MI6 Community Novel Bondathon (Begins Thursday, June 1st)



  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    I have all of those strips collected. Great stuff.
  • Posts: 628
    Birdleson wrote: »
    I have all of those strips collected. Great stuff.

    Some of them are the only faithful adaptations of particular Fleming novels in existence (aside from the radio versions). Great as McLusky's version of Bond was, I thought Yaroslav Horak's was even better:
  • To my eyes, the world McLusky put Bond into just looks more '50s than Horak's. Of course, Horak started drawing the strip in the late '60s so I suppose that's only natural. The abbreviated Thunderball strip is a sad, sad thing. I do wish they'd had the chance to finish that adaptation correctly!
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,122
    I've never been a fan of Horak's Bond art, sadly. Too busy with his lines, and the whole look of it all feels off. McLusky's just gives off that certain flavor of the times, putting Bond in his ideal climate as originally intended.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    I enjoy both of them. Which ever one I'm immersed in becomes my preference at the time.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    edited June 2017 Posts: 21,303
    A few final thoughts on LIVE AND LET DIE (1954) before we move on to MOONRAKER (1955) tomorrow (in the past that one has consistently been my favorite entry).

    -As Bond sets out on his dangerous and deadly assault on Mr. Big's pirate cave, clearly doubtful as to his chances of even making it the 300 yards to Bloody Morgan's Cave, he thinks to himself that if he fails to attach the mine to the Secatur, or if it doesn't blow, as a secondary plan the ship will be intercepted at sea by military ships under the supervision of Strangways. My question is, why the didn't they just do that? Then they have the gold, Mr. Big, Solitaire and have shut down the entire operation with out Bond having to place himself in such dire jeopardy. Obviously, this way make for a far more riveting tale, but it really makes no sense.

    -As noted many times on these boards, Bond takes an enormous amount of physical punishment in these early novels; usually naked (CASINO ROYALE, LALD and MR, for instance). It is always to the point of us readers questioning if Bond could possibly survive such treatment (that's no complaint, I love this aspect of the books), or at any rate still remain a functional human being. After the horrors he has already endured in CR, here he gets a chunk of his shoulder bitten off by a barracuda and cuts his feet and back to ribbons on the corral. Every novel through DOCTOR NO has our hero enduring what would kill of maim your average man. After that the punishments become mainly psychological (dead wife, amnesia, brainwashing, etc.), though he does get messed up pretty bad in the final two novels, as well.

    -There is at least one moment (usually more) in every Fleming novel where the tension becomes so thick, despite this being my fifth time reading these books, that I want to explode. He is the best at building suspense.

    I'm excited about cracking MR. Like GOLDFINGER is to the film series, I find it to be the consummate Bond novel; the one that pulls all of the aspects and troupes of the Fleming novels expertly together.
  • Birdleson wrote: »
    -As Bond sets out on his dangerous and deadly assault on Mr. Big's pirate cave, clearly doubtful as to his chances of even making it the 300 yards to Bloody Morgan's Cave, he thinks to himself that if he fails to attach the mine to the Secatur, or if it doesn't blow, as a secondary plan the ship will be intercepted at sea by military ships under the supervision of Strangways. My question is, why the didn't they just do that? Then they have the gold, Mr. Big, Solitaire and have shut down the entire operation with out Bond having to place himself in such dire jeopardy. Obviously, this way make for a far more riveting tale, but it really makes no sense.

    The thought crossed my mind too as I was typing up my notes. I really don't have an explanation for it. Fleming certainly doesn't provide one. The only thing I can think of would be Bond doing it for Solitaire. Perhaps she has a better chance of survival if Bond gets her out himself. Big might threaten her as a hostage if he's intercepted on the seas—or perhaps Strangways' "interception" would mean blowing the boat out of the water. But again, Fleming doesn't spell this out for us. Bit of an oversight the reader has to fill in or work their way around.
    Birdleson wrote: »
    I'm excited about cracking MR. Like GOLDFINGER is to the film series, I find it to be the consummate Bond novel; the one that pulls all of the aspects and troupes of the Fleming novels expertly together.

    Oh I am too. Moonraker has long been my favorite and is my most read Fleming.
  • edited June 2017 Posts: 4,537
    Live and Let Die (1954)

    Scrambled eggs count: 4

    Moonraker on the morrow. Thursdays are Hell.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,127
    Moonraker is my fave too. Looking forward to this! (LALD notes tonight, a day late and a dollar short.)
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    Well, where is them notes!?!
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,122
    I've had a busier week and a half than expect, but am quickly working my way through Live & Let Die and will have the rest done within the next two days (I'm also trying to put together a Casino Royale review together so I'm a bit scattered). In the meantime, here's half of my notes up to chapter 13:

    Chapter 1- The Red Carpet

    I find it interesting that Fleming’s first chapter in Live & Let Die is both a mirror image and a distortion of the first chapter of Casino Royale. Clearly he was working himself into a narrative framework here, where we start off the novel in medias res and get a sense for the setting, a tease of the villain and all the other extraneous data and details about Bond’s present location before Fleming peels it all back for chapter two and tells us how the spy got to where he’s at.

    And sure enough, that is how Live & Let Die begins, not unlike Casino. We are thrown into it immediately with an introductory and punching line, then taken by the hand as Bond finds himself in New York again as Fleming pumps the text with a series of details about spy craft to paint the picture of how American intelligence operates and how the cities of the nation work, until we get a hint of Mr. Big, who Bond name-drops without the reader knowing the full picture or meaning of it all yet. This all follows the same pattern of the writer’s debut, where we get a feeling for Bond’s mood, spot our villain, and get information on the mission teased to us in preparation for the next chapter, which will step into the past and explain how he got to where he’s at.

