Most of what we consider to be today’s modern myths are timeless superheroes that have been preserved and elevated to this status by comic books, television shows, and movies. One modern character who has achieved this title, partly due to this same timelessness and seeming immortality, is Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Fleming created the character of Bond in 1953, when he released his first novel entitled Casino Royale. Critical acclaim for the novels led Fleming to partner with EON productions to film a James Bond movie – the first being Dr.
No. While Fleming penned his final Bond story in 1964, other novelists and directors have continued to produce material that adds to the never-ending story of this British superspy. The image of James Bond has become an important part of pop culture, spawning a line of video games and musical arrangements made specifically for the series. It has also influenced many other novels and films; including the Austin Powers spoof series and the Jason Bourne books and movies.
The name James Bond has become synonymous with violence, sex and sophistication, and it is a prime example of a modern myth due to people’s familiarity with the character and his personality. James Bond is a modern myth not just because of the mythic qualities that the character and his codename, 007, possess, but also because of the status to which it has been elevated and the number of ways in which it has been recreated. Ian Fleming released the first novel featuring Commander Sir James Bond of the British Secret Intelligence Service in 1953, which was entitled Casino Royale.
The novel introduced Bond as a cold and virtually emotionless MI6 (SIS) agent sent to defeat a Soviet terrorist who is funding a weapons trade in an intense game of Baccarat. As Fleming said of his creation: I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers. ‘ Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department. (Chancellor 47)
Most of the Bond novels would make reference to Bond’s coldness and nonchalant attitude towards murdering others, and it would become a staple of the series – a mythic quality that intrigued readers and, later, viewers. Also, Fleming notes that while Bond remains unmoved, wild occurrences take place around him – a duality that offers attractive action scenes and exotic locales as well as a character that garners interest with his mysterious nature. In fact, a glimpse into Bond’s history and previous life is not provided until the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the 11th novel in the series.
This mystique is also another quality that has helped James Bond achieve mythic status. The Bond novels ended abruptly when Fleming died in 1964, but another novel and a collection of short stories were published posthumously two years later as they had already been written by Fleming. The saga continued, however, through the growing popularity of the film series. Fleming worked directly with EON productions in 1962 to release the first James Bond movie, which featured Sean Connery as Bond. Despite Fleming originally disliking Connery playing his character, along with the first film, Dr.
No, receiving bad reviews from the box office, the production company continued to release Bond films and later achieved success and critical acclaim (Barnes and Hearn 8). The film series also gained a following that has continued to expand up to today, and it has reached a point where it appears that the saga will never end. In fact, history has proven that regardless of how poorly made a new Bond film seems to be, aficionados of the series will still embrace it because it features Bond, as proven by box offices failures such as Die Another Day and A View to a Kill.
Although James Bond is not considered a traditional “superhero,” his never-ending story, ability to escape any danger, mind-blowing gadgets, and mysterious personality made him the first superhero of his time. “Before Superman, Batman or Indiana Jones, there was Bond, the bespoke superhero, blowing up stuff and nonchalantly risking his life and limb for God and country” (Hinson). James Bond faces his imminent death in every novel and film, often at the hands of some criminal mastermind or his arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a character who has become a myth himself by inspiring characters such as Dr.
Evil and The Claw). Despite the array of weapons, deadly plots and dangerous women used against him, Bond always escapes danger and lives to fight another day. The fact that his adventures have been replayed and expanded upon for forty years, that his likeness has been portrayed by six different actors, and that multiple authors have been licensed to pen new Bond novels solidifies his status as a modern myth. Also, like most myths, James Bond has become more famous than his original creator, a factor that separates the Bond series from any other book-turned-movie in the modern age.
Despite all of the qualities of the James Bond series that prove its integration into our culture, it is necessary to connect it to other elements of myths in order to substantiate its role as a modern myth. First of all, myths are associated with the cultures that create them, and they become a tradition of that civilization. Such is the case with the Bond series, as it is ingrained in our society so that new films and video games are released every few years and the name James Bond is often the first image to come to a person’s mind when the word “spy” is mentioned.
