James Bond and Fairy Tales

TheMagusTheMagus Posts: 10MI6 Agent

It is not surprising that the James Bond films became so successful. A theory that has been floating around in my head for a while is that many successful films, stories, etc., have mythical, fairy tale, and folkloric themes, motifs, and elements in them. Hammer Horror films delved deeply into folklore (vampires, werewolves, etc.), George Lucas famously studied myth and legend when creating Star Wars, and one would have to have blinders on not to notice the fairy tale, folkloric, and mythical elements in The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

In my mind, James Bond is no different. The reason (among many) that the Bond films have continued to be so successful is that they have created modern myths. They have take the themes, motifs, and, in some cases, even story structure of myths, folklore stories, and fairy tales and updated them to the modern age. I have tried to enumerate them below:

 

Dr. No

Very similar to St. George and the Dragon:

·        Dr. Julius No is similar to the dragon – something the majority of people are too frightened to confront

·        James Bond is similar to St. George – the person brave enough to confront the dragon

·        The film requires Bond to go into Crab Key, equivalent to the dragon’s cave

·        The film introduces Honey Ryder who acts as a “prize” for Bond (remember, dragons hoard virgins and gold in their caves)

 There are other, smaller references to fairy tales and even nursery rhymes. The “Three Blind Mice” assassins are a fairly obvious nod to the famous nursery rhyme. Finally, it is impossible not to see a correlation between Dr. No’s mastery of nuclear energy and the dark magic often found in fairy tales and folklore.

 

From Russia with Love

Tatiana Romanova is clearly a damsel in distress type character. A lot of the tension in the film comes from the fact that Bond doesn’t know whether she is a genuine defector or someone playing a game.

 

Goldfinger

Like Dr. Julius No, Auric Goldfinger is a kind of dragon – albeit a rapacious one. Goldfinger literally hoards gold, has plenty of blonde (or should I say, golden haired) women stashed around the place, and even keeps Bond prisoner. Finally, nuclear power returns as an equivalent for magic.

 

Thunderball

Domino Derval is clearly a damsel in distress. She is the “kept” woman (we can read that as “prisoner”) of malevolent Emilio Largo. Much of Thunderball is based upon Bond rescuing her from Largo rather than Bond pursuing the stolen nuclear weapons.

 

You Only Live Twice

Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE, operates his criminal empire from a hollowed-out volcano. This is clearly a similar idea to a dragon’s cave. Also, the film adds fantasy elements through the use of ninjas, outer space, and other such things

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Although it is one of my favourite Bond films (it competes for top billing with From Russia with Love), I cannot identify a lot of fairy tale elements in this film. The mountaintop fortress, Piz Gloria is, arguably, cave-like in that it is inaccessible (and much could be made from the fact that Blofeld locks his guests in at night). Blofeld and Irma Bunt are both evil characters willing to use their evil for their own gain. Finally, virus omega has certain magical properties for it (it is devastating, invisible, and, supposedly, an entirely new concoction)

 

Diamonds are Forever

Blofeld is very similar to a dragon in his cave. He is masquerading as the industrialist, Willard Whyte in a Las Vegas penthouse. Furthermore, he hoards diamonds. Although this is not the same as gold, the principle still applies.

 

Live and Let Die

Many people have commented that Live and Let Die is similar to a comic book. I respectfully disagree. I think it is closer to a Hammer Horror film (with more than a splash of blaxploitation thrown in) than a comic book. Heck, the film even features a brief appearance from Madeline Smith, who appeared in a couple of Hammer Horror films

·        There is black magic in the form of voodoo and precognition

·        Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big is clearly a dragon-like character: immensely greedy, ruthless, vain, and very powerful

·        Solitaire is clearly a damsel-in-distress. She is clearly written as a naïve, virginal character who needs to be rescued by Bond.

·        The climax of the film takes place in a cemetery where a voodoo execution is taking place and, quite literally, in a cave

 

The Man with the Golden Gun

Francisco Scaramanga is clearly a dragon-like character – rapacious and malevolent – and Andrea Anders is clearly a damsel in distress. When Anders is murdered by Scaramanga, Mary Goodnight is kidnapped shortly thereafter and Bond must instead rescue her. This, of course, involves killing Scaramanga.

 

The Spy Who Loved Me

Stromberg is clearly a dragon-like character. He lives as a recluse in Atlantis, literally wields power over life and death, and plans to use nuclear weapons (black magic, basically) to make himself the supreme ruler of an underwater city.

 

Moonraker

Hugo Drax is another dragon-like character with many similarities to Karl Stromberg. His “cave” – a space station – is perhaps more extreme than Stromberg’s

 

For Your Eyes Only

Bond must defeat Kristotatos – the dragon – in order to win the affections of Melina Havelock. Furthermore, the Saint Cyril monastery has undertones of a dragon’s cave in that it is inaccessible.

 

Octopussy

Much of Octopussy’s Story revolves around two things: stolen jewels and nuclear bombs. The stolen jewels tie into the classic motif of a treasure hunt whilst the nuclear bombs tie into the motif of black magic. The character of Octopussy has a mythical aura (witness the barge she moves around in) and the escape through the jungle is classic boy’s own adventure stuff.

