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Topic: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

I have started to read the Fu Manchu novels and I am almost done with the first one. I have to say I believe that Rohmer should be credited with being the "James Bond" grandfather and it is quite obvious that Ian Fleming took a lot from him other than the character of Dr No. Notice how two paragraphs seem alike. I am not suggesting outright stealing, but I feel some similarities in the writing styles on self rumination of women and duty. I also would suggest that the main female character in the novel is self sufficient despite her role in society in the novel to almost qualify her as a Bond girl.

“Then, at such times, I would find myself discrediting her story.  Again, I would find myself wondering, vaguely, why such problems persistently haunted my mind. But, always, my heart had an answer.  And I was a medical man, who sought to build up a family practice!-- who, in short, a very little time ago, had thought himself past the hot follies of youth and entered upon that staid phase of life wherein the daily problems of the medical profession hold absolute sway and such seductive follies as dark eyes and red lips find-- no place--are excluded!” – Chapter 18 The Insidious Fu Manchu

“He was quite honest to himself about the hypocrisy of his attitude toward her. As a woman he wanted to sleep with her but only when the job had been done.”  – Chapter 5, The Girl From Headquarters, Casino Royale.

I have The Golden Scorpion and I understand that the story could be considered “Bondesque”.  Any thoughts?

"And if I told you that I'm from the Ministry of Defence?" James Bond  - The Property of a Lady

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

The James Bond novels were never entirely original, they fell into the line of dime store thrillers and pulp stories such as Fu Manchu. Fleming's Bond stories were very much trendy but unlike most of those authors his characters were a bit more three dimensional. Very rarely did you have the existential brooding that occured from Bond with other leading man heroes.

You can also say the same for the movies, even at the very beginning. James Bond's habit of dropping one liners was not unlike many old film noir private todgers like Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade. However the twist they gave is that Bond would usually make his witicisms after killing someone.

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Kingsley Amis once wrote that "all Literature is escapist". I think that Fu Manchu should be placed in the same class as Bond given the Manichean struggle and references to the spirtiuality of the East versus the Industrialization of the West.

Last edited by perdogg (25th Sep 2010 03:45)

"And if I told you that I'm from the Ministry of Defence?" James Bond  - The Property of a Lady

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

perdogg wrote:

Kingsley Amis once wrote that "all Literature is escapist". I think that Fu Manchu should be placed in the same class as Bond given the Manichean struggle and references to the spirtiuality of the East versus the Industrialization of the West.

I never read the novels but I have seen the film with Boris Karloff portraying Manchu as a down right racist.

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Ricardo C. wrote:
perdogg wrote:

Kingsley Amis once wrote that "all Literature is escapist". I think that Fu Manchu should be placed in the same class as Bond given the Manichean struggle and references to the spirtiuality of the East versus the Industrialization of the West.

I never read the novels but I have seen the film with Boris Karloff portraying Manchu as a down right racist.

I think it would unfair to label the books as racist based on the movies. It is the same with Bond critics who claim Bond is sexist based on the movies. I am not sure how you define racism.

So far I have not seen anything racist. Now, the book was written in 1913 and the skin of Fu Manchu is referred to as being "yellow". Well, I am called 'white' eventhough my skin is a pinkish beige. ajb007/lol.
Also, China had failed to overcome the opium addicitions of the 19th century and quickly being surpased by Japan who defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.

There is no hatred for the Chinese race in the novel in fact the protagonist is very much sinocentrist who had traveled to Asia prior to the novel beginning.

There is no "fortune cookie" speak in the novels. So far I am not sure about Kâramanèh. I believe she is of Arab or Persian ancestry not Chinese.

"And if I told you that I'm from the Ministry of Defence?" James Bond  - The Property of a Lady

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Just going to move this to the Lit forum.  Makes more sense!

Vox clamantis in deserto

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

perdogg wrote:
Ricardo C. wrote:
perdogg wrote:

Kingsley Amis once wrote that "all Literature is escapist". I think that Fu Manchu should be placed in the same class as Bond given the Manichean struggle and references to the spirtiuality of the East versus the Industrialization of the West.

I never read the novels but I have seen the film with Boris Karloff portraying Manchu as a down right racist.

I think it would unfair to label the books as racist based on the movies. It is the same with Bond critics who claim Bond is sexist based on the movies. I am not sure how you define racism.

So far I have not seen anything racist. Now, the book was written in 1913 and the skin of Fu Manchu is referred to as being "yellow". Well, I am called 'white' eventhough my skin is a pinkish beige. ajb007/lol.
Also, China had failed to overcome the opium addicitions of the 19th century and quickly being surpased by Japan who defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.

There is no hatred for the Chinese race in the novel in fact the protagonist is very much sinocentrist who had traveled to Asia prior to the novel beginning.

There is no "fortune cookie" speak in the novels. So far I am not sure about Kâramanèh. I believe she is of Arab or Persian ancestry not Chinese.

Like I said I don't know anything about the novels, just that one movie with Boris Karloff called The Mask of Fu Manchu. In that film, Manchu talked about how the white race was inferior.

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

perdogg wrote:

I have started to read the Fu Manchu novels and I am almost done with the first one. I have to say I believe that Rohmer should be credited with being the "James Bond" grandfather and it is quite obvious that Ian Fleming took a lot from him other than the character of Dr No.

Sax Rohmer was certainly an influence on Ian Fleming, but not an especially great one. A lot of critics have credited Fleming with introducing all sorts of things into the thriller that were already there, so a lot of people read a novel by one of his predecessors and say 'Oh, so this is where he got it from!'