Likewise, the series itself integrates elements of the culture that created it. James Bond exudes the sophistication usually associated with Great Britain, and each novel and film includes aspects of the world’s happenings according to the era that it is produced during. For example, the film version of From Russia with Love reflects elements of the Cold War, and it especially resonated with the audience due to its release a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Likewise, the novel version of The Spy Who Loved Me, released in 1962, is the most sexually explicit of the series, which relates to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Most of the films were adapted from novels, but they were all generally modified to deal with modern issues and problems, thus keeping Bond current and endowing the series with more mythic qualities. A common element of myths is that they deal with transcendence and man’s futile attempt to transcend his natural boundaries. In the myth of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus desires to outdo the gods and fate by escaping his doomed future of incestuous marriage and familial murder. Despite his precautions, he is unable to escape his fated downfall. James Bond deals with transcendence in a different way.
While he considers himself, and is considered by others to be, a blunt instrument utilized by the British government, he attempts to transcend his own boundaries by becoming more of a superhero than simply a spy. In most of the Bond novels, he goes to great lengths to defeat the evil which he faces at that time, and this is played out even more in the films where his feats are dramatized and he is presented as a larger than life character. He performs stunts that are truly unrealistic and takes on a criminal organization, its leader, and a slew of henchmen single-handedly.
Bond succeeds in transcending his boundaries because he always defeats the “bad guy” and escapes unscathed. Yet, his efforts can also be seen as futile because he never eliminates the source of the world’s evil – which ultimately is his goal. Of course, Bond fails in this goal because he takes on a challenge that is truly impossible, since evil can never be erased from the world. In this sense, James Bond can be seen as mythic because it features man’s inability to transcend to the level which he wishes to obtain. Like many mythic heroes, Bond must attempt to complete his missions while compensating for his weaknesses.
As Joseph Campbell points out, imperfection is what makes people empathize with and cheer for a mythic hero – imperfection makes him human and perfection would be impossible to identify with (J. Campbell 4). While many critics argue that the James Bond series is bland because the protagonist has no flaws, their argument is invalid. Bond features multiple weaknesses in the novels and films: “He turned back to the front page and began to rattle off the points that struck him…Vices: Smokes heavily, drink, but not to excess, and women” (Fleming, “From Russia with Love” 41).
In this segment from From Russia with Love, a Russian agent reads off the information file that they have kept on James Bond. His first vice (which, his vices should be viewed as weaknesses since they are imperfections) is smoking, which is heavily played up in the novels but was not featured in most of the films after the 70s. In fact, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in the early 90s makes the remark that smoking is “…an awful habit” after seeing a Russian guard lighting up (M. Campbell).
However, smoking is considered one of the literary Bond’s vices because, even though smoking was condoned in the 50s and visible in many films during the era, Bond is presented as smoking excessively and unhealthily. His drinking habits are considered a vice, but it is a less important factor because he does not drink to excess and does not allow it to impede his objectives. In fact, Bond’s drinking has become a mythic element of his character, but more specifically, his choice of alcoholic drink. “’A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet. ‘ ‘Oui, monsieur. ‘ ‘Just a moment.
Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it? ‘” (Fleming, “Casino Royale” 72). This quotation first appeared in the novel Casino Royale and has since been featured in many other Bond novels and films, more commonly condensed into the phrase, “Shaken, not stirred. ” Bond’s drink preference has been quoted and misquoted in many other mediums, thus proving its mythic qualities. His only other vice, and arguably the most notable of all, is his excessive amount of women.
In every Bond adventure, he seduces at least one woman, although more often than not he has multiple women. In Casino Royale, both the novel and the 2006 feature film, he meets Vesper Lynd, a partner in his mission, whom he falls madly in love with. After becoming severely wounded, Bond contemplates retiring from the service in order to marry Vesper and lead “an honest life,” although this does not happen after he discovers that she is a double agent working for SMERSH/QUANTUM (the organization’s title differs in the novels and movies).
Her death leaves him empty, leading him to tell his boss “The job is done…the bitch is dead now,” foreshadowing his distrust of women in every later novel and film (Fleming, “Casino Royale” 180). Bond is commonly referred to as a womanizer for his treatment of women after this event, using women simply for sex and the completion of his goals. These women whom he seduces are referred to as “Bond girls,” a term that has become another staple of the series. Usually, the “Bond girl” is the main woman in the novel or film, and she can range from being Bond’s coworker to his opponent. Bond girls” have also taken on a mythic element due to their names, which are usually comical as well as overtly sexual (i. e. Honey Ryder, Xenia Onnatop, and Pussy Galore). James Bond’s smorgasbord of women is considered a weakness because it often places him in dangerous situations. He is sometimes lured into a trap by his nemeses, such as in From Russia with Love, where SMERSH utilizes the beautiful Tatiana Romanova to assassinate Bond – unsuccessfully, of course.
