The Real James Bond

james-bond-casino-royaleA psychological profile of Ian Fleming’s literary James Bond.

Bond as Swordsman
As countless adversaries have learned, James Bond is not a man easily bested. He skis, fights, drives, plays golf and swims underwater with prodigious ease, and is somehow able to give relentless chase to foes on land or sea while still smoking 60 Morland’s cigarettes a day – that is until he visits a health farm in Thunderball and cuts down to a more circumspect 25. Fleming knew that his hero must be the most alpha of alpha males, but there’s at least a nod to his fallible humanity in the fact that he is occasionally beaten. While he’s the best marksman in the Secret Service, for example, he’s still outshot by his instructor. Beyond all his other talents, it’s with women that he really comes into his own. In Moonraker Fleming writes that while not on assignment Bond makes love “with rather cold passion, to one of three similarly disposed married women”, but while on the job things get rather more interesting. Part of Bond’s appeal is that his charms belong to a simpler time: one in which women are to be “softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued”. His success breeds a sort of contempt. In Casino Royale he reflects on the “conventional parabola” of a relationship and confesses that it bores him. He’s only happy facing a challenge, and the women he does woo are often initially distrustful of men only to be entirely won over by Bond’s sheer force of character. He appeals to the male fantasy that if you were just a little more suave no woman would ever remain tantalisingly out of reach for long. For 007, it seems, there is simply no such thing as an unattainable woman. At the conclusion of Goldfinger he ends up in bed with Pussy Galore, a lesbian. “They told me you only liked women,” he says, to which she replies: “I never met a man before.”

Bond as Outsider
While the name “James Bond” is now synonymous with adventure in far-flung locations, Ian Fleming said in 1958 that he had chosen it because it was “the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name” he could find. The reason? “Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.” For all his insubordination, that’s exactly what Bond is – a tool of the Establishment. Yet at the same time he appeals to us precisely because he manages to remain an outsider. Bond enjoys his proximity to power, and the licence to kill and unlimited expense account that come with it, but he’s simultaneously straining at the leash. In the post-war Fifties he combined a sense of loyalty to his country with the individual’s desire to cast off the shackles of rationing and austerity. Today, his appeal remains for anyone who’s ever wanted to tell their meddling boss that they know best how to do their own job. Even Bond can cross the line, however, and in You Only Live Twice his 00-status is revoked by M when his drinking and gambling gets out of hand. Before dismissing him, M reassigns him and hands him a final, seemingly impossible In the end, Bond is relied upon by the Establishment that he refuses to ever entirely become a part of it. At the conclusion of The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond learns that the Prime Minister wishes to offer him a knighthood. He tells his companion Mary Goodnight to send a refusal, pointing out that he is “a Scottish peasant and will always feel at home being a Scottish peasant.” He adds: “I just refuse to call myself Sir James Bond. I’d laugh at myself every time I looked in the mirror to shave.”

Originally published in the GQ Men Of The Year issue, October 2012.