The two passages you quote aren't at all alike stylistially, but I doubt you or anyone would claim that Rohmer's stiff formal prose influenced Fleming. But the passages aren't alike in meaning or purpose, either. Petrie fancies Karamaneh, but it's hardly unusual that the hero fancies the girl. And he's not really even the hero. Petrie is faced with a beautiful woman telling an outlandish tale, and her beauty makes him believe it a little more. Bond doesn't suspect Vesper in the passage you quote from Casino Royale - the point is that Bond is being cold towards her because they are working together, but he still wants to sleep with her. You could find much more similar passages in a lot of novels predating Fleming. If Rohmer's passage had been about Petrie wanting to sleep with a girl after a mission it might have been an influence - but that isn't what it's about at all.

That said, Rohmer was an influence: the centipede in Dr No is very Rohmer-ish, and as you say and many have noted, Dr Fu Manchu was obviously the inspiration for Dr No - they are virtually the same character. There are other incidents and moments in the Rohmer books that are similar to ones in Fleming's novels. The Island Of Fu Manchu (1940) is set in London, Panama and Haiti: Fu Manchu has built a base within a volcano and is controlling the local populace through his daughter, who masquerades as Queen Mamaloi, a voodoo high priestess. At one point, Nayland Smith and Kerrigan attend a nightclub and watch an erotic dance rather like the one give by GG Sumatra in Chapter Six of Live and Let Die. Part of the plot involves a silver bullet belonging to the ‘Negro genius’ Henry Christophe, the 19th-century king of Haiti. But note how easy it is to jump to conclusions - a villain with a base in a volcano? Why, Rohmer must have been a major influence on Fle... oh, yes, that bit wasn't in the novel You Only Live Twice, but only the film. ajb007/smile It's possible that the film producers were influenced by this 1940 novel - but I suspect more likely that this sort of thing was quite standard fare, and coincidences happen.

I think Fleming was influenced by lot of writers. Rohmer was one, as were Sapper and Charteris. He was familiar with Oppenheim, Le Queux, Buchan, Household and many others - Fleming was a thriller aficionado. All of these writers' influences can be felt in the Bond novels. But I think the greatest influence on Fleming, by a very long way, was Dennis Wheatley, as I've argued in an in-depth article on the subject. If you read it, prepare to have many of your preconceptions of Fleming's work challenged:

http://www.spywise.net/pdf/March_10/whe … sified.pdf

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:

I think Fleming was influenced by lot of writers. Rohmer was one, as were Sapper and Charteris. He was familiar with Oppenheim, Le Queux, Buchan, Household and many others - Fleming was a thriller aficionado. All of these writers' influences can be felt in the Bond novels. But I think the greatest influence on Fleming, by a very long way, was Dennis Wheatley, as I've argued in an in-depth article on the subject. If you read it, prepare to have many of your preconceptions of Fleming's work challenged:

http://www.spywise.net/pdf/March_10/whe … sified.pdf

Now that's an excellent article, and I enjoyed reading it- just as I enjoyed reading all of Wheatley's Gregory Sallust novels many years ago. I have to concur that Wheatley/Sallust was a definite influence on Fleming/Bond, just as Sapper/Drummond and Charteris/Templar were, although I am sure that just as strong a case could be made for those two examples and many more (as cited, Le Queux and Buchan ao). The specific examples from Wheatley are very striking, though.
Fleming was, IMHO, a far better writer than any of the above and it is in his work that all the ingredients crystalise and achieve their defining moment.

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Barbel wrote:
spynovelfan wrote:

I think Fleming was influenced by lot of writers. Rohmer was one, as were Sapper and Charteris. He was familiar with Oppenheim, Le Queux, Buchan, Household and many others - Fleming was a thriller aficionado. All of these writers' influences can be felt in the Bond novels. But I think the greatest influence on Fleming, by a very long way, was Dennis Wheatley, as I've argued in an in-depth article on the subject. If you read it, prepare to have many of your preconceptions of Fleming's work challenged:

http://www.spywise.net/pdf/March_10/whe … sified.pdf

Now that's an excellent article, and I enjoyed reading it- just as I enjoyed reading all of Wheatley's Gregory Sallust novels many years ago. I have to concur that Wheatley/Sallust was a definite influence on Fleming/Bond, just as Sapper/Drummond and Charteris/Templar were, although I am sure that just as strong a case could be made for those two examples and many more (as cited, Le Queux and Buchan ao). The specific examples from Wheatley are very striking, though.
Fleming was, IMHO, a far better writer than any of the above and it is in his work that all the ingredients crystalise and achieve their defining moment.

Thanks very much, Barbel. I think you're right that someone could argue the case for Rohmer, Sapper, Charteris, Le Queux, Buchan or another writer being a greater influence than Wheatley - but I'm not sure they'd be stronger arguments. ajb007/tongue I think he was a greater influence by some distance. I haven't just read Wheatley and presumed that. I've read all of those authors, and many others - not every book they wrote, but I have a pretty wide reading in the British thriller, I think. I agree that Fleming was a 'better' writer than all those you mentioned, if such a term can mean anything, and I think it's a bit of a squeak with Charteris. Going through the list of usual suspects very quickly, as I see it:

Rohmer. Fleming was a fan, having read him at school, and took several broad elements and some very obvious specifics from him. Broad elements include the pulpish baroque sort of thing I mentioned in my last post - Rohmer's influence is most evident in Dr No and Live and Let Die. Rohmer’s 1921 novel Bat Wing features voodoo, which is described as 'a cult which has spread from the West Coast of Africa throughout the West Indies and to parts of the United States'. But as in The Island Of Fu Manchu and Live and Let Die, the voodoo is not real, but merely employed as a ruse. But outside of those two books, and the very obvious similarity between Fu Manchu and No, there's very little Rohmer influence in Fleming. A strong case could be made for his being a major influence on two Fleming novels, in my view, and that's it.

