Friday, 25 March 2011

James Bond – licensed to write

It’s said that everyone has a novel in them. For James Bond, it’s a manual. In chapter 5 of Goldfinger we read that for the past year, Bond has whiled away the boredom of night duty by compiling a handbook of unarmed combat, called Stay Alive! The book brings together the self-defence techniques practised by secret agents across the world, including the dreaded (and ultra-secret) organisation of Soviet espionage, SMERSH. Bond hopes that the handbook would be added to the official manuals of the British secret service. In the event, the book is never referred to again, and it is likely that the book remains unfinished.

I’m certain that James Bond is not the only fictional character to have written a book (excluding novels written in the first person as diaries or memoirs and the like; here I mean works mentioned incidentally in the text), although off the top of my head I can only think of Flashman’s Dawns and Departures of a Soldier’s Life, the official memoir of the Victorian cad and scoundrel, whose more private and unvarnished adventures were ‘edited’ by Octopussy screenwriter, George MacDonald Fraser.

In any case, it is fitting that Bond’s literary output (apart from a haiku composed in You Only Live Twice) should be an instruction book. His bookshelf included two golf manuals and a guide to card games.

And, of course, Ian Fleming gave Bond his own interest in knowledge. In his pursuit of information, Fleming amassed a vast collection of academic treatises, guides, and manuals – books, which, in Fleming’s words, ‘started something’, or ‘made things happen’. His library, which is now kept at Indiana University, included such works as The Golfer's Manual; Being an Historical and Descriptive Account of the National Game of Scotland; with an Appendix (1857), by Allan Robertson, The Laws of Ping-Pong; compiled by the Ping-Pong Association (1902), and Walter Camp's New Way to Keep Fit, published in 1922 (one for Bond, perhaps). No doubt Fleming was looking forward to adding Stay Alive! by James Bond to the list.

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