Sunday, 30 January 2011

Where did Ian Fleming get his ideas?

I was listening to Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming in conversation – the recording is part of the BBC’s archive on James Bond – and was struck by a number of Chandler’s statements that reminded me of passages that appeared later in Fleming’s novels.

The conversation was originally broadcast in 1958, and Fleming was about to publish
Goldfinger. In the programme, Chandler asks Fleming why he included torture scenes in all his novels. Fleming disputed this, but then admitted that this was a product of growing up with Fu Manchu and Bulldog Drummond novels (evidently the influence of these earlier English thrillers cannot be dismissed altogether). Chandler said, ‘Next time try brainwashing’. Fleming did not try brainwashing in his next book (For Your Eyes Only), but it does appear in his final full-length novel, The Man With The Golden Gun. After losing his memory in Japan at the conclusion of You Only Live Twice, James Bond travels to Russia and into the hands of the KGB, which brainwashes him into assassinating M.

Then, during a conversation about gun crime in America, Chandler says, ‘The first thing you do after being struck on the head [with a gun] is vomit’. Fleming used this idea rather sooner. In the short story Risico (published in
For Your Eyes Only), Bond is struck on the head with a Luger by one of Colombo’s men. Fleming writes, ‘When you come to from being hit on the head the first reaction is a fit of vomiting’.

In the broadcast, Fleming refers to Chandler’s latest novel,
Playback. Chandler mentions that at the end of it, the hero Philip Marlowe proposes marriage. Chandler speculates that marriage and Marlowe’s job – a private detective – are incompatible, and that it would cause a problem in subsequent novels. Fleming said, ‘I don’t think my character’s going to get married’. Well, of course he does, to Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But, like Chandler, Fleming was aware that marriage and Bond’s job cannot be reconciled, and he (actually Blofeld) kills the marriage as the couple speeds off from the ceremony.

As Goldfinger says: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action’. The obvious conclusion to draw from the broadcast is that, rather than these similarities being coincidence, Fleming took or ‘inherited’ Chandler’s ideas, stored them away in his mind, and recalled them (whether remembering the original source or not) to use in his writing. So, to answer the question posed in the title, in some cases the ideas came from Raymond Chandler.

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