Sapper. Fleming was a fan, having read him at school, and took several specific elements from him. Most notably, Blofeld and Irma Bunt together in OHMSS is a clear recalling of Drummond's arch-enemies Caspar and Irma Petersen. Moonraker is the novel that I think most shows the Sapper influence, although the differences between a lot of these authors is sometimes rather slight. The British thriller was very derivative, which is not generally recognized when looking at Fleming and what he acheived. Secret Nazi Drax could be argued to be straight out of Sapper, especially with his moustachioed henchmen. But then it also echoes earlier German-invasion thrillers by Oppenheim and Le Queux. It's a little like claiming that a new band is not influenced by The Beatles - of course they are. But is that really relevant? All British thriller-writers in Fleming's time were influenced, more or less, by who came before. Here's a handwritten note by Dennis Wheatley for the plot of a Sapper novel: http://www.denniswheatley.info/sams_books/misc6.htm Sapper's influence was very clear on Wheatley - much clearer than on Fleming. Critics who didn't read Wheatley presumed that nothing had happened between Sapper and Fleming. I suspect a lot of Bond fans have read that Bulldog Drummond was a precursor for James Bond and read Sapper's books, or tried to, and been a little mystified. There are similarities, of course - but they're pretty general.

Charteris. On the other hand, I think it's hard to read a Saint story and not recognize the influence. This is mainly stylistic, the devil-may-care side of Bond Fleming showed, and the digressive nature of his prose. It's rather more controlled than Charteris, but then Charteris still managed to have very taut plots, which Fleming often didn't. But Charteris dwells on food, drink, clothes and cars just as it was claimed Fleming did, and with great style. The widespread idea that Fleming was the first of the globetrotting thriller-writers is shown up by Charteris, who set books all around the world. In The Saint In New York (1935), Templar stalks a villain known as 'The Big Fellow' in the city’s underworld - another possible inspiration for Live and Let Die. Along with Rohmer's voodoo novels and Wheatley's Strange Conflict, and Henty, and who knows who else...

Buchan, Le Queux, Oppenheim. Very little direct influence. These are broad brush strokes, establishing the genre. As I said in my article, the model was pretty well established: a gentleman adventurer reports to an older man in the secret service, and is given a mission to stop a villainous plot that has international implications; he races through glamorous casinos and hotels at home and abroad, using his fists and firearms against assorted henchmen until he is drugged, struck unconscious and captured by the rich, deformed villain, who interrogates and/or tortures him; after learning the full particulars of the villain's plan (usually from the villain himself), he escapes, saves the beautiful woman in the cocktail dress he took a fancy to in the first chapter and assures the safety of the realm. You could apply this to dozens of British thrillers prior to Fleming. if you follow the idea that he was directly influenced by any writer who used these tropes you would have to conclude he was influenced by pretty much every single British thriller-writer. This is the error made by both Amis and Snelling. I'm sure Fleming would have read some Dornford Yates and he had certainly read both Sapper and Buchan. But just because Richard Usborne happened to write about those three writers in Clubland Heroes doesn't mean they were Fleming's prime influences. It's a little too convenient! If Usborne had written about Rohmer, Charteris and Household, no doubt they would have been the three discussed by Amis and Snelling, and mentioned in every subsequent book and newspaper article by writers too lazy to do their own research. (Rohmer, Charteris and Household were also more of an influence than Yates, Buchan or Sapper, in my view.)

What I've done is gone and read all these writers and balanced what are 'scenes a faire' and what are likely to be genuine direct influences. Some of the examples I have used in the Wheatley article may be coincidence - but some really can't be, I think, because there are too many levels of similarity, as in the paragraph by paragraph rewrite of the scenes in Come Into My Parlour, which inform three of Fleming's novels, in very significant ways. I don't think you could find anything like that in any other writer, and certainly not to this extent. Bits and pieces, yes, like Fu Manchu into Dr No, and like the very detailed example of the George Griffith passage inspiring the SPECTRE meeting in Thunderball. It's not plausible that Fleming would come up with Dr No without having read Rohmer, would name a villainess Irma without having read Sapper, or would have a Corsican terrorist casually killed in front of his colleagues for being a traitor by his boss at a meeting at a front organization without having read Griffith. But that's one significant concrete example from each of three writers. If it was simply that Wheatley had started a novel with a facially scarred British agent gambling at midnight in a casino in northern France, we could say the same sort of thing. But I've pointed to significant concrete examples with that level of layered and undeniable similarity in several Wheatley novels. The passages I quote from Come Into My Parlour are, I think, undeniably the inspiration for a major scene in From Russia, With Love - and for James Bond's biography in You Only Live Twice. The level and number of specific correspondendes are simply too great to be plausibly coincidental. I doubt you could find as many similarities as close as these in the work of another writer, and I say that having explored the issue for several years. But I'd be very interested if someone did, of course, provided they could support it with a solid reading of the genre as a whole. I've read rather too many articles noting a couple of superficial similarities between Fleming's work and another writer's and claiming they were a great influence.

(Sorry, I know that's quite involved and this is a rather esoteric topic. But this is about unpicking misapprehensions about Fleming's work that have built up over half a century, so it's bound to get a bit complicated.)

Last edited by spynovelfan (26th Sep 2010 22:20)

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:

I've read rather too many articles noting a couple of superficial similarities between Fleming's work and another writer's and claiming they were a great influence.

Ain't that the truth- too many lazy hacks filling a couple of columns and not doing the research. Something YOU definitely cannot be accused of, spynovelfan, with your in-depth and detailed work. Don't worry about things getting too involved or esoteric; this is an overlooked aspect of the Bond world.

Oh, and PS - I agree about The Beatles too!

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Barbel wrote:

Ain't that the truth- too many lazy hacks filling a couple of columns and not doing the research. Something YOU definitely cannot be accused of, spynovelfan, with your in-depth and detailed work. Don't worry about things getting too involved or esoteric; this is an overlooked aspect of the Bond world.

