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Nobel prize winning poet Derek Walcott dies; his thoughts on Bond

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#1 glidrose


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Posted 18 March 2017 - 07:26 PM

Walcott, a Saint Lucian poet and playwright, won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature.

His obituary in case any one cares:


He wrote a bit about Bond and appears to have been a quasi-fan in the early days. For what it's worth, Fleming and Walcott not only shared the same British publisher - Jonathan Cape - but also the same editor - William Plomer. In fact, Plomer appears to have gotten Walcott his first major publishing contract.

Remembered Mountains [Trinidad Guardian, Sun Apr 11 1965: p.7-8]

The mountains and the mountain roads are Hearne and Mais country, but not the lavish, soporific resorts of the North Coast, the winter retreats, which are Fleming's Jamaica. (There is a book by that title to appear soon.) One of the worst droughts in years had parched the hillsides to tinder, and the light here, one had forgotten, is subtler.

...Of TV, Bond, and Fanny Hill [Trinidad Guardian, Wed Dec 18 1963: pg. 5]

Bond, the impeccable, was around again last week, but I didn't have the gall to catch him a third time. Hamlet, Henry V, yes. Those are art, the other is sublimation, and who has measured the difference? Ian Fleming has fixed on the perfect name. The associations are infinite. Bond Street, stock and bonds, my word is my, whisky in bond, even Bond and Brand in there. Lithe, dependable, affluent, tested, tireless, awry and exportable, Travels well. James is right too. It's a butler's name, a chauffeur's. "Bring the Bentley round, James." There's that quality to our man, too, not really Establishment, but a self-made public servant.

Cloak and Dagger [Trinidad Guardian, Sun May 3 1964: pg 15]

Spies are the heroes of the Cold War. The literature of intelligence receives serious attention because its melodramatic complexities are confirmed by headlines. Romance is underlined by fact. Progress and organizational methods have made the lonely, anarchistic figures of the cowboy and the gangster as obsolete as the knight, so the spy emerges, another question-figure, purposeful and with the power of death.

As with other forms of this symbolism, we are fascinated by the primitive ritual of the game, the obstacles to be avoided, the captivity (through magic drugs, witches, or simply being gagged and beaten) from which there is one secret escape, the final confrontation of pure evil, and the triumph. The formula, like incantation, must be adhered to, because repetition is part of its hallucinatory result. Its standard interpreter is Ian Fleming, whose twelfth Bond book repeats the pattern of its predecessors exactly. Only the dragons change. The knight cannot.

Bond's armoury has always had the irresistible power of those charms, scarves, amulets or consecrated swords with which the knights of fable set out on their journeys, except that the magic is in the perfect beauty of its function, like the suitcase in From Russia With Love; yet is is a law of medieval romance that the devices of Evil must be even more ingenious, leisurely and diabolical. The instinct to good, by these canons, is reflexive: to rescue, to react at any price to the cry of distress, while the genius of Evil is calmer, more deliberate. The super-villain of such fables, from custom, always indulge in lengthy philosophical disquisitions about Purpose, which gives the hero time enough to achieve his Triumphs. it is the deadlock between Will and Service, between the Ego and the Ideal. During all this, the bonds are loosened. There's always an object forgotten within the arena. A loose knot, or, as it is in this book, the slave of a ninja expert lying around in the medieval or baronial room of Dr. Shatterhand's Japanese fortress. During Shatterhand's apologia, Bond reflects:

"It was always so. When they thought they had got you where they wanted you, when they knew they were decisively on top, before the knock-out, even to an audience on the threshold of extinction, it was pleasant, reassuring to the executioner, to deliver his apologia - purge the sin he was about to commit. Blofeld, his hands relaxed on the boss of his sword, continued. The tone of his voice was reasonable, self-assured, quietly expository."