    One thing the first chapter of Live & Let Die mixes up, quite refreshingly, is in its first paragraph. The opening of Casino Royale is known far and wide for its very rough and dirty opening, with sentences that paint the picture of the kind of “soul-erosion” that results in the smells, textures and sense of discomfort that sends Bond craving the night air. It’s a chapter that really does everything but glorify Bond’s job as a spy, showing all the exhaustion, fear and tension it can incite, and we see these effects as they impose themselves on Bond, caking his body in thick sweat that bleeds through his shirt.

    Contrast this opening with Live & Let Die, and the introductions become jarring-likely by Fleming’s design. Instead of the writer focusing on Bond’s sense of uneasiness or nausea, we encounter him jetting through the airport of New York with a “red carpet” rolled out to greet him. It’s a very upbeat and glorified chapter, showing us all the treats and special treatment that Bond has gotten on his current mission express from the American services, disparate from his time in France for the casino job where he had little but himself to count on and few perceptible privileges around to indulge in. The dream of anyone accustomed to travel, he even gets to speed right through the customs and security sections of the New York airport with little fuss.

    As the chapter carries on we get big and small details about what is going on and Bond’s reactions to all of it. I particularly like the detail about how the Americans are funding Bond’s field account with money yielded from a past mission against the opposition, adding a nice flavor to the spy world Fleming is creating. You could absolutely picture something like that occurring, as it no doubt did and still is in the intelligence services of the world.

    In another passage we are put inside Bond’s head as the Buick tears through New York, and the spy takes in all the sights on offer. He runs through the most interesting bits, utilizing his heightened observational keenness, and makes a clear case as to why he finds the states to be such a jarring and exotic place in comparison to his home base in London. Women driving cars with men in the passenger’s seat seem to be a big shock for him in particular, not least of which when he sees a black woman at the wheel speeding off behind him. It’s interesting to see Bond so gob-smacked, to feel like he’s in a completely different world, even though he’s just on the go in a western nation like his own. One particular detail that is quite chilling is when Bond comments about the big city being “the fattest atomic-bomb target on the whole face of the globe.” Not only did Live & Let Die prophesize the use of New York in endless streams of big blockbuster disaster films, it also conjures melancholic images of 9/11 and the consequences that can come from being such a national landmark as New York is for us Yanks.

    The chapter comes to a close as Bond and Felix reunite again with great warmth, and we get a nice reference to the past casino job that the former would probably like to forget. Captain Dexter’s request to learn of what Bond knows of the mission sets up a very fluid transition into the past, as Bond makes his way out of his Chelsea flat in London and off to M’s office for his briefing on that very mission.

    Chapter 2- Interview with M

    Just as Live & Let Die‘s “The Red Carpet” was a sister chapter to Casino Royale’s “The Secret Agent,” the same is true for the former’s “Interview with M” and the latter’s “Dossier for M.” The main function of both is to feed us information on the mission Bond is on, and the big bad that he will be facing a bit later.

    My issue with Casino’s briefing chapter was simple: I felt that Fleming rather sloppily pumped the text with the files on Le Chiffre and SMERSH instead of delivering that information in a less expositional and rough-handed fashion, through a talk between Bond and M where all we needed to know was delivered organically. I was happy to read Live & Let Die’s M briefing to find that Fleming had righted the past wrong he committed in his debut. Not only is this chapter better framed and delivered on the whole than the last, but the writer chooses to use the file on Mr. Big as a mere object in the scene, instead of as its absolute make-up. We are able to get all the information we need on the villain and the job at hand in the dialogue Bond and M have about the material, and the way Fleming frames it all makes it far more interesting to hear coming from M than it would be reading about a pirate treasure in a random file for eight or so pages. By delivering this information in a meeting between Bond and M we get the real-time reactions of them both to what is being gleamed, and it all has a greater sense of character to it because of that. In short, the briefing scene plays out as they do in the Bond films, a large point in its favor as it is the more consumable way to write a scene of this kind.

    Elsewhere in the chapter Fleming does an interesting job of tying together Bond’s previous mission at the casino with the set-up for the Mr. Big job. M suggested that he take some time off months back, no doubt aware of the strain he was put through while facing Le Chiffre, and we find that Bond had been off the job from at least August to January. We also learn that the dreaded mark of the spy that a SMERSH operative scratched into his skin had been grafted over and was largely back to new. Bond’s memory of his torture and the mark assigned to him after it leads him into pondering the state of SMERSH since Le Chiffre’s slip up and all the consequence that mission bore. It seems that, with M calling Bond in for another job with so much time passed, he could be giving his agent the chance to make good on his promise to get back at the Soviet arm of vengeance. It’s quite interesting that M could be manipulating Bond’s past anger and commitment against SMERSH to this end, like a scientist wielding a decisive and finely tuned instrument.

    The premise of the plot is the perfect example of how Fleming was able to take extraordinary elements and paint them in the world of the ordinary that Bond frequents. As we jet off to chapter three we know that a SMERSH operation concerning centuries old pirate treasure has kicked off that involves the United States and Jamaica in the conspiracy, possibly in a bid to strengthen the Soviet machine of fury in the star-spangled nation. Mr. Big is set up as the man behind it all, a Voodoo cult leader who has tricked his followers into believing his myth of fear built around the figure of Baron Samedi. Need Fleming say more?

    Chapter 3- A Visiting-Card

    Fleming starts up his third chapter by giving us a great sense of who Mr. Big is and why we should be worried about Bond through the tales of his villainous past. He’s immediately set up as a capable man with a long history of doing dangerous work well. The subtle implications of his great capacity for despair and deceit, like screwing over and killing his business partner to get the whole of the operation under his control, show us how adept Big is at silently working for his own gain. I found it an interesting and surprising detail that Big was even contacted and hired by the United States during the war, a job that put him in collision with a Russian agent he got friendly with while in France. I assume we are to take it that Big’s Russian colleague was the one that got him over to the Soviet side? If so, the Americans ultimately created their own future villain, a touch I like.