 

Never Say Never Again

Sean Connery’s unofficial James Bond film. I thought I’d include it for good measure.

 The first thing worth noting is the similarities between this film and Thunderball (they were, of course, remakes). The second thing worth noting is just how much of a witch-like character Fatima Blush is. She even goes out “Wizard of Oz” style.

 

A View to a Kill

Stacey Sutton is definitely a damsel in distress, albeit a rather annoying one. Furthermore, allusions to “magic” are made through Max Zorin’s scheme to flood Sillicon Valley by creating a double earthquake.

 

The Living Daylights

Kara Milovy is one of the most obvious damsels in distress in the entire series. She is young, naïve, and condemned to death by General Georgi Koskov. The biggest problem with The Living Daylights is the lack of a strong villain.

 

Licence to Kill

Perhaps one of the few Bond films without any overt fairy tale/ folkloric elements. However, there is some poetic justice from the fact that Franz Sanchez is literally immolated in his own cocaine.

 

Goldeneye

The use of computers, the internet, and an electromagnetic pulse weapons have magical properties. These devices are wielded by both the heroes and the villains alike.

 

Tomorrow Never Dies

Elliot Carver’s stealth boat could be thought of as a dragon’s cave. Furthermore, the “almost invisible to radar” aspect of it could be thought of as kind of magic.

 

The World is Not Enough

Themes of imprisonment and rescue abound in this movie. First there is Elektra’s backstory: kidnapped and held captive by the dragon Renard (and most probably violated by him). Eventually, she saves herself by seducing her guards (or, more likely, makes a pact with Renard). Second, there is M’s imprisonment in Maiden’s Tower (that name should provide some clues). Third, there is Dr. Christmas Jones’ imprisonment aboard a nuclear submarine. In the last two instances, Bond must rescue the captees and slay the dragon(s).

 

Die Another Day

The use of “gene therapy” to change someone’s appearance has certain magical properties (transfiguration, perhaps?).

 

Casino Royale

One could argue that Bond’s journey through Casino Royale is similar to that of the Heroes’ Journey identified by Joseph Campbell.

 

Quantum of Solace

In my opinion, the less said about this film the better.

 

Skyfall

Bond must act as saviour to M’s damsel in distress. Raoul Silva acts as the film’s dragon. The use of computer hacking acts as kind of magic.

 

Spectre

I’m afraid I haven’t seen this film enough to adequately identify the fairy tale/folklore elements in the story.

Comments

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 31,733Chief of Staff

    Ah, a post after my own heart! Thank you, The Magus.

    You might like to have a read at "The Devil With James Bond!" by Ann S. Boyd which covers much of the same ground. It's available here- The Devil With James Bond : Ann S.boyd : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

    I said this was a post after my own heart, and for proof have a look at my thread on "Subtext And Themes" which again covers much of the same ground- Subtext and themes — ajb007

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,438MI6 Agent

    @TheMagus I love it!

    I've made similar argument myself, but never tried to go into film-by-film detail identifying and mapping all the elements. There are more to be found, I'm sure, for example you missed the fact that Elektra's name is Elektra, which comes from Greek mythology and Freud!


    Fleming himself was deliberately incorporating this mythic imagery and story structure, himself a fan of boy's own adventures and in particular Treasure Island, and Amis in his Dossier makes some identifications. One I remember is the villain is usually older and represents a father figure who must be defeated and killed for the hero to succeed, and usually the heroine is the villain's woman, making the basic story structure Oedipal: again from Greek mythology and Freud!

    another element from heroic myth is the Wizard who traditionally prepared the hero for his journey: we all know who that is, Bond visits him every adventure before leaving London to save the world.

    my general thought is the Bond stories are up-to-date variations on the archetypic Hero's Journey type story structure. Up to date elements include the prominent technology and the importance of the Nation State. But otherwise these stories do resemble fairy tales more than they do proper spy stories (like le Carre) just as Star Wars is more fairy tale than proper sci-fi.


    with a name like The Magus, do you have an interest otherwise in early storytelling traditions, magick, archetypes and such? The Magus is a tarot card which suggests a connection to the ancestral subconscious, if I recall my Crowley.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 31,733Chief of Staff

    Boyd's main idea is that Fleming's work provides a modern version of the Seven Deadly Sins- perhaps I should say the Double O Seven Deadly Sins? Or perhaps not. For example, Goldfinger is very clearly representing Avarice while Blofeld (in OHMSS) represents Snobbery.

    A point I make in the "Subtexts And Themes" thread is that in TWINE the writers (not Fleming) make the St George & Dragon theme more upfront than usual. Elektra is the daughter of a King, Sir Robert King, and what is the daughter of a King but a Princess? For more, see the thread itself.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 31,733Chief of Staff

    Another point (again see "Subtexts And Themes") is that Drax's real name is Graf Hugo von der Drache, and "drache" is German for "dragon".

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