of a Nazi officer that resulted in the theft of a hoard of gold. Smythe is forced to face up to the event that has caused guilt to gnaw away at his health for the latter years of his life as Bond gathers information for a report that could damn and shame Smythe's reputation. Although not directly related to Octopussy, its partner-in-print, The Living Daylights, curiously contains a similar theme of guilt and human moral behaviour that keeps the stories pumping through a coinciding vein. "The Living Daylights" offers a rare glimpse of Bond's guilt, niggling away at him, for being given an assignment that he dubs to be a 'murder'. Agent 272's escape from East Germany to the West has been tainted by the knowledge that a KGB agent known as 'Trigger' plans on assassinating 272 during his crossing of no man's land. Bond's anticipation lasts three days before the escape takes place; yet, the assassin is not quite what Bond's expecting, throwing him off-guard and forcing him to face a last second choice.

 


Above: Cover for the first edition published by Jonathan Cape, artwork by Richard Chopping.

The story debuted in 1962 in The Sunday Times under the original title, "Berlin Escape" and subsequently went under the same title when published four months later in the American edition of Argosy magazine before being accommodated by Jonathan Cape with "Octopussy".

Later editions added, admittedly the lowlight of the collection, "The Property of a Lady" into the mix. Sotherby's journal The Ivory Hammer, was the first to publish The Property of a Lady in 1963 as Bond is on the trail of a KGB agent who is tasked with underbidding for a Faberge egg at an auction under the name of double agent Maria Freudenstein in order to pay for her services. An interesting fact sifted from the story is the appearance of real life jeweller Kenneth Snowman, a friend of Fleming's.

Above: Penguin USA paperback 1st edition (2003).

 

Penguin Publishers added another gem, albeit a rather bizarre one, into the collection: "007 in New York". The tale originally bounced from the Sunday Times, to Thrilling Cities and the New York Herald Tribune before slotting into its rightful place in 2002 with Octopussy. Bond arrives in New York for a rendezvous with an woman who answers to the name Solange. Bond's reflective personality shines through as he contemplates the city and famously shares his recipe for scrambled eggs. Despite being criticised for being lacklustre, the enthusiasm for which Fleming writes about New York (and the scrambled eggs!) is endearing and after working strenuously for years on the Bond novels, appears as a relaxing piece of writing for Fleming to blow off steam.

Several reviews of the collection tend to target the brevity of the stories and what they are lacking compared to their novel counterparts, with Phillip Larkin sniping that "James Bond does not fit snugly into short story length" and a critic from the Times Literary Supplement claiming it is "slight and predictable". But perhaps when analysing this collection, it is crucial not to take it for what it is not but to accept it for what it actually is - a pleasant round-off to Fleming's canon and a final treat that should not be taken for granted.

Not entirely snubbed from the movie franchise, ingredients from the works have been sprinkled into the silver screen productions and despite the fact that plots and characters have been altered, it is a nice little nod towards these Fleming works. The thirteenth Bond adventure onscreen, with Roger Moore as 007, shares the short story's title but not a lot else. Octopussy, portrayed by Maud Adams, is briefly acknowledged as the daughter of Major Smythe and an auction scene with antagonist Kamal Khan mirrors the plot of The Property of a Lady.

"The Living Daylights" and its appearance in movie format is more direct than Octopussy with the short story being condensed into the Timothy Dalton adventure as Bond's face-off with a female sniper results in him 'scaring the living daylights out of her'.


Above: The opening panel from the Daily Express comic strip by Yaroslav Horak, first published in 1966.

The tales also spawned popular comic strip editions that first appeared in The Daily Express, then Titan Books and finally "The James Bond Omnibus Vol.2".

Whilst Octopussy and The Living Daylights may not be the most popular or successful of Fleming's musings of Agent 007, they are a worthy ornament that settles as a quiet ending to years of explosions, vices and battles to the death.

About The Author
Mark Gayton is a Creative Writing student at the University of Essex, thriller enthusiast and aspiring novelist. You can email him.

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The opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MI6-HQ.com or its owners.

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