    The most fascinating and powerful aspect of Big’s character is how he has manipulated a populace of people underneath him into believing he is Baron Samedi. It’s a genius power play and use of fear, and Big’s own skill at bumping off people in mysterious and ominous ways-like his old business partner-lend themselves well to the colorful acts of a Prince of Darkness like Samedi. His further acts under the Soviets, including a hit where he pushed a man in front of a subway train, create a great legend around him only spurred on by his litigious immunity from receiving punishment. He seems untouchable, by design.

    In reflecting on Big, Bond does what Bond does and finds something to respect in his ability to manipulate and order people to his bidding, keeping his agents in line and loyal through the murders he commits against traitors or ill-performing disciples. Like the Samedi of legend, he digs graves and drags people to the underworld, his underworld. Bond seems to view some of Big’s mythic control as amusing, pointing out the ingrained gullibility of the black race, when in reality his time-as is ours in 2017-was full of people who held the same warped belief in a god reigning from the clouds. Big doesn’t seem to be manipulating one thick-headed race, just a thick-headed and gullible species in general.

    Bond ultimately makes a great point in saying that Big and SMERSH are perfect for one another, as both are agents of fear that act quietly and with great methodology to get what they want. As the spy reflects on the man and the organization he’s part of you can feel his anger bubbling up from his time in France at the hands of Le Chiffre, and his memory of being branded by SMERSH. He is ready to prove his worth, and how much of a pain in the ass he can be to those who try to mark him for death. Mr. Big, eh? Fine, send your biggest, he seems to say. If he must send a message to them, why not do it through a “Homeric slaying” of SMERSH’s own giant figure of myth? James Bond, killing the returned and all-powerful Baron Samedi himself. How they’ll talk.

    As the chapter goes on we get little details about what Bond has been doing since he arrived in New York. He’s gotten a bit of a haircut to appear more American and to fit his cover, and has been schooled in the Americanisms of “cabs” and “checks” as well as the monosyllabic responses to every question he receives. When picking out his suits, Bond chooses something fitting for him, but not too “dashing.” Like the Bond of the early films, he wants to look nice and fit in without becoming a fixture of attention himself. That does not a secret agent make.

    The weirdest section of the chapter comes when Fleming, for whatever reason, includes passages from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s The Travellers Tree. This is another area where, as in many sections of Casino Royale, Fleming takes a different approach to the accepted framework of fiction writing and does his own spin on it. I guess the overall passages from Fermor are there to create an atmosphere of mood of fear and discomfort as we read descriptions of some voodoo ritual going on, but the section is quite over-long and Fleming does little to segue us into it. After a while the endless passages drone on and run together, losing the effect a more focused inclusion of the text could’ve had. I think it’s another example of Fleming failing to show us details in the narrative, relying too much on just feeding us endless streams of information through rampant telling. The desired effect is very diluted, and loses itself a bit.

    The chapter finishes with redemption, when Bond comes face to face with the purported fear that Big can create and the power he holds to bring his enemies under. As a package arrives to the hotel, we get to see Bond gradually react to it: first he thinks it’s a bomb, which he responds to by jumping to the floor and seeking cover. Seconds after he derides himself for being a fool and overreacting, until he soon finds out that his fears were right on the money. Big’s message to him, of his heart beats being numbered, sets up a nice rivalry between the two as our spy very dryly describes the device as a “visiting-card,” connecting the moment to the whole theme of the chapter.

    Chapter 4- The Big Switchboard

    Live & Let Die continues to pick up speed as Bond plans ahead to a confrontation with Mr. Big. Fleming starts us off by showing Bond integrating himself into the scenery, trying his best to put on an American performance while enjoying the sights and the delicacies of the area. We get hints through his meeting with the New York police of a spot in St. Petersburg where Big’s boat the Secatur has often gone into port, making it clear where the action of the book will eventually take us. Through this information we get further hints of Big’s genius, as he has his operators communicate in an indecipherable Voodoo language to avoid any spying from outside forces.

    The racial milieu of the time is referenced when Captain Dexter warns of a race riot after his colleague suggests they get Big on a more minor crime. The heated nature of the arrest and the man’s own power in the Harlem area would spell a great danger, especially with the anti-white viewpoint of the neighborhood.

    Ultimately, Bond and Felix make plans to get in close on a trip into Big’s “backyard,” and in between their preparations for the voyage we get a few paragraphs that show us the situation from the villains’ perspective. Big, true to his name, knows that he is being watched and planned against, and sends out a notice for Bond, Felix and Dexter. It’s clear that his many eyes across the city will be watching, amping up the danger for our hero as he goes right into the lion’s den.

    The chapter closes like a New York noir, as Bond compares the night to a book that would have to be “opened and read, page by page, word by word.” The rain beginning to pour over them becomes “italic script across the unopened black cover that hid the secret hours that lay ahead.” Fleming sets the tone for a seedy, danger-caked and likely regrettable night out for our heroes.

    Chapter 5- Nigger Heaven

    Despite the last chapter teasing more developments to come, I find the pacing slows considerably in this one and we’re left with pages that do little to establish the action ahead. We get hints that Big is planning for Bond and Felix to come to him, but beyond that the chapter is there for Fleming to indulge in some of his attention to detail about New York, and to paint the picture of Harlem. Beyond that we overhear an over-long discussion with a black couple, and essentially watch Bond and Felix do the American version of a bar hop with little spark in between.