Oh, and PS - I agree about The Beatles too!

Thanks, Barbel. I realize that after a while it can all just look like a jumble of names and influences and the temptation is to throw up ones hands and say 'Oh, who cares who influenced Ian Fleming?' ajb007/smile Which is fair enough. Unfortunately, that's why so much lazy journalism and criticism has crept through, because nobody's really challenged any of it. It's easier for authors to say 'Fleming updated the clubland heroes of John Buchan and Sapper...' bla bla. Without reading Buchan or Sapper, I expect. It's been said before, so it must be right.

I think it's absurd that writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith are (rightly) regarded as masters of their craft and taken seriously - but the creator of James Bond is looked down on. Things have changed a little in the last decade, but in general Ian Fleming is not taken seriously by the critical establishment, and is looked down on as trashy pulp, misogynistic, sexist, racist, etc. I don't think it's to do with his work. I think it's partly Tall Poppy Syndrome as a result of the film adaptations of his work becoming the most popular series of all time - when everyone knows it, it can't be any good, some always feel - and partly a hangover from Fleming's day, when critics who had read three thrillers in their life pontificated about the sex, snobbery and sadism in his work (Paul Johnson can't have read any Dennis Wheatley!). I think we still have a rather bizarre attitude to dead critics, as though because they were writing 50 years ago and used arcane vocabulary they must have been very wise. I think most of the attacks on Fleming's work were completely unfounded and in some cases downright fraudulent, and mean to show why (in time).

Sadly, I don't think there has been much creditable criticism of Ian Fleming's work - which is fairly extraordinary, when you think of how popular his novels have been. They were selling millions of copies even before the first film was made. The best criticism has come from Kingsley Amis, I think, but even his book, while packed with insights, was still light-hearted fare and shies away from being a serious piece of criticism. That's not to say criticism must be dry. I appreciate Amis' humour. But often, if he disagrees with something, rather than argue it through convincingly, he simply blusters it through at the top of his lungs. And neither his book nor Snelling's seriously attempted to place Fleming in context. As I say, Richard Usborne's book Clubland Heroes had analyzed three writers' work who had superficial similarities to Fleming's, and they lazily grabbed at that and largely looked at Fleming in the context of those three. It's entertaining enough, but it's hardly serious literary criticism. Both books were, in a way, rallying cries for there to be some serious literary criticism on Fleming. But nobody's bothered yet, as far as I can see. Perhaps it's time someone did.

Last edited by spynovelfan (27th Sep 2010 10:03)

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Fleming himself did not take his writing seriously at all. Possibly even less than his critics. He wasn't offended when asked in an interview if he would ever take up serious writing. However his importance to the contribution of literature is a different story; He seems to remain under rated in that respect.

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Ricardo C. wrote:

Fleming himself did not take his writing seriously at all. Possibly even less than his critics. He wasn't offended when asked in an interview if he would ever take up serious writing.

I don't quite agree with this. Fleming was a self-deprecating Englishman and he often got his kicks in against himself before others could. Fleming never gave his critics the satisfaction of admitting he was hurt by what they were saying. He kept a stiff upper lip and tended to make a joke of it, or agree wholeheartedly with them. Amis mentions this in his Dossier, incidentally, that Fleming putting his own work down has meant that some others have taken him at his word. I think it's a mistake to take Fleming at his word, or to think that his apparently blasé attitude to some spectacularly rude and unfounded criticism was how he really felt. He also responded publicly at length to Johnson and Bergonzi's attacks on his work. I think he saw through their pontificating attacks, but was both pleased that they made him more famous and angered and hurt that they were not seriously challenged by anyone. He also discussed the charges they made, specifically Johnson's charges, in an interview with William Plomer, which I discuss here:

http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/2010/08/ … views.html

I don't think it's too much of a reach, considering the relationship between Fleming and Plomer, to imagine that this question did not come as a complete surprise to Fleming, and that it was something he wished to put right, albeit it in a rather gentler style here than elsewhere.

I think Fleming was keenly aware that it was possible to write thrillers that were literature: listen to his interview with Chandler. He was more aware of how it worked than his critics - most of whom, as I say, have hardly read any thrillers and some of whom have hardly read any Fleming.

But I agree, of course, with the rest of your post. He's a very under-rated writer, in my view. He created a character who still dominates the thriller genre, but has never had a serious appraisal. I think that's... quite odd.

Last edited by spynovelfan (27th Sep 2010 07:33)

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:

Thanks, Barbel. I realize that after a while it can all just look like a jumble of names and influences and the temptation is to throw up ones hands and say 'Oh, who cares who influenced Ian Fleming?' ajb007/smile Which is fair enough. Unfortunately, that's why so much lazy journalism and criticism has crept through, because nobody's really challenged any of it. It's easier for authors to say 'Fleming updated the clubland heroes of John Buchan and Sapper...' bla bla. Without reading Buchan or Sapper, I expect. It's been said before, so it must be right.

I think it's absurd that writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith are (rightly) regarded as masters of their craft and taken seriously - but the creator of James Bond is looked down on. Things have changed a little in the last decade, but in general Ian Fleming is not taken seriously by the critical establishment, and is looked down on as trashy pulp, misogynistic, sexist, racist, etc. I don't think it's to do with his work. I think it's partly Tall Poppy Syndrome as a result of the film adaptations of his work becoming the most popular series of all time - when everyone knows it, it can't be any good, some always feel - and partly a hangover from Fleming's day, when critics who had read three thrillers in their life pontificated about the sex, snobbery and sadism in his work (Paul Johnson can't have read any Dennis Wheatley!). I think we still have a rather bizarre attitude to dead critics, as though because they were writing 50 years ago and used arcane vocabulary they must have been very wise. I think most of the attacks on Fleming's work were completely unfounded and in some cases downright fraudulent, and mean to show why (in time).

