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  1. #1
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Default Ian Fleming's Casino Royale

    So I've been on a Bond kick as of late and I just finished re-reading Casino Royale.

    Strengths:

    1) I enjoy Fleming's terse, masculine prose. He doesn't waste time describing scenery, which has always been a pet peeve of mine (I find long stretches of Lord of the Rings to be agonizing due to Tolkien's love of topography). There are certain modern authors who would be tempted to stretch out Bond's explanation of baccarat until it read like a manual, but Fleming's Bond sticks with the basics.

    Fleming's style also tends to gloss over the decided lack of Bond-ian action. The card game is one of the most tense scenes in the entire book. In lesser hands, it simply wouldn't work. But Fleming understands that less is more, and he doesn't stretch things out.

    Even when Bond is feeling melancholic or philosophical things move along nicely. There's a poetry to the way Bond debates the existence of good and evil, and Mathis' rebuttal.

    And I think "the bitch is dead" is such a beautiful summary of Bond's tragic experience at the end (and one that transferred brilliantly the big screen).

    2.) The philosophy. Fleming portrays Bond's struggle with the nature of good and evil brilliantly. His discussion with Mathis is possibly the highlight of the entire book. And it's Mathis, not Bond, who has the best line: "Surround yourself with people, James. They're much easier to fight for than principles."

    Weaknesses:

    1) The lack of action. I'll admit my expectations have been shaped by the films coming into the books, but I can't help but feel like there's not as much going on here as there should be. Worse still, Bond often comes across as ineffectual and passive. He doesn't live by his wits so much as contrived plot devices, like when the bombers mistakenly kill themselves or the SMERSH agent doesn't kill Bond because he doesn't have orders. Are we really to believe that SMERSH agents won't kill an MI6 spy on sight?

    Fleming basically makes the classic mistake of substituting shock for suspense.

    The film improves on this flaw without losing the book's tone. We see Bond killing the double agent and his contact. The terrorists threatening Le Chiffre make for a more exciting scene that bombers being idiots (and being explained after the fact). Quantum's decision to let Bond live is explained by M as Vesper having bargained for his life. And Bond sees Vesper Lynd commit suicide in the most dramatic fashion possible rather than sleeping pills and a note on the bed.

    2) Bond isn't as fun here. He's actually a bit of a bore. The movies might have taken things too far sometimes, but it's hard for me to imagine a Bond who doesn't deliver witty one-liners. I'll admit I'm a sucker for corny one-liners (like when a foe dies in a press and Brosnan's Bond says, "They'll print anything these days.") Again, the CR film manages to accomplish this without compromising the tone. (The torture scene comes to mind: "The whole world will know you died scratching my balls.")

    All in all I think it's a brilliant first effort, but I'm glad Fleming toned down the philosophy and amped up the action in subsequent outings.
    Last edited by David Walton; 11-27-2012 at 07:50 AM.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  2. #2
    Mattress Tester T Hedge Coke's Avatar
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    Straight, dopey, and green Bond was fascinating to me, years back, coming off the movies as my major awareness of Bond. The fact he gets messed up most in Casino Royale when he's playing it by the book was exciting. And, I like the philosophical pretension. The girl-watching at the beginning is brilliant and idiosyncratically Bond to me, anymore. That's the guy; everything else is variation or explication.

  3. #3
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by T Hedge Coke View Post
    Straight, dopey, and green Bond was fascinating to me, years back, coming off the movies as my major awareness of Bond. The fact he gets messed up most in Casino Royale when he's playing it by the book was exciting. And, I like the philosophical pretension. The girl-watching at the beginning is brilliant and idiosyncratically Bond to me, anymore. That's the guy; everything else is variation or explication.
    Maybe it would be apt to compare Casino Royale to Ditko's Spider-Man. While the Lee/Romita version is the more popular or well known, some would argue that Spider-Man was never as interesting after Ditko left. But Ditko's take definitely isn't the one that sells sheets and underwear.

    In the same way, I can't help but think of Bond as more competent and action-oriented. But there's definitely something to be said for the template Fleming established here.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  4. #4
    Veteran Member Lancerman's Avatar
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    One thing I loved that Fleming in the books was that while later on he made Bond alot more competent, he never made him the best at anything. Bond was good in a fight but a good guy could get one over on him and he wasn't going to take out two or three guys at once. He was a great driver but in the 3rd book Drax could outmanuever him. He was smart but was suscepitble to a well layed plan. He didn't come off as weak or stupid that way, just more real.

    Also you got the feeling that he actually cared a little but about the women he slept with. Sure he had a bit of a womanizing streak, but it wasn't a total love them or leave them situation. For instance in Dr. No Bond literally waits till the end of the book to sleep with the main girl to make sure her life is in order. And in the Spy Who Loved Me he gets in contact with the proper avenues to make sure a girl who was attacked by two criminals gets the proper treatment she needs after Bond must leave. And obviously he was madly in love with both Vesper and Tracy.

  5. #5
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lancerman View Post
    One thing I loved that Fleming in the books was that while later on he made Bond alot more competent, he never made him the best at anything. Bond was good in a fight but a good guy could get one over on him and he wasn't going to take out two or three guys at once. He was a great driver but in the 3rd book Drax could outmanuever him. He was smart but was suscepitble to a well layed plan. He didn't come off as weak or stupid that way, just more real.
    I'm agreed here. It's a good thing when your hero isn't the best at everything. A great example taken from modern television is Person of Interest's John Reese. He can be a total badass, taking down an entire bar full of brawlers. And then he can turn around and get sucker punched or outsmarted by an opponent with real training. It's a nice balance.

    Casino Royale's biggest mistake (IMO) is making Bond a passive agent in his own fate. I get the gist of what Fleming is going for, that in real life survival is often a matter of luck. But it doesn't change the fact that it's more interesting to read about characters who live off their courage and their wits. The film adapation of CR finds a better balance IMO. Bond can stumble into a trap, but he also shows more drive and quick thinking.

    Also you got the feeling that he actually cared a little but about the women he slept with. Sure he had a bit of a womanizing streak, but it wasn't a total love them or leave them situation. For instance in Dr. No Bond literally waits till the end of the book to sleep with the main girl to make sure her life is in order. And in the Spy Who Loved Me he gets in contact with the proper avenues to make sure a girl who was attacked by two criminals gets the proper treatment she needs after Bond must leave. And obviously he was madly in love with both Vesper and Tracy.
    Yeah, the funny thing is that on the surface Bond essentially admits being a misogynist, and yet he shows real concern for the women he encounters. Vesper Lynd jokingly suggests that Bond needs a slave more than a wife, but the thing he loves the most about her is that she can't be possessed.
    Last edited by David Walton; 11-27-2012 at 11:26 AM.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  6. #6
    Idaho Spuds Slam_Bradley's Avatar
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    One thing to keep in mind is that Fleming was a naval intelligence officer during World War II. That experience plus his being a journalist following the war informed the way that he wrote Bond. The fact that it