    The biggest slog of the chapter, and some of the rest of the novel, is in the exaggerated speech that Fleming gives his black characters. The use of regional dialects exaggerated on the page is a way for writers from all generations to create a certain sound for their characters’ dialogues, but this can often get very monotonous to read through. I think Fleming was partly attempting to set up the place Bond was in as he saw it by characterizing the Harlem population a certain way, but largely I think he was also trying to delineate Big from his workers and those he rules over. Whereas the vast majority of black characters we meet or overhear have an uneducated or highly cobbled together speech pattern, Big is a clear, erudite speaker who can communicate and relay information effectively. In a chapter where Bond picks on the black race once again for being too superstitious-while still admitting that the United Kingdom is full of similar fools-it makes sense that Fleming would also want to contrast this gullible populace with Big, the educated, sharp and capable man that has toyed with them all. I’d just argue that there were more interesting ways to do that.

    One thing the chapter exceeds at is in framing the network Big uses to relay his information, showing us his power structure in Harlem and how protected he is. All of the characters working under him have colorful names- Whistler, Tee-Hee, McThing, Blabbermouth Foley, Sam Miami, The Flannel-giving the novel a very rich flavor aside from the overly emphasized bits above. If anything I am propelled back into it to see how Bond rubs shoulders with these kinds of characters in the next few chapters.

    Chapter 6- Table Z

    The centerpiece and most effective part of this chapter is how Big and his team set Bond and Felix up for a trap. The use of a sinking table for unwanted company is brilliant, but all the more so that the seizure of the unwanted parties is masked by a captivating nude dance that distracts and dazzles the audience long enough to dull their senses to what is occurring at Bond and Felix’s table. With the lights off as part of the performance, Big can get them out of there and none will be the wiser. It’s a great scene and you can only imagine the number of times that Big has used the exact same set up in the past to do in old rivals that moved in on his territory.

    The dance itself is interestingly described, and Fleming may’ve been trying to capture the sort of esoteric and ritualistic captivation of the voodoo dance detailed in the section of The Travellers Tree that Bond found himself reading in an earlier chapter. The spy is clearly fixed on the dance, though it’s hard to say if that is for the sensuality of it, or by how much it reminds him of the macabre and strange dance he had a bad reaction to in the book.

    The chapter leaves Bond and Felix hanging, with both men trying one last attempt to wiggle out of it, similar to Bond’s failed attempt before his torture in Casino Royale. The promise of seeing the spy meet Mr. Big for the first time in person and the conviction with which Bond wants to destroy him compels us to charge on.

    Chapter 7- Mister Big

    After much teasing, Fleming finally introduces us to the black-gray giant that is Mr. Big. The description of the man and Bond’s reaction to his exterior feel ripped from an old fable, where a knight comes into contact with the monster that he is obliged to slay. There’s an inhumanness about Big, that extends even beyond his ability to use supernatural means to gain power. I love the detail that Bond observes, thinking that Big “must have been bent since childhood on revenge against fate and against the world that hated him because it feared him.” While it’s difficult to say if Big had felt outcast as a boy, we do know from his file that he was always abnormally large and had carried that moniker all his life because of it. It would be interesting if it were confirmed, if only because to prove that the fear people felt for his outward appearance as a youth was ultimately turned to a fear they felt for the myth and power he represented. Working behind the tale of Baron Samedi, Big has finally found a purpose for the fear he creates in others and is no longer ashamed of it.

    Through the details of Big’s room, we learn many interesting things about him. The entire set up of his office is such that he’s always surrounded by books, Fleming’s way of once again cluing us into the intellect he gives off and proves through his manipulations. Bond also notes how the room encasing him carries a neutral smell and is without a sign of vice, supporting the earlier content of his file that classified women as the villain’s only moral weakness. He even has a gun installed in his desk to leverage the status quo of every meeting in his favor, proving to Bond that, though his messages are theatrical and in touch with the Samedi character, Big is the real deal and can back up his threats with great diligence.

    As the chapter comes to a close Solitaire is introduced for the first time, giving off a solitary nature fitting of her namesake. It’s hard to place her just yet; is she a bound slave, a willing associate of Big, or a bit of both? Big’s interest in her is quite disconcerting, wanting her more as an object to weed out liars in his ranks than as an actual partner. His scientific interest in seeing the product of their mixed race union is a detail of the bizarre right at home in a Fleming villain. The hints of warmth Bond seems to get from the girl appears to confirm to him that he has an ally in her, a presumption backed up when she goes along with his lie about what drove him to be in New York. Her role as a purported telepath is only minutely referenced, but is yet another element of the otherworldly or supernatural that Fleming pumps into Live & Let Die to mix with the realm of reality Bond frequents.

    Chapter 8- No Sensayuma

    The chapter begins with Bond essentially receiving the hard time that both he and Felix kind of deserve. They went right into Big’s territory with giant neon signs above their heads and were shocked when they ended up getting caught.

    We get a great villain monologue from Big here, where he laments the acedia that he feels. He’s the king of his field in so many respects and has so much power that he quite literally couldn’t desire any more. He’s sort of like a gladiator who can best any fighter in the arena, their lack of challenge making them yearn for another purpose. The monologue also addresses a nice metaphor for Big’s schemes, whose execution and technical artistry he compares to paintings. He compares himself to Egyptian painters who toiled at their art knowing it wouldn’t be seen, and in this way we kind see that this man is already aware of the power and finesse he holds, and doesn’t need people to see it to have it confirmed. If he needed an audience to approve of him he wouldn’t be working behind the myth of Baron Samedi where he must play behind a curtain to run his affairs; he quite naturally understands that the best work can be done when one is unseen. He’s also the giant leader of a whole criminal network, and as the “don” he must remain at the back and let his soldiers fog him from view.