What Blofeld, the villain from SPECTRE who murdered Bond's wife in the previous adventure, needs to justify is his suicidal Garden of Death, a walled-in area on a Japanese island that attracts and caters to the Japanese sense of honour, or on, landscaped with malevolent, fatal shrubs and fauna [rest of article unavailable]

Bond's Formula Still Irresistible [Trinidad Guardian, Wed Jan 19, 1966: pg. 5]

I'm as faithful a Bondsman as any, but his latest, Thunderball, ignores the man for the gadgetry. All of this nearly transfroms [sic] him into a robot. Even the wisecracks now sound like stock responses. The exotic setting, Nassau this time, has become too sleek and fashion-plated. Where Dr. No gave you, however exaggerated, a picture of what the fashionable life was like in Jamaica's plush resorts by contrasting it with its poverty and desperation, Thunderball presents you with a Bahamas that is pure Harper's Bazaar.

There were sequences where it resembled the preceding trailers of How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Beach Ball. And Bond is becoming too much like a male deodorant ad. The technological sequences are superbly done, but they cross the frontier of plausibility. In From Russia With Love, we were amused at the armoured Aston Martin with its ejector seat, and by the Saturday afternoon-serial bits, but we were making allowances for a touch of practical fantasy amid all the too-high seriousness of the international espionage.

The Fort Knox sequences in Goldfinger also seemed possible, but Thunderball depends too much on gasps of admiration at the way its 'scientific' passages were filmed.

What is also missing from Thunderball was central to the other Bond films: the direct, old-fashioned conflict between forces. The moral of Bond is as simple as this. It springs from the same pop-comic confrontations as the fiendish Dr So-and-So versus the resolute but fallible hero, but a villain who is far too affable, who has no more frightening disfiguration than a Hathaway eyepatch. In the Bond series, the disfiguration need not be physical, but usually Fleming presents us with villains who have been maimed in some way by the world; or who may have a deep, vengeful inferiority complex because they are in some way different. They are kinky in the deeper sense: Dr No's mechanical, black-gloved hands, Goldfinger's obsession which is a sexual sublimation, and From Russia's perverted villainess. Thunderball lets its villain toss the odd minion to sharks, and, since he is merely an agent of SPECTRE, gives him no egotistical motivation.

But the Bond formula is still irresistible. What the makers of the series must worry about now is whether the public will find Bond's adventures too absurd, his sexual conquests too easy; and the way to avoid this is to return to the old formula of direct conflict, not in making their products more expensive to tie in with the tributary markets.

However naive it may have been, Fleming's books had a sense of evil on a demonic scale, and Bond's seductions werew often very hard work. high camp is difficult to achieve if it is self-conscious. Bond must becomes serious again.

Thunderball, for example, suffers by comparison with another serious spy film, The Ipcress File, both of which have come out of the mills of Jonathan Cape and Harry Saltzman. The Ipcress hero is an uncommitted, sometimes gauche hero, who plays his hunches at ruinous cost. But where Thunderball exposes its hand too early, The Ipcress File still keeps, as all thrillers and detective stories should, to the guessing game. As part of the tension, The Ipcress File, in addition to all this, stresses the boredom and patience that takes up so much of professional spying, as war is often a question of waiting. Its relentless recording of paperwork, leg-work and trial and error has some of the atmosphere of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. No one wants Bond to be seedy or shot at the end, but he must drop into the office a bit more often.

#2 Dustin



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Posted 19 March 2017 - 08:18 PM

Some interesting reading there, thank you for sharing this.

Though Walcott seems to mix up the films quite early in the series (Aston in FRWL?). Also he seems to make hardly any distinction between film Bond and its literary counterpart. I'm astonished to read about a formula that must not be changed when the book in question, YOLT, does exactly that, and with as much aplomb as you are ever going to get from Fleming.

I also strongly disagree about the passages where GOLDFINGER's Fort Knox attack meets with Walcott's approval when to me they seemed fake and too easy. But of course, horses for courses...

Anyway, thanks a lot for these interesting snippets from an early fan of 007.