Bond in Print: Casino Royale - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Bond in Print: Casino Royale

Wallace. Alexander Wallace, goes back to where it all began...
“Bond. James Bond.”
Just about anyone can hear that blunt name in their heads as spoken lines. We can hear it in the voice of Sean Connery or George Lazenby or Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig (let’s not kid ourselves - we all have our favorites). That, and many other memorable lines, were written on scripts and memorized by these great actors. But before all those, as we tend to forget, James Bond is originally a literary character who sprang from the creative mind of an author named Ian Fleming.

Casino Royale, the basis for the first Daniel Craig film, was originally published in 1953. It is a book that, to the modern reader, will not let you forget that it is almost seventy years old. It is a story that is utterly immersed in the early Cold War, where Soviet spies use a French labor union as a possible tool should they march through the Fulda Gap into metropolitan France. It is a world where the specter of yet another world war looms over human events, but nuclear annihilation isn’t quite the reality it would be in a decade or so with the coming of the ICBM. It is a feared war that is conventional, not atomic.

Casino Royale is a book that is unrestrainedly opulent. You are in a fictional resort town on the northern coast of France in the 1950s; of course it’s opulent! To the modern reader, it feels like Fleming is deliberately immersing you in postwar elegance, with the namesake casino and all the loving descriptions of clothes and food, a world before the sixties desanctified that which was once high-class. In our allegedly proletarian culture, Casino Royale is conspicuously fancy.

Fleming writes Bond in his debut appearance with a nuance that is not often seen in the films. There’s a certain je ne sais quois with the way that Bond interacts with anyone, whether it's Le Chiffre or Vesper Lynd or Felix Leiter or his French opposite number Mathis, that suggests to me that he is deeply insecure. Indeed, this Bond philosophizes more than any Bond on screen; there’s an extended section where he wonders aloud about the nature of evil to Mathis while in a hospital bed. Fleming’s Bond is a broken man with whom the cracks are subtle but very much visible.

Of all the supporting characters the most interesting is Vesper Lynd. The franchise has a less-than-stellar history with its treatment of women, so I was bracing myself for the worse when I read her introduction. Overall, I was to a degree surprised; she may not be the most active character, and she falls for one rather silly ruse, but she has a very real character arc and a well-developed personality. She’s more than the eye candy you see in far too many Bond movies and the book is better for it.

The book is a bit more restrained in the action than a typical Bond movie would make you think. There is only so much actual fighting, and one nailbiter of a car chase. Most of the tension in this book comes from not gunfights, but playing cards; the gambling at the Casino serves to enable the clash of personality between Bond and Le Chiffre. It’s a quieter tension than the films, but one no less real.

You end reading Casino Royale with the impression that you understand why this character became the icon he is; this Bond is everything you’d ever want in a spy novel protagonist, with the depth that prose as a medium provides. Any fan of the film series who has not read the literary origins of the character should read this post-haste.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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