    This chapter is partly jarring for how it portrays the first kill of Bonds in the series that we actually see. In the past novel we heard him detail his two kills that gave him his Double-O title and we know that he shared some of his missions with Vesper as they were bonding, but Live & Let Die is the very first moment where we’re actually with Bond as he takes out a man to survive. Some people I’ve talked to find this scene overly violent or shocking, but I think that’s the intention. Having not seen Bond kill before, there is a certain surprise to him going after his enemy, and secondly the man that he kills is one who got joy out of causing him extreme pain, with the promise of more. The spy was well within his rights to fight fire with fire.

    The ensuing bit of action shows that Fleming can stage big sequences as tensely as the more quiet ones. Bond’s shootout in the garage and his tear away from the headquarters of Big is exciting and layered in danger, setting up a nice bit of respite from doom before more comes his way in later chapters.

    Chapter 9- True or False?

    The chapter begins by reacquainting Bond and Felix after their bouts for survival. I find it very amusing that Felix was able to escape a severe bludgeoning or worse simply by his love and knowledge of jazz, crafting a friendship with a common thug. It’s such a bizarre development.

    That discussion then carries into Bond’s talk with M over the phone, where they use code to discuss how the mission is going. I always love sections like these in spy books, because they ground the story in the very real practices of spies transmitting information back to their home office.

    We end with Bond having his third telephone discussion, a big theme of this chapter, with none other than Solitaire. It appears that she is in fact genuine about wanting to help Bond, and hopelessly begs to go along with him. Her situation-being used and abused by an organization and seeking suicide as a possible way to escape it-is very reminiscent of Vesper’s predicament in Casino Royale, purposeful on Fleming’s part or not. You wonder what Bond is thinking as he hears of her situation, and if it rekindles any thoughts of his past. I like that he tells a little lie, stating that they’ll be traveling to Washington instead of the true destination. The woman has no idea that Bond intends to continue charging at Big, instead of falling back or hiding away.

    Switching to the perspective of the baddies again, we see how difficult it is going to be for Bond to sneak onto the Silver Phantom and speed out of town with every exit being blocked and/or surveyed.

    Chapter 10- The Silver Phantom

    As Bond races to the station to get aboard the Silver Phantom, we read on as random passersby in New York hide in wait as Big’s secret agents. His people are everywhere, from charity collectors to diner workers and train hands, again showing us how well connected he is.

    This chapter is really most effective at building up Bond and Solitaire’s dynamic, and what kind of woman she is. I hate to say this, but it’s true: just the few pages of dialogue the pair share here has more chemistry and genuine care ingrained into their interaction than the whole of Vesper’s dynamic with Bond in Casino Royale. There’s a certain lightness and fun to Solitaire despite her situation that makes her very endearing, and she doesn’t fall into the pitfalls of Vesper by having a break down every second. She knows Bond’s world and what he must do to fight Big, and doesn’t get hung up about it or get in his way. She’s willing to help him, whatever he needs. It’s clear that her part in the adventure will actually make it easier for Bond, not harder, the exact opposite of the problem he had on his last mission and she’s agreeable enough to go along with what is needed.

    I enjoyed reading about Bond’s imagined backstory of Solitaire’s, which he creates to explain her mystery. He’s quite visibly intrigued by her and looks forward to peeling back the layers of who she is, while most certainly viewing her as a sympathetic figure worth standing up for. It must also be said that he has a great interest in keeping her around for how badly it will offset Big, and take away his golden goose. As ever, Bond uses the woman to mix both his business and pleasure, achieving both goals at once.

    It’s an interesting surprise that the chapter ends with Bond and the train porter becoming allies after the man informs the spy of coming danger. If there’s one thing that discounts Live & Let Die as a predominantly racist text, it’s in how Fleming frames so many of his black characters. Whether it’s the ebony dancers Bond and Felix crave and worship, the hired thug who actually spares Felix when they reach common ground or the very simple everyday porter looking out for his fellow man, these portraits of the race are far more encouraging and kinder than what you’d find in true racist texts, where all the black characters are portrayed as lesser or disgusting beings to push a propagandized message. As with all his writing, Fleming could show the best and worst of people from each walk of life.

    Chapter 11- Allumeuse

    Bond’s safe trip down to Florida soon grows quite a bit more complicated, causing him to orchestrate a change to his travel plans. It is clear that he and Solitaire must make an attempt to get off the train and cover their tracks by taking a different route, if they have any hope of surviving their voyage.

    At the beginning of the chapter I was really intrigued by Bond’s discussion with Solitaire about Voodooism and Big’s use of fear tactics to gain power and loyalty. Despite not being a superstitious man himself Bond doesn’t deride or belittle the woman’s own beliefs and instead presses her for knowledge on how he can understand it better. Switching us briefly to Solitaire’s head, Fleming shows us the doubt she has in Bond’s ability to see what she has, for he has led a sheltered western life free from the omens and rituals she grew up on. The tale of her drinking a Voodoo drink alone is a black oddity, and could be the thing that she believes to have sparked her ability to read people so intensely. We see in her character the power of faith and how poisonous myths can be to an individual’s ability to perceive and act. Part of her believes the stories about Big and Samedi, causing her to doubt that he can be killed because she thinks he’s already dead according to legend. I guess that her belief in her own telepathy makes her see the world as more strange and mysterious than Bond, who writes off Big’s acts as fear mongering and not a true sign of the supernatural at play.