Sadly, I don't think there has been much creditable criticism of Ian Fleming's work - which is fairly extraordinary, when you think of how popular his novels have been. They were selling millions of copies even before the first film was made. The best criticism has come from Kingsley Amis, I think, but even his book, while packed with insights, was still light-hearted fare and shies away from being a serious piece of criticism. That's not to say criticism must be dry. I appreciate Amis' humour. But often, if he disagrees with something, rather than argue it through convincingly, he simply blusters it through at the top of his lungs. And neither his book nor Snelling's seriously attempted to place Fleming in context. As I say, Richard Usborne's book Clubland Heroes had analyzed three writers' work who had superficial similarities to Fleming's, and they lazily grabbed at that and largely looked at Fleming in the context of those three. It's entertaining enough, but it's hardly serious literary criticism. Both books were, in a way, rallying cries for their to be some serious literary criticism on Fleming. But nobody's bothered yet, as far as I can see. Perhaps it's time someone did.


I read Usborne many years ago (around 1970!), and on the strength of it read the Hannay and Drummond series, Amis and Snelling I have read and re-read so many times (and have several copies of each) that I've lost count; the Umberto Eco book is too skewed; Haining too superficial; Chancellor isn't bad at all as far as it goes.

Doyle has been subjected to a massive amount of analysis, often on the subject of who his inspirators were, and he was pretty open about that (Poe, Dupin, etc) ! Highsmith I know nothing about. Chandler was under-appreciated in his time, a source of much pain to him, although his reputation continues to rise even fifty years after his death.

Yup, Johnson clearly never read any Wheatley- where sex, snobbery and sadism abound  ajb007/lol !

Yes, it's definitely time for some serious Fleming lit crit. Amis would certainly have been the definitive writer on the subject if he'd taken it a bit more seriously- as it stands, he's that by default. Snelling is basically writing as a respectful fan.

So there's space for s serious, well-detailed and researched book on Fleming's writing, leavened with humour and informed by its predecessors- can I take it you're thinking about doing it yourself?

Last edited by Barbel (27th Sep 2010 07:44)

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:
Ricardo C. wrote:

Fleming himself did not take his writing seriously at all. Possibly even less than his critics. He wasn't offended when asked in an interview if he would ever take up serious writing.

I don't quite agree with this. Fleming was a self-deprecating Englishman and he often got his kicks in against himself before others could. Fleming never gave his critics the satisfaction of admitting he was hurt by what they were saying. He kept a stiff upper lip and tended to make a joke of it, or agree wholeheartedly with them. But I think it's a mistake to take him at his word, or to think that his apparently blasé attitude to some spectacularly rude and unfounded criticism was how he really felt. He also responded publicly at length to Johnson and Bergonzi's attacks on his work. Amis mentions this in his Dossier, incidentally, that Fleming putting his own work down has meant that some others have taken him at his word.

Fleming was keenly aware that it was possible to write thrillers that were literature: listen to his interview with Chandler. He was more aware of how it worked than his critics - most of whom, as I say, have hardly read any thrillers and some of whom have hardly read any Fleming.

But I agree, of course, with the rest of your post. He's a very under-rated writer, in my view. He created a character who still dominates the thriller genre, but has never had a serious appraisal. I think that's quite odd.

I don't know. I wouldn't expect Fleming to plea that Bond is very serious but maybe he just dosen't see the character as seriously as we do. That dosen't make Bond thrillers any less enjoyable or important. And I know he was perfectly capable of writing a straight faced spy story, The Living Daylights definetly had that Le Carre-esque atmosphere.

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Ricardo C. wrote:

I don't know. I wouldn't expect Fleming to plea that Bond is very serious but maybe he just dosen't see the character as seriously as we do.

Perhaps he didn't - but perhaps he did! I agree that The Living Daylights is a great short story, and it aims to be taken seriously and should be. But the same applies to much of his work. I don't think something has to be straight or gritty or grim to be literature, which I sense you may do from your comment. Entertaining prose can also be artful. It's no easier to write.

I do agree that it shouldn't really matter what Ian Fleming's view of his work was to our evaluation of it, but I still don't think we have grounds for thinking he didn't take his work seriously. Most writers take their work very seriously. I think the fact that Fleming chose to respond to Johnson's and Bergonzi's attacks, publicly and at length, shows just how seriously he took it. His tone might have been flippant, but I think he still made his points - and his anger - felt.

Last edited by spynovelfan (27th Sep 2010 09:42)

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Barbel wrote:

I read Usborne many years ago (around 1970!), and on the strength of it read the Hannay and Drummond series,

I think Clubland Heroes is a brilliant book, but it was - completely inadvertently, and through no fault of Usborne's - harmful to Fleming's reputation. I think one could make a case for Buchan deserving serious literary attention, but Sapper and Yates don't really, and Usborne didn't give them it. Instead, he wrote a very entertaining, witty, insightful but nostalgic and sentimental look at some writers he had enjoyed growing up. It's done so well that the idea came to both Snelling and Amis to do much the same with Fleming. Interesting, isn't it, that those two books are about the literary Bond, despite the films being huge at the time? Hard to imagine that happening now. But Clubland Heroes is the stated model for Snelling, and the implicit model for Amis (who knew Usborne, incidentally). As a result, as well as making the mistake - often repeated since - that Fleming updated the clubland heroes, I think the approach undermined the real criticism and insight on Fleming both books contained.

Chandler was under-appreciated in his time, a source of much pain to him, although his reputation continues to rise even fifty years after his death.

Yes, but even in his lifetime Chandler was seen as being literature. Fleming discussed with him on the BBC in 1958:

'Fleming: What is a thriller? To my mind, of course, you don’t write thrillers and I do.

Chandler: I do, too.

