Sunday, 10 March 2013

Memorable and adaptable: Bond novel titles

After 60 years, James Bond is proving to be as immortal a character as Sherlock Holmes. Bond's longevity owes much, of course, to Ian Fleming's writing and the success of the films. But there are other aspects that help keep James Bond current in popular culture. One small aspect is the titles of Fleming's novels. Whether they play on common expressions (Live and Let Die), use the intriguing-sounding names of characters (Dr No or Goldfinger), or derive from official phrases (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), the titles are certainly memorable. And being memorable is a hugely important factor, along with adaptability, that has allowed some of the titles to become successful memes in their own right, being used in a range of different contexts away from the books or films.

One area in which the titles have had life beyond Fleming and the films is other books, as a search through Amazon reveals. Take From Russia, With Love. There are dozens of variations: From Greece with Love, From Manhattan with Love, From Hell with Love, From Baghdad with Love, From Russia with Tough Love, From London with Love, From Notting Hill with Love...Actually, From Somalia With Love. The list goes on, and is potentially endless, thanks to Fleming's use of the word Russia, which can be replaced with any other place name, making his title highly adaptable, usually in this case for travel books or accounts of journeys.

If From Russia, With Love, is the top title for adaptability, The Spy Who Loved Me comes a close second. Here, the word spy has given the title variability. So there is The Viscount Who Loved Me, The Dragon Who Loved Me, The Wolf Who Loved Me, The Vampire Who Loved Me, The Droid Who Loved Me, The Nerd Who Loved Me, and The Saint Who Loved Me, among many others. Most of these books are novels, and it may have amused Fleming to know that a good proportion of those fall under the category of erotic fiction.

Authors of erotic fiction have also looked, perhaps inevitably, to For Your Eyes Only for inspiration. For His Eyes Only and For Her Eyes Only are two examples. But the title, which itself derives from a phrase used in intelligence circles, has been used less salaciously for non-fiction, such as For the President's Eyes Only, which is an account of US Intelligence through successive presidents. In a similar vein, the title In the President's Secret Service, a history of the US Secret Service, may have derived from Fleming's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. If this is arguable, then there is surely less dispute about At Her Majesty's Secret Service, Sherlock Holmes on Her Majesty's Secret Service, Her Majesty's Secret Service, or On His Majesty's Secret Service

As noted, Fleming turned to a well-worn phrase, 'live and let live', when naming his second novel, and it could be argued that Live and Let Shop and Live and Let Love are further variations of the original expression, rather than adaptations of Fleming's title. However, the titles Liver Let's Die, Live and Let Spy and Live and Let Dive, must derive from Fleming, as the choice of words to rhyme with 'die' indicates. Fleming again thought of a common expression for his penultimate full-length novel, 'you only live once' becoming You Only Live Twice. Other authors have in turn been inspired by Fleming, as is clear by the use the word 'twice' in, for example, You Only Die Twice and You Only Love Twice.

When Fleming arrived at The Man with the Golden Gun, he may have been inspired by The Man with the Golden Arm, a 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra. As Fleming shows, the final word in the original title makes it reasonably adaptable, and other authors have provided alternatives: The Man with the Golden Torc, The Man with the Golden Plow, The Man with the Golden Flute, The Man with the Golden Cuffs, The Man with the Golden Handshake, and the Man with the Golden Touch. The final two are certainly derived from Fleming. The Man with the Golden Touch is Sinclair McKay's excellent account of the rise of the Bond phenomenon, while The Man with the Golden Handshake, a collection of cartoon strips featuring the character Alex, references the gunbarrel sequence on its cover.

When Ian Fleming settled on some of the titles for his Bond novels, he devised titles that were memorable and variable, qualities which have allowed them to replicate, spread and evolve as entities separate from the world of James Bond.

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