    Bond and Solitaire’s intimate talk carries into an even more intimate embrace, as the pair grow closer together. I said in my Casino Royale analysis that Fleming could’ve written amazing erotic fiction, and that holds true here. He had the ability to avoid making these romance scenes smut or overly lurid, instead using the opportunity to build up the dynamic of these two. The scene is there less to give readers something to get hot and bothered about, and more to show us how Bond and Solitaire work off one another. It’s a scene very light and amusing, surprisingly, with Solitaire stating, “I hoped I would one day kiss a man like that,” as she pushes Bond away to get some air, and how Bond himself comments about her kissing him as if she was the man and he were the woman. The passion and frivolity is all over the scene, and their interaction feels genuine. It’s fitting that the name of this chapter is “Allumeuse,” because Solitaire is assuredly playing the part of the flirty but hard to get woman in a very self-aware fashion.

    I stated in my Casino Royale analysis about how I hated the way Vesper was built up as a woman who treated her time with Bond like a game to be won, and with Solitaire in Live & Let Die I think Fleming created a far greater spin on this idea than before. Whereas Vesper was intent on charming Bond for the sake of it, to prove a point, Solitaire’s little teasing is built of real passion, a passion that she even prophesized having with Bond. All the games they play with each other are built out of a very real and mutual connection, and part of the great dynamic between them is the build up to that moment where Bond promises to take her with passion the moment his hand is healed up.

    Bond and Solitaire also aren’t wasting company time to have a fling, they’re relaxing on the way to the next step in their journey and are using the time to get to know each other better. This is a far cry from how Vesper acts in Casino, who wants to play with Bond in the middle of the mission just as he’s preparing to go and play a game of baccarat that puts the strength of SMERSH’s coffers in the balance. The overall playful and genuine nature of how Bond and Solitaire’s dynamic is drawn is ultimately a refresher from the very artificial and bemusing relationship Bond and Vesper had, which I truly didn’t understand the purpose or attraction of. Like water and oil, the two were obviously not at all cohesive, even when putting the lying and double-dealing aside.

    The chapter concludes with another great moment of fear from Mr. Big as he again delivers Bond a message of death through his agents (likely the waiter this time around). The text seems ripped from an old Haitian poem meant to spook people about Samedi’s power or something of that nature, but by this point the superstition is a bit worn on Bond.

    Chapter 12- The Everglades

    This chapter meshes a lot of the downtime of Bond’s job and the more tense bits extremely well, while also showing Fleming’s ability to be humorous. A surprising amount of this humor comes out of Bond and Solitaire’s poor dining experience as they wait for their next train. Bond’s horrified reaction to Florida’s label as the place people go to die is especially amusing (and still true to this day), as is his response to Solitaire when she frivolously suggests that they should retire to a graceful old life there. “I want a long time of disgraceful living with you first,” he says quite simply. Again, their interactions come from a genuine, playful and kind-hearted place, with neither party lying to the other.

    We also get some hints of what Solitaire’s life is like under Big’s thumb, essentially a slave to his business. I like that she condemns men not by what they say (or if they lie) but instead by if they are good men. It explains why she stood up for Bond and lied for him when she knew he was deceiving Big, simply because she sensed that he was a good man there to help her.

    Another perspective shift to Big’s men again shows us that Bond’s movements are still being watched, and that “The Robber” is going to make a move on him with a two-man team. When Bond and Solitaire meet with Felix we hear the sad news about the porter on the train, killed in an attempted assassination of the pair as the train came out of Jacksonville. It becomes clear how far Big is willing to go to silence his enemies, again backing up his threats with serious violence. At the end of the chapter Solitaire spaces out again as Bond and Felix talk, possibly getting a sense of misfortune to come. To save herself the anxiety, she may repress it.

    Chapter 13- Death of a Pelican

    This chapter’s big theme, evidenced by the title, is ominous and foreboding. We can immediately sense that Solitaire is having another vision of sorrow that is getting to her, and Bond trusts her enough to be bothered by it too. The death of the pelican at the end of the chapter, a symbol of self-sacrifice, again foreshadows a very doomed time for our heroes.

    Through these gloomy events we get to see Bond and Felix bounce off each other. I didn’t have a strong reaction to Felix in Casino Royale and didn’t really get why he and Bond took such a liking to each other (similarly to Bond and Vesper), but in Live & Let Die I totally get it. The agent is extremely funny, wherever he comments about Florida’s “oldsters” making him want to jump in a tomb and pull the lid over it or how he playfully rags Bond about Solitaire’s lip-stick on his ear. But overall he’s just a supported friend to Bond and I love that they don’t let their profession get in the way of them having a laugh or enjoying each other’s company. So many of their colleagues think you must be all work and no play, but these two always leave some room to get to know each other and relish the quiet moments together. The experiences they share in this novel alone reinforce their friendship in all the other books, because you see the gradual formation of their strong bond each step of the way.

    In many ways Felix is probably the only nice thing Bond takes away from the casino job and you can tell how much he appreciates having someone to work with that melds with him instead of hampering his momentum. Bond is not a team player in the field, preferring to go solo, so it says everything about Felix that the spy never complains when they are set up on a job together or when he actively volunteers for Felix to go with him.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,127
    Wow, Brady, that's a hell of an essay. You've picked up on a lot of stuff I've never noticed (including that Bond doesn't actually kill anyone until his second outing), and tied LALD in with CR beautifully.
    Birdleson wrote: »
    Well, where is them notes!?!

    Here they is!!


    Edition I read: 1973 Pan, movie tie-in cover

    Where I read it: Much of it in the bath, drinking gin & tonic, which is a good way to enjoy Bond.

    James Bond

    Bond has had a bit of a rest since the last book and seems fully recovered and ready for action, including action involving the opposite sex. Under it all, though, is his drive to damage Smersh.

