“Bond. James Bond”. The famous line belonging to one of the most recognizable characters in the world. You’ve heard it in novels, movies, video games, commercials, songs. Kids dream about becoming just like him when they grow up and women sometimes fantasize about spending an evening in his arms. But who (or what) is James Bond?
The character James Bond is the creation of Ian Fleming who, in 1953, brought to life the adventures of the secret agent. In total, Fleming wrote fourteen novels and two short story collections featuring his famous spy. Other writers (including Kingsley Amis) have picked up the mantle and continued expanding on the exploits of the British hero. When asked about how he came up with the name of his protagonist he said that he was looking for one that “wouldn’t have any… romantic overtones, such as Sapperish Peregrine Maltravers… I wanted a really flat, quiet… name” (Shaken and Stirred, The Feminism of James Bond, p 21). One of Fleming’s passions was bird watching so when he picked up a book by a certain American ornithologist, he knew he had found the perfect name. “When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument… when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, [James Bond] is the dullest name I ever heard.” (Ian Fleming, The New Yorker, 21 April 1962)
The name might seem dull to his creator but a closer look shows some interesting aspects about it. James – masc. proper name, New Testament name of two of Christ’s disciples, late 12c. Middle English vernacular form of Late Latin Jacomus (source of Old French James, Spanish Jaime, Italian Giacomo), altered from Latin Jacobus. Several kings of Britain were named James, and even now it is one of the most popular and widespread names to date.
The surname Bond also yields some interesting perspectives. In an online dictionary, we can find bond = something that gives people or groups a reason to love one another or feel they have a duty to one another; (…) chains or ropes tied around someone so that they are not free to move.
Ian Fleming might claim that the name is supposed to be boring and inconspicuous, but in reality it fits very well. James Bond hides his incredible skills and abilities under the image of a regular person. He can blend in anywhere, be it a high class social event or in the criminal underbelly of the most crime ridden cities. He can be anyone and at the same time no one.
II. Denominative devices and types of identities
James Bond is also known as agent (code name) OO7. Supposedly the “OO” meaning secret agent from a special branch of MI6 that has license to kill. In the words of Bond, it means that “you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some assignment “.
We know that in creating the British spy, Fleming used some of his own personal traits and other characteristics from people or agents that he personally knew. In all the stories, Bond comes against some crazy villain who has an evil plan, defeats him through his intelligence and particular set of skills, saves the day and in the process charms a beautiful woman. What I’ve always wondered is, seeing how many enemies he has, why does he usually use his real name. The answer could be in one of the most spread theories that James Bond is actually the alias of the particular agent that gets the OO7 moniker.
The film version of the character usually mirrors the one from the books. With every actor that has ever played Bond, we have seen another aspect of his emphasized. The newest representation, featuring Daniel Craig, has shown us an impressive killing machine. The Bond portrayed by Pierce Brosnan was more charming and relied more on being cunning that brute force. Sean Connery, the original Bond, had a strong personality and used more gadgets. All different sides of the same that character we know as James Bond.
III Cultural dimension
According to Hall et al. (2006), in order for a character, real or fictitious, to represent a cultural icon, it needs to display one or more specific features. Let’s see if the great James Bond can live up to these standards.
Because of the way he was constructed, people have always identified with and rooted for him. He is seen as a hero because he always thwarts some evil plan and basically saves the world. The fact that he is never described in detail in the novels and that several different actors have played him in movies has led to a somewhat peculiar situation where he is seen as being able to perpetually reincarnate. He is more than just one man, one agent, he’s become a sort of myth, a mysterious entity that can never be killed and who will prevail no matter the odds.
Since Bond if portrayed as an immovable force for good, he has become a symbol of righteousness. He is the embodiment of the perfect hero, he is a fighter and a seducer, he has vices like every other man but also qualities that make him superior. Fleming once said that he would write the “a spy novel to end all spy novels“(Shaken and Stirred, p. 38) and he managed to do that by creating the quintessential spy character.
As he has become largely known and loved by the public, several of his particularities and customs have become forever associated with him. The dry martini, shaken not stirred is seen as the official Bond drink and whenever it is ordered it is with him in mind. The Aston Martin is Bond’s preferred car. It is both exclusive and aggressive, just the image one has of the British agent.
The Bond universe is also very lucrative. It is estimated that just the film franchise has earned more than 7 billion dollars throughout the years with other merchandise sales surpassing 300 million dollars.
Seeing as James Bond has grown into such a great success, it is of no wonder that his image has been used in all areas. Different spin-offs and parodies have emerged throughout the years, one of the more notable ones being produced by Mike Myers with his Austin Powers series, tv-series 24 and even the Mission impossible franchise.
What I think made James Bond such a lasting icon is the fact that he can reinvent himself while still remaining true to his original self. 50’s and 60’s Bond smoked and drank a lot, 70’s and 80’s Bond usually fought Russian adversaries or defused nuclear bombs, 90’s Bond returned even more charming, while the latest version focuses more on what the public seems to enjoy better – a darker and more violent side.
Just to have an idea of how much the Bond universe is beloved, I should mention that his catch phrase was voted as being number one in a top of best catchphrases in 2001. AFI (American Film Institute) has also named him as third best greatest hero in their top 100 list.
There remains not doubt that James Bond has become a cultural icon, but could there be something more to him?
Caplen, Robert A., Shaken and Stirred, The Feminism of James Bond, Xlibris Corporation, 2010;
Fleming, Ian, The James Bond Anthology, Penguin, 2004.