It is probably a rare individual who wouldn’t recognize by this catchphrase what this post is about—Bond, James Bond. Until recently, I wouldn’t have necessarily categorized myself as an avid Bond fan, certainly not to the degree that some people are fanatical about the Star Wars movie series. But I must admit that I have become more of a fan now that I have begun to read Ian Fleming’s books upon which many of the Bond movies are based.
Embarrassingly I was not even cognizant that there was a series of James Bond books until my wife began to read them several years ago. Sure, I would recognize the names of Ian Fleming and Albert R. Broccoli in the credits of a Bond movie. And often after watching a movie, I am motivated to read the book upon which the movie was based since usually you get so much more of the story from the book than the movie. But since I didn’t see any of the movies in the 60s and 70s when most of the ones based on the Ian Fleming books were originally released, I just never made the connection between his books and the movies.
I started reading Fleming’s books in 2015 when one of my $2.99 “daily book deals” for my Kindle was Casino Royale, the first James Bond book Fleming published in 1953. I was interested in reading the first book since having seen the 1967 movie Casino Royale, I was most disappointed in the movie despite its all-star cast since it was actually a spoof on secret agent 007 (interestingly this movie stared David Niven as 007, the actor Ian Fleming originally wanted to be cast as Bond in the movies rather than Sean Connery). This short book (less than 200 pages) was a quick but enjoyable read that got me hooked on reading more of the series. And reading it, I recalled some of the scenes from the 2006 remake starring Daniel Craig in his first role as 007, which prompted me to re-watch this movie as well.
When I checked my usual source for e-books (Amazon), I was disappointed to learn that rather than the $0.99 to $2.99 price for each I expected for 50-year old books; I found that each book was $7.99. With 13 more Fleming books in his series, my literary Bond fix would cost me over $100. I decided to just wait and see if any others came out as low-cost daily deals.
Not long after finishing this first book, I got an Amazon e-mail about a 007 “SPECTRE trilogy” book. When I clicked on the details, I discovered it was actually not a book by the same name of the 2015-released movie, but rather a bundling of three different Fleming books, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice all for the bargain low price of $3.99. Turns out all three of these books features Bond battling with SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, a notorious organization also featured in several James Bond books written by John Gardner after Ian Fleming’s death.
Although I originally envisioned reading the Bond books in the order in which they were published thinking there was a chronological flow of development from one book to the next, I decided to make an exception and read these three in the order in which they were combined into this one trilogy. I’m glad I did, as the order is important to the storyline with each subsequent book revealing important details referred back to in the previous books. I also decided to reverse my normal practice of watching a movie first and then reading the book, I read the books first and I am very glad I did this too.
In my experience of watching a movie based on a book, often important details are either omitted from the movie altogether or only briefly touched upon, creating a bit of confusion for the movie watcher. In the case of all three books, reading the book first actually made the movie much more understandable (although the last movie diverged quite a bit from the book creating a much more sinister plot). And even though I knew how the plot ended, having read the book first made the movie more enjoyable.
Thunderball and You Only Live Twice are Sean Connery’s fourth and fifth of seven total movies in which he was the featured 007 agent. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the only movie starring George Lazenby, and justifyingly so in my opinion.
Having thought that I had seen all of the James Bond movies, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had never seen any of these three. So rather than watching a rerun of a movie I had seen before, they were all new stories to me enhanced by the prior knowledge of having the details from the book in advance of watching the movie. And in reading both the second and third books of this trilogy and watching the movie afterwards, I was amazed to learn two facts about James Bond, ones that I never knew, and ones that I will not reveal here so as to not be a “spoiler” for those also new to these three stories.
I realistically know that James Bond is simply a fictionalized character we can only picture in our mind’s eye based on our favorite actor who portrayed 007 over the 50+ years since his creation. But gaining details from these most enjoyable books makes him more real and makes me want to learn more about him and his secret missions. Having read these four books and watching the companion movies, has motivated me to now add all of the old Bond movies to my NetFlix queue and read the remaining 10 Ian Fleming books. My plan is to read the book first, and then watch the movie. And I will be pleased to find out if there are other 007 movies I thought I had seen before but now learn are new stories to me of this iconic character. Maybe after reading the book, I’ll enjoy watching the movie while sipping on a dry martini—shaken, not stirred—of course.