    He takes a lot of punishment, again, and the scene in which his finger is coldly broken is, for me, one of the most memorable in the book. For a movie action hero this would be pretty small beer, but here we get a realistic depiction of the pain and inconvenience involved (though, Bond being Bond, he still manages to perform various physical feats).

    He likes fast cars and loves trains, like the small boy he is. Bless.

    The villain

    There are no physically ordinary villains in Fleming’s world. Mr Big is probably one of the closest to the norm, but Fleming never misses an opportunity to disconcert us with a description of his skin, eyes or head.

    He is full of brilliant ideas, and I could happily read an entire second novel about his various criminal schemes.

    I am obliged to point out that the pilot episode of Get Smart used Mr Big for its villain. He was, of course, a midget.

    The girl

    Solitaire is so strong and knowledgeable, and escapes from Mr Big so easily, that it's a wonder she hasn't got away before. She does seem to need a man, relying on Mr Big to get her out of Haiti and Bond to get her away from him in turn.

    Her preoccupation with clothes and makeup after her near-death experience reads as a little patronising, but then if the passage were about Bond he'd no doubt be equally interested in cigarettes and a drink.

    And she gets the last line. Is Fleming suggesting that she should go on top? Scandalous!

    Other cast

    My first reading of LALD was tinged with sadness, because I’d already read Doctor No so I knew what lay in store for poor, kind Quarrel.

    I realise I have always rather pictured him played by Bill Cosby, with that air of quiet, humorous wisdom.

    I had also met Felix Leiter in all his later one-armed glory, so the shock value here was lessened. But he’s such fun in the first half of the book - palling around with Bond, teasing him, and feeding him information - that it’s still sad to leave him in hospital at the end, even if the prognosis is good.

    The Whisper. Tee-Hee. Poxy. These are Dick Tracy villains and I don’t find them terribly scary, but the image of Whisper at the switchboard, calling in the vast network of agents, is a striking one.

    I’d forgotten all about Strangways, but what a good egg he is, quietly getting on with the mundane stuff so Bond can go and play hero. MI6 would fall over without chaps like him.

    The plot

    Using pirate gold smuggled in fish tanks to finance espionage. A girl with second sight. Feeding people to sharks. It should be ridiculous, but it all makes perfect sense. Seldom has my suspension of disbelief been so willing.

    I’m glad some of this eventually turned up in Licence To Kill, because it’s far too good to waste.

    If I were to poke one hole in the structure of the novel, I wish the damn paravane had got a mention earlier rather than coming out of nowhere.

    The location

    I've already said that my favourite Bond novels tend to be set in locations I'm familiar with, so the US and the Caribbean hold less appeal than CR's French seaside.

    I like New York as seen from Bond's hotel room, though. Come to think of it, I always enjoy reading about Bond's hotel rooms; I love a good hotel stay myself, and Fleming really captures the promise of a new city and a new adventure.

    The atmosphere of retirement community St Petersburg is weird and creepy, reminding us that sinister things happen in sunshine as well as shadow. Fleming clearly loves describing it, first through Solitaire's exposition and then through Bond's eyes.

    I love the weird underwater world, with its macabre and comic touches: the stingray the size of a ping-pong table and the squid lining up in size order. Can such things really exist? Well, Fleming knew his underwater stuff, so it must be true.

    Food & drink

    Trust Bond to find the good stuff, and complain about the bad stuff, in a country not known for its cuisine.

    Were French fried potatoes really that exotic? I’ve just looked it up and apparently we didn’t get McDonald’s in the UK until 1974, so maybe they were!

    Bond is quite right about milk in scrambled eggs, ugh. Butter; eggs; salt; pepper; the end.


    If Bond thinks US Customs is a ‘notorious purgatory’ in 1954, he ain’t seen nothing yet.

    As early as page 2, Bond’s passport is taken away and he feels like ‘a negro whose shadow has been stolen by the witch-doctor’. Nice foreshadowing; his mind’s already on the case.
    The English word to be avoided at all costs, added Leiter, was ‘Ectually’. Bond had said that this word was not part of his vocabulary.

    I thought this was SO FUNNY when I first read the book that I started saying ‘Actually’ at every opportunity. Move forward 20+ years and it’s become a verbal tic I can’t shake. Help.

    I collect foreign Bonds, and own a French edition of LALD. One day I’ll attempt to read it.

    From 1964, when there was only one screen Bond:

  • Chapter 5- Nigger Heaven

    I had completely forgotten this was the actual title of the chapter. The edition I read from the library (the 1954/55 Macmillan Company first printing in the US) has the chapter titled "Seventh Avenue." I assume with permission. Certainly adds one more unfortunate dimension to matters of racism within the novel.
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    Where I read it: Much of it in the bath, drinking gin & tonic, which is a good way to enjoy Bond.

    You read your Bonds under the most interesting circumstances! I should get more adventurous. Though I have at least been reading mine mostly near a sparkling body of water in the beautiful summer sun.
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    Bond is quite right about milk in scrambled eggs, ugh. Butter; eggs; salt; pepper; the end.


    Thank you both for your thoughts on L&LD.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    Great job, with of you , and interesting. Jesus The Christ @0BradyM0Bondfanatic7 , it's like reading the damned novel all over again!

    I was also surprised at the title of Chapter 5 that you have, though it does ring a bell. I've always (even as a kid) read the Signet pocket version from 1959, with the title SEVENTH AVENUE. But NIGGER HEAVEN, I believe, was the title I heard when I listened to an audio-book version.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,122
    Birdleson wrote: »
    Great job, with of you , and interesting. Jesus The Christ @0BradyM0Bondfanatic7 , it's like reading the damned novel all over again!