Fleming: I don’t call yours thrillers. Yours are novels.

Chandler: A lot of people call them thrillers.

Fleming: I know. I think it’s wrong.

Chandler: Oh, well, I...

Fleming: I mean, you write novels of suspense, like Simenon does and like Eric Ambler does, perhaps, but in which violence is the background, just as love might be in the background of the ordinary or the straight kind of novel...

Chandler: Well, in America, a thriller, or a mystery story as we call them, is slightly below the salt.

Fleming: Yes, thriller-writing is very below the salt, really.

Chandler: You can write a long, very lousy historical novel full of sex and it can be a bestseller and be treated respectfully. But a very good thriller-writer, who writes far, far better, just gets a little paragraph, of course.

Fleming: Yes, I know. That’s very true.

Chandler: Mostly. There’s no attempt to judge him as a writer.

Fleming: But you yourself are judged as a writer, and Dashiell Hammett was, I think.

Chandler: Well, yes, but how long did it take me? You starve to death for ten years before your publisher knows you’re any good!'

I think Chandler, Hammett, Simenon and Ambler are all taken seriously as writers. Fleming should be, too, but still isn't.

Yes, it's definitely time for some serious Fleming lit crit. Amis would certainly have been the definitive writer on the subject if he'd taken it a bit more seriously- as it stands, he's that by default. Snelling is basically writing as a respectful fan.

Agreed. I enjoy both books, and think they have plenty of fascinating insights in them, but I think it's a shame that they are essentially the best criticism there is on Fleming. I think the unprecedented success of the films has skewed things to such a degree that all norms of criticsm have been thrown out with Fleming. It is a rock-solid principle of literary criticism, for example, that you have to have read what you are writing about. And yet famous critics have attacked Fleming's entire body of work while admitting to having read one of his novels, and have never been challenged on it! If I met someone at a dinner party and they attacked Fleming's Bond novels at length, but then admitted that they'd only read one of the books ('Years ago - I think it might have been Dr No...') I wouldn't take their views seriously. And yet critics have done this and been taken very seriously. I think we could roughly divide literary criticism on Fleming into the following camps:

Unfounded attacks. Bond is huge, so an article or essay saying that Fleming was the worst writer to ever pen a sentence and will cause the downfall of civilization will get readers, simply by being so contrary. Everyone loves reading a good slamming. It's like rubber-neckers on the motorway. But the critics who do this haven't read Fleming's body of work, and usually haven't read many thrillers, either. Both are essential for any serious literary criticism.

Gushing praise. 'Literary criticism' written by unabashed fans of James Bond who don't admit Fleming's writing had any flaws and claim he invented every single aspect of the thriller, without knowing much about thrillers. Some of this stuff now masquerades under a torrent of incomprehensible academic jargon, but even if the familiar language of literary criticism is there, the principles of it aren't.

Amis did point out some of Fleming's flaws, in fact, but his book is a highly personal exploration of why he loves Ian Fleming's work rather than an honest attempt at even-handed literary criticism of it. His discussion of Sapper and the clubland heroes reveals that he was barely versed in the genre as a whole. And he couldn't have cared less. 'This is what I think, and I'm right, damn it!' was pretty much his attitude. The book was not intended to be in-depth literary criticism, and shouldn't be taken as it. But in the absence of any in-depth criticism, it has been. A lot of the statements Amis made about Fleming's work don't stand up to examination. (The same applies to Snelling, even more so.)

So there's space for s serious, well-detailed and researched book on Fleming's writing, leavened with humour and informed by its predecessors- can I take it you're thinking about doing it yourself?

Probably not quite that, but I've published quite a lot of stuff about Bond in newspapers and on my blog, and will continue to try to publish on the subject. I enjoy the humour of Amis' book, but I would rather have a proper study of what Fleming did without it. Perhaps the occasional joke. ajb007/smile But that doesn't mean it has to be dull, dry or awash in pretentious academic-speak. I think in-depth literary criticism can be entertaining and insightful without using humour, and while supporting its points with sources. ajb007/smile

I think there's been a glut of books about James Bond - more appear every year - but surprisingly few about Ian Fleming. I think most of these books largely repeat the same old material, and that quite a lot of Bond fans are now wise to this. I suspect there's also a feeling among a lot of Bond fans that there's little else out there, or little else that makes any odds, ie that all the important stuff has been told and examined in existing books and documentaries. But while I think there is an enormous amount of information that has been published, I think there's also quite a lot that has been forgotten and, in many cases, completely missed. The interview with William Plomer I mentioned above, for example, has to my knowledge never been discussed anywhere else. Neither had the story of the attempts to film The Diamond Smugglers been fully explored - indeed, nobody at IFP even remembered that when I asked. These are just two examples. I have a mass of material - really, a ton of it - that has never been explored, about both literary and cinematic Bond. On the literary side, this includes interviews with Fleming as well as articles by Fleming that have been forgotten or left unexplored...

Some of the information I have is small potatoes. For instance, Harry Saltzman approached Robert Shaw to write a Bond screenplay. That's intriguing, I think. I don't think it's ever appeared in a book, and doubt even very hardcore Bond fans or experts know about it. It fleshes out a little more who the man who played Red Grant was - beyond just stating he was also a writer and what he wrote, which is the most he ever gets. It fleshes out a little more who Saltzman was and how he thought. But it's just a detail. A lot of these details add up, though, and present a different picture.

And some material adds significant new information, and changes our perspective. The full history of James Bond, literary and cinematic, is still very far from told, in my view. I certainly intend to publish my perspectives on it in the coming years. Watch this space. ajb007/smile

Last edited by spynovelfan (27th Sep 2010 09:57)

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:
Ricardo C. wrote:

I don't know. I wouldn't expect Fleming to plea that Bond is very serious but maybe he just dosen't see the character as seriously as we do.

