Monday, 18 April 2011

How many James Bond book titles are there?

Or, to rephrase the question, how many types of titles did Ian Fleming use? To give an example, Live and Let Die is what I will call a phrase variant, deriving obviously from the well-known saying, ‘live and let live’. Other phrase variants are Diamonds are Forever, a mutation of the de Beers’ advertising slogan, ‘A diamond is forever’, From Russia, with Love, which is a play on oft-used sentimental expressions, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is taken from the standard phrase used on government communications, and You Only Live Twice, a derivation of the saying, ‘you only live once’.

Then there are film/book title variants. The Man with the Golden Gun appears to fall into this category, with its inspiration probably coming from The Man with the Golden Arm, a 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra. Another title type is personal name – Goldfinger and Dr No – with other names forming a fourth category. Moonraker, the name of Drax’s rocket, Thunderball, the name given to the mushroom cloud resulting from an atomic explosion, and Octopussy, the pet name of an octopus, belong to this group. (We should note, however, that Fleming didn’t actually choose the Octopussy short story title as the main title of the volume, as it was published posthumously.)

Of the remaining titles, For Your Eyes Only is presumably an original phrase, which Fleming came across and used during his wartime career in the Navel Intelligence Division, although I must confess I can’t put my finger on evidence to support this. It may in fact be a phrase variant, being similar, but not identical, to a form of words used in espionage. The origin of The Spy Who Loved Me is also uncertain, but is also provisionally placed in the original phrase category.

So we have a tentative list of five title types. Fleming’s titles in turn inspired the authors charged with writing continuation Bond novels, who tended to use the same basic title types. Phrase variants include John Gardner’s Win, Lose or Die, and Raymond Benson’s The Facts of Death. Personal names are evident in Colonel Sun by Robert Markham (Kingsley Amis) and Scorpius by John Gardner. Curiously, neither Raymond Benson, nor Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond series, use personal names for titles. Of the film/book title variants employed by the continuation authors, all examples, such as Licence Renewed (John Gardner) and The Man with the Red Tattoo (Raymond Benson), have their origin in Fleming’s phrases or titles. The fifth type, original phrase, is interesting in that the continuation authors have turned to the category proportionately more than Fleming. There is, for example, Gardner’s Role of Honour, Benson’s Zero Minus Ten, and Higson’s By Royal Command. Recent authors have also used original phrases; Sebastian Faulks had Devil May Care, while Jeffery Deaver’s forthcoming novel will be called Carte Blanche.

Another aspect to consider is the association of certain words or concepts with the world of James Bond. The most frequently used are death (or variants of, such as die), forever, the man who or from, and negative words, such as never and nobody. Fleming used these sorts of words sparingly, but they increased their frequency among continuation authors to the point of over-use. Half of Raymond Benson’s Bond novels have the word death (or similar) in the title, while almost a quarter of John Gardner’s titles use a negative. In contrast, only 8% of Fleming’s titles use a form of death, and none uses negatives. Despite this, these words and concepts have become so strongly associated with Bond that continuation authors regularly turn to them. Their use has also spread to films – Licence to Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day – and no doubt anyone invited to generate a Bondian title is likely to consider words like these. Oddly enough, no title generator has used the word that Fleming used twice and is just as Bondian: love.

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