    I was also surprised at the title of Chapter 5 that you have, though it does ring a bell. I've always (even as a kid) read the Signet pocket version from 1959, with the title SEVENTH AVENUE. But NIGGER HEAVEN, I believe, was the title I heard when I listened to an audio-book version.

    @Birdleson, you should know by now that I don't do anything small. ;)

    About the chapter title, I have the Penguin centenary additions and I actually had no idea that the books reprinted by other publishers changed the title. Because Penguin had printed a lot of older classics, including some Mark Twain works that use the n word, I assume that they stood by their practice of keeping the novels they printed as they were when originally written instead of altering them for the times. I actually really respect that, and I'm glad that the language Fleming used in his books wasn't edited from his original intentions. Some of it is uncomfortable for a modern reading experience, but I'd rather see it uncensored than monkeyed with. For this reason amongst many, I'm glad to own these Penguin editions.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    I agree. I'd much rather have the authenticity that the other editions offer.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    So it looks like it's down to four of us, unless @Creasy47 is still with us. Anybody out there following along quietly? Anyone reading MOONRAKER for the first time?
  • edited June 2017 Posts: 4,537
    About the chapter title, I have the Penguin centenary additions and I actually had no idea that the books reprinted by other publishers changed the title. Because Penguin had printed a lot of older classics, including some Mark Twain works that use the n word, I assume that they stood by their practice of keeping the novels they printed as they were when originally written instead of altering them for the times. I actually really respect that, and I'm glad that the language Fleming used in his books wasn't edited from his original intentions. Some of it is uncomfortable for a modern reading experience, but I'd rather see it uncensored than monkeyed with. For this reason amongst many, I'm glad to own these Penguin editions.

    I too own the Penguins. They're lovely editions. Beautiful covers.

    The library copy I'd picked up however was from the time of the novel's release: 1954/55. It was the US edition where they omitted the n-word. Again, I have to imagine this was done with full permission as part of the rights to release the book in the US.
    Birdleson wrote: »
    Anybody out there following along quietly? Anyone reading MOONRAKER for the first time?

    Given how vastly Moonraker differs from its film counterpart, I'd be very interested to hear from anyone reading it for the first time. I also find it a wonderful coincidence that for at least three of us (yourself, myself, and @Agent_99), Moonraker is our favorite Fleming. Fleming accomplished some quite impressive things with later Bond novels, but Moonraker really brought everything together in such an exquisite, concentrated, and thoughtful way. No Bond novel ending has taken me by such surprise or with such effect as did Moonraker's the first time I read it.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    And just when you think Bond can't suffer any more brutality then he has in the first two novels.
  • In more ways than one, indeed.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,122
    Fleming really does put the poor bastard through it. I can't think of another character that has faced more personal and physical damage than Bond, and I'm just counting the novels here.
  • Birdleson wrote: »
    So it looks like it's down to four of us...

    I think @pachazo mentioned an interest, and that @Shark_0f_Largo and @Milovy might join for a few. Moonraker would sure be a good one to get in if you can.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    pachazo is taking an extended leave from the forums, sadly, so I wouldn't count on him.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,122
    @peter seemed interested in joining us, but I haven't seen him post yet. With this kind of thing (steady reading and writing) you can never tell if schedules will work out or not. On top of it just being a lot of time and work, if you really want to analyze the books.
  • Posts: 656
    I think I will take a crack at FRWL and DN when they come, as I've only read them once before. Looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts on MR - it's my favourite as well.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    edited June 2017 Posts: 21,303
    By the way, here is a Wikipedia (created by John Griswold) suggested chronology; after the title is the estimated time frame that the story takes place in. There are conflicting ones out there. This one makes sense to me. I say we follow it, except the for breaking up of OHMSS into parts, that seems foolish. I would suggest we read 007INY and TSWLM before we read OHMSS (as per publishing dates).

    Bond chronologies

    Casino Royale May to July 1951
    Live and Let Die January to February 1952
    Moonraker May 1953
    Diamonds Are Forever July to 1 August 1953
    From Russia, with Love June to August 1954
    Dr. No February to March 1956
    Goldfinger April to June 1957
    "Risico" October 1957
    "Quantum of Solace" February 1958
    "The Hildebrand Rarity" April 1958
    "From a View to a Kill" May 1958
    "For Your Eyes Only" September to October 1958
    Thunderball May to June 1959
    "Octopussy" June 1960
    "The Living Daylights" September to October 1960
    "The Property of a Lady" June 1961
    Chapters 1–5 of On Her Majesty's Secret Service September 1961
    "007 in New York" end of September 1961
    Chapters 10–15 of The Spy Who Loved Me October 1961
    Chapters 6–20 of On Her Majesty's Secret Service November 1961 to 1 January 1962
    You Only Live Twice August 1962 to April 1963
    The Man With the Golden Gun November 1963 to February 1964

  • Milovy wrote: »
    I think I will take a crack at FRWL and DN when they come, as I've only read them once before. Looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts on MR - it's my favourite as well.

    Great! FRWL is another one I've always been greatly impressed by. One of Fleming's best written novels. It's with good reason JFK named it among his favorite books.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    It is one of the greatest ones.
  • edited June 2017 Posts: 4,537
    That looks like a good reading schedule to me, @Birdleson. Further thoughts on if we want to condense all the short stories into two weeks or take each short story one week at a time?

    I'd personally be for the latter for a few reasons. For one, it would give us some structure in discussing the short stories to allot a briefer period of time for talking about each. For another, just personally, life is going to get much, much crazier for me in the fall so it would be nice to have some time in there.

    And perhaps the best reason of all: doing so would put OHMSS right before Christmastime for us. Thematically, it would be nice to read that particular novel during the holidays.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 21,303
    I'm a teacher, so I have less time in the Fall as well. One a week will give some people a chance to catch up.
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