Tuesday, 11 October 2011

James Bond and Alligator

I recently read I*n Fl*m*ng's Alligator. This is the James Bond parody published by the Harvard Lampoon in 1962. In the book, J*mes B*nd faces his most dangerous adversary, Lacertus Alligator, who, as head of TOOTH, an organisation of ex-Nazis, steals the Houses of Parliament, along with its members, and demands a huge ransom for its release.

In a similar manner to the way that, more recently, Sebastian Faulks prepared for his Bond book, Devil May Care, the authors of Alligator have replicated certain aspects or memes seen in Fleming's novels to produce a composite Bond thriller, although the memes have been adapted, typically by means of exaggeration, for comic effect.

Food and drink feature heavily. The 'Vesper' martini of Casino Royale is alluded to as Bond invents an elaborate cocktail and names it after Alligator's companion, Anagram le Galion. (Jeffrey Deaver also picked up on the 'Vesper' when writing Carte Blanche, and invented another cocktail.) There are also nods to Bond's heavy alcohol and cigarette consumption (at least to modern eyes). B*nd routinely orders triples, and has a 120-a-day cigarette habit, up from the 70-a-day habit in the original books. And as with the original books, none of this appears to affect B*nd's ability to perform his duties. B*nd dines regularly, and is quite exact about his requirements.

In recognition of Moonraker's bridge game, and Goldfinger's golf match, in Alligator, B*nd meets the villain across the card table as he tries to outwit him in the high-stakes card game, Go Fish. Fleming's use of facts and technical detail is frequently parodied ('The I G Farben Co., a German concern, was the first corporation to make purple aniline dye products on a large scale').

The villain, Alligator, is an amalgam of Goldfinger, Blofeld, Drax, and to a lesser extent Mr Big. He loves purple, and sprays everyone he meets with a purple dye. Physical characteristics include doll-like eyes, a football-sized head, red hair, and, curiously, metal teeth. (One wonders whether the scriptwriters for the film, The Spy Who Loved Me, had read the book, with the detail re-emerging in the characterisation of Jaws. Similarly, Alligator features wrist-activated darts, which were also used in Moonraker – a film, like The Spy Who Loved Me, penned by Christopher Wood.)

There are other aspects of Fleming that readers would recognise. Alligator has a Korean on his staff, who is adept at performing karate chops, Oddjob style. In Bermuda, to where the action moves, B*nd engages the services of a Caribbean islander, Squabble (as opposed to Quarrel in Fleming). Bond's Scottish housekeeper, May, is now Llewylla, who is Welsh. In the latter stages of the book, B*nd dines with Alligator, giving Alligator the opportunity to lecture B*nd on his origins and his dastardly plans. All very Dr No. And, as in Dr No, B*nd attempts to secrete some tableware about his person for use as possible weapons. In the original, Bond manages a bread knife; in Alligator, he manages a steak knife, then a candlestick.

In general, then, the authors of Alligator have been most inspired by Dr No, Moonraker, and Goldfinger. The Nazi origins of Alligator, his cheating at cards at his London club, Glades, and his desire to bring down the British government recall Drax and Moonraker, while the Caribbean location, and B*nd's dinner with Alligator bring to mind Dr No. The doses of Goldfinger are apparent in the Korean manservant and the obsession with purple (rather than gold).

What is also interesting is the books that aren't referenced to any great degree – Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, and Diamonds Are Forever, among others. Although strong entries in the Bond series, and bestsellers, it is possible that they provided fewer targets for parody. Alternatively, Drax, Blofeld, Dr No and Goldfinger, along with associated plot details, so quickly established themselves as the archetypal Bondian memes, that they overshadowed any other elements. Consequently, parodies focus on these at the expense of others. This continues to be the case. The Austin Powers spoofs, for example, have tended to parody the same targets as the authors of Alligator – Dr No, Goldfinger and Blofeld – though in this case, it was the film versions that were spoofed.

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