Perhaps he didn't - but perhaps he did! I agree that The Living Daylights is a great short story, and it aims to be taken seriously and should be. But the same applies to much of his work. I don't think something has to be straight or gritty or grim to be literature, which I sense you may do from your comment. Entertaining prose can also be artful. It's no easier to write.

I do agree that it shouldn't really matter what Ian Fleming's view of his work was to our evaluation of it, but I still don't think we have grounds for thinking he didn't take his work seriously. Most writers take their work very seriously. I think the fact that Fleming chose to respond to Johnson's and Bergonzi's attacks, publicly and at length, shows just how seriously he took it. His tone might have been flippant, but I think he still made his points - and his anger - felt.


I don't think there is anything wrong if Fleming didn't take his work seriously or the fact that his work wasn't that serious either. I am not knocking the guy when I say this and neither and I am saying what he didn't do was literature, it just wasn't "high-art" that's all. Fleming's fan base, IMO, would not be above enjoying a Mike Hammer thriller or other pulp works of the day which was bathed with blood and sex.

20

Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Ricardo C wrote:

I don't think there is anything wrong if Fleming didn't take his work seriously or the fact that his work wasn't that serious either. I am not knocking the guy when I say this and neither and I am saying what he didn't do was literature, it just wasn't "high-art" that's all. Fleming's fan base, IMO, would not be above enjoying a Mike Hammer thriller or other pulp works of the day which was bathed with blood and sex.

I don't think there would be anything wrong if Fleming didn't take his work seriously, either - but I have good reason to believe he did take his work seriously. I think his letter to The Guardian in 1958 defending his work speaks volumes about his attitude towards it. What do you make of that letter? I think it's fairly crucial to the point you're making.

Neither do I think there would be anything wrong if his work wasn't especially serious, and was just pulp bathed in blood and sex. But I don't think it was that. I think he was inspired by elements of the work of pulp writers and others, but he transformed the genre into something else. I think he was not just one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, but also one of the greatest. That's just my opinion, of course, but it's one I'm prepared to argue with very specific reference to his work. Here's something I wrote on Casino Royale that explains some of my thinking:

http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/2010/03/ … eater.html

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Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:
Ricardo C wrote:

I don't think there is anything wrong if Fleming didn't take his work seriously or the fact that his work wasn't that serious either. I am not knocking the guy when I say this and neither and I am saying what he didn't do was literature, it just wasn't "high-art" that's all. Fleming's fan base, IMO, would not be above enjoying a Mike Hammer thriller or other pulp works of the day which was bathed with blood and sex.

I don't think there would be anything wrong if Fleming didn't take his work seriously, either - but I have good reason to believe he did take his work seriously. I think his letter to The Guardian in 1958 defending his work speaks volumes about his attitude towards it. What do you make of that letter? I think it's fairly crucial to the point you're making.

Neither do I think there would be anything wrong if his work wasn't especially serious, and was just pulp bathed in blood and sex. But I don't think it was that. I think he was inspired by elements of the work of pulp writers and others, but he transformed the genre into something else. I think he was not just one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, but also one of the greatest. That's just my opinion, of course, but it's one I'm prepared to argue with very specific reference to his work. Here's something I wrote on Casino Royale that explains some of my thinking:

http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/2010/03/ … eater.html


I think any author or artist who respects himself would certainly defend his work. We are just going to have to agree to disagree here. I much appericate Fleming's works. All I feel is I don't think he was aiming for the intellgentsia when it came to his work.

22

Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Ricardo C. wrote:

I think any author or artist who respects himself would certainly defend his work. We are just going to have to agree to disagree here. I much appericate Fleming's works. All I feel is I don't think he was aiming for the intellgentsia when it came to his work.

Okay - but why do you feel that? I'm not sure why you keep stating this view if you're unwilling to support it. First you said that Fleming himself said his work was not to be taken seriously. Once I pointed out that he defended his work at great length, you've said that any author who respects himself would defend his work but you still feel he wasn't aiming for the intelligenstia with it. What makes you feel that?

Here are some concrete examples of why I think Fleming was aiming for the intelligentsia (and succeeded):

Fleming was very keen on literature: he had a very impressive and esoteric book collection; he wrote poetry as a young man; he subscribed to literary magazines; he corresponded with Edith Sitwell; he suggested a series of essays on the seven deadly sins for The Sunday Times written by great writers; he wrote the introduction to that book when it was published; he was friends with several famous writers; his work is filled with literary allusions and tropes; Quantum of Solace is a short story that consciously aims to reproduce the tone and structure of Somerset Maugham's stories; his wife was a well-known literary hostess and numbered among her circle of friends Cyril Connolly and Evelyn Waugh, the latter of whom helped Fleming write some love scenes; he wrote to and reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement; one of his closest friends was the novelist, poet and essayist William Plomer, who he had written to after reading his first novel; his elder brother was one of the best known writers in Britain; he was published by Jonathan Cape, well known as a literary publisher; he was extremely keen for his novels to be reviewed by the literary establishment and did all he could to make that happen; his notebooks were filled with phrases from literature that took his fancy; his prose style is significantly more literary than most of his peers in the genre; he showed an astute appreciation of how thrillers could be accepted as literature when talking to Raymond Chandler on the BBC...

I'd be interested to hear your reasons for thinking Fleming was not aiming for the intelligentsia when it came to his work. Just stating that you think it isn't especially convincing!

Last edited by spynovelfan (27th Sep 2010 19:49)

23

Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

spynovelfan wrote:
Ricardo C. wrote:

I think any author or artist who respects himself would certainly defend his work. We are just going to have to agree to disagree here. I much appericate Fleming's works. All I feel is I don't think he was aiming for the intellgentsia when it came to his work.

Okay - but why do you feel that? I'm not sure why you keep stating this view if you're unwilling to support it. First you said that Fleming himself said his work was not to be taken seriously. Once I pointed out that he defended his work at great length, you've said that any author who respects himself would defend his work but you still feel he wasn't aiming for the intelligenstia with it. What makes you feel that, in the work?

Here are some concrete examples of why I think Fleming was aiming for the intelligentsia (and succeeded):

Fleming was very keen on literature. He had a very impressive and esoteric book collection, he wrote poetry as a young man, he subscribed to literary magazines, he corresponded with Edith Sitwell, he suggested a series of essays on the seven deadly sins for The Sunday Times written by great writers, he wrote the introduction to that book when it was published, he was friends with several famous writers, his work is filled with literary allusions and tropes, Quantum of Solace is a short story that consciously aims to reproduce the tone and structure of Somerset Maugham's stories, his wife was a well-known literary hostess and numbered among her circle of friends Cyril Connolly and Evelyn Waugh, the latter of whom helped Fleming write some love scenes, he wrote to and reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement, one of his closest friends was the novelist, poet and essayist William Plomer, who he had written a letter to after reading his first novel, his elder brother was one of the best known writers in Britain, he was published by Jonathan Cape, well known as a literary publisher, he was extremely keen for his novels to be reviewed by the literary establishment and did all he could to make that happen, his notebooks are filled with phrases from literature that took his fancy, his prose style is significantly more literary than most of his peers in the genre, he showed an astute appreciation of how thrillers could be accepted as literature when talking to Raymond Chandler on the BBC...

I'd be interested to hear your reasons for thinking Fleming was not aiming for the intelligentsia when it came to his work. Just stating that you think it isn't especially convincing!

spynovelfan, I am really not trying to debate you here. I don't understand your logic here, just because he defended his work it must mean he was aiming for the intellgensia ? I don't see how one thing nessecarily means the other. I also have conceded that something like The Living Daylights bares a resemblance to something that Le Carre wrote, it subtracted all the glamour of the novels in put Bond in a very dark situation. However with the exception of Casino Royale, a majority of FLeming's novels were not really serious spy thrillers; They read like dime store pulp novels and comics. Something that would have been the equivilent of Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan mysteries if they were released on film at the time. Now I am not saying they were totally lacking substance in the course of those novels, reflecting a grisly murder at the beginning of Goldfinger for example, however those stories couldn't be taken as seriously as The Spy Who Came From The Cold. Take Live and Let Die for example; Mr. BIG, a very daft name, stealing black beard's treasure for SMERSH and perpetuating  the myth he is the king of zombies. Bond basically functions as a cloak and dagger action hero not unlike many pulp stars at the time, not terribly different from Mike Hammer and his ilk. Again there is a lot of substance Fleming writes here, he covers the voo doo nature in exhausting detail, but I really think he was aiming for "warm blooded metrosexuals" in this case; Not like Quantum of Solace as you stated.

24

Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

Ricardo C. wrote:

spynovelfan, I am really not trying to debate you here.

If you're not prepared to discuss your opinion, why bother to state it on a discussion forum?

I don't understand your logic here, just because he defended his work it must mean he was aiming for the intellgensia?

No. But I'm not going to rewrite my last three posts for you to ignore every point I've made again. ajb007/smile

I don't see how one thing nessecarily means the other. I also have conceded that something like The Living Daylights bares a resemblance to something that Le Carre wrote, it subtracted all the glamour of the novels in put Bond in a very dark situation.

Yes, but you didn't answer my point, which is that something doesn't need to be dark to be good, or serious, or high art, or literature. Byron's Don Juan is hilarious and light, but it's still great literature, isn't it?

Now I am not saying they were totally lacking substance in the course of those novels, reflecting a grisly murder at the beginning of Goldfinger for example, however those stories couldn't be taken as seriously as The Spy Who Came From The Cold.

Perhaps we're confusing terms here. When I refer to Fleming being taken seriously as a writer, I mean serious in terms or respect, not serious in terms of sombreness of tone. Goldfinger is not as dour a novel as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. But it should still be taken seriously as a novel, in my view.

Take Live and Let Die for example; Mr. BIG, a very daft name, stealing black beard's treasure for SMERSH and perpetuating  the myth he is the king of zombies. Bond basically functions as a cloak and dagger action hero not unlike many pulp stars at the time, not terribly different from Mike Hammer and his ilk. Again there is a lot of substance Fleming writes here, he covers the voo doo nature in exhausting detail, but I really think he was aiming for "warm blooded metrosexuals" in this case; Not like Quantum of Solace as you stated.

I think he was aiming for the mass market, yes, the same as Chandler, Simenon, Hitchcock, Ambler. They're all taken seriously. Just because a book is great fun to read doesn't mean it's not great literature.

But thanks for at least - somewhat reluctantly! - actually bothering to back up your own point, rather than just repeating it.

It would be great if you could reply by actually addressing specifically at least one single point I've made. I don't think you've done so far, and I've referred to two long articles, a key letter written by Fleming and made lots of other points. If you want to discuss your view in a discussion forum, it would be preferable for you to actually address my points, as I am bothering to do with yours, rather than simply repeating your view. Otherwise, you see, it's not much fun as a discussion, and in fact pretty frustrating. ajb007/smile

Last edited by spynovelfan (27th Sep 2010 20:54)

25

Re: Sax Rohmer's influence on Ian Fleming

First off, I am under no obligation to defend every opinion I make here. I am sorry that fusterates you but *shrugs*, oh well.  We are just going around in circles spynovelfan and you aren't going to change my mind. I have read your articles and you can't convince me that what I have read can be taken as serious literature. Time and again I have already admitted there is substance behind some of these books, so what more do you want me to say ? What you have shown is Fleming does have a apperication of literature, a fine one at that, but that still dosen't mean what Fleming wrote was to be taken as serious literature.