Most myths, even some of the more modern ones, tend to feature some supernatural or preternatural components. Earlier myths often featured the gods as important players in the plot, and these supernatural beings sometimes intervene with the action of the myth. In the James Bond series, there is no mention of God or gods and the supernatural generally does not come into play, with the exception of the novel and movie Live and Let Die, which features a Bond girl with the ability to foresee the future and a nemesis that defeats his foes by utilizing voodoo and black magic.
Otherwise, the supernatural does not come into play in the Bond series (this is due to the fact that the plots usually deal with realistic and modern-day elements). However, one connection that can be made to the supernatural is Bond’s agelessness and his superhero-like abilities. As previously noted, the Bond series has been operating for 40 years, yet the character never ages. While the ages of the actors who play him may vary, they have all been around the same ages (with the exception of Roger Moore, who was notably older than the other actors when he first began his tenure).
His agelessness has helped to endow that mythical quality upon the series. Bond also possesses what some may view as a supernatural ability to always escape death; however, this is not a typical superhero power. Instead, Bond is attributed with a particular set of skills, including but not limited to the knowledge of boating, skiing and karate, which allows him to swiftly deal with his enemies, even in the stickiest situations. While this is not the traditional supernatural intervention that one may expect, it nevertheless aids in establishing his status as a myth.
Just as Antigone presents a moral issue that its characters must face, many other myths do the same. They often attempt to provide some ethical justification for an action, therefore being pedagogical and teaching its audience something about life. The James Bond series is pedagogical as well, adding another aspect to the list of items that make it mythic. One feature of Bond that is insightful about life is his unhappiness. Throughout the novels more so than the films, Bond sometimes appears unhappy about the path he has chosen for himself as well as his constant romances with women but nability to ever settle down with someone (the novels hint at a possible marriage before Vesper Lynd was in the picture, but it is unclear as to if it fell through or if the woman died). In many ways, Fleming was reflecting his own personal life and his experiences during WWII. He wrote in his creed “I have always smoked and drunk and loved too much. In fact I have lived not too long but too much. One day the Iron Crab will get me. Then I shall have died of living too much” (Fleming, “Fleming Creed”).
While Fleming appears optimistic about his experiences in life, he nevertheless desires a source of calmness and relaxation. It can be said that Fleming, while beautifying the art and lifestyle of espionage, was also instructing readers that this way of life can leave a person empty and, while it can be exciting and exotic, human beings long for some stability. Bond novels and films also take a myth-like ethical justification approach to violence as well as the sometimes brutal tactics that Bond employs in his missions.
James Bond constantly needs to shoot someone or blow up a building, but it is justified because it is all part of the grand scheme and allows Bond to complete his objectives. As described in the short story and film License to Kill, MI6 has given James Bond the authority to eliminate anyone who stands in his way. In light of his victory, any sins that he has committed immediately become irrelevant, and he is viewed as a hero in the same way that a soldier is viewed when returning home for a successful war.
The Bond series serves as a modern myth because it explores ethical justifications and asserts that murders can be justified if they are executed in the pursuit of justice. The Bond series offers a myriad of items that have become ingrained in our society through their appearance in James Bond books and films – specifically, Bond quips and catchphrases, the number 007, “Bond girls,” unrealistic gadgets, tuxedo-clad spies, and criminal masterminds who prove to be inefficient in eliminating their primary assailant.
The Bond character is also a timeless and ageless figure that has been portrayed by multiple actors and presented in numerous adventures. The series also contains common elements of myths which substantiate claims that James Bond is a modern myth. The novels and films are pedagogical in nature and explore the issue of ethical justification for violence, and Bond is presented as having a preternatural ability to evade all danger and destroy all the evils that he faces.
These adventures also deal with transcendence, and Bond’s attempt to transcend the boundaries of human nature and his occupation as well as his inevitable never-ending battle against the evils of the world. James Bond, like most myths, has garnered much more fame than its original creator, and the release of more films and novels featuring the protagonist is always expected since Bond has become a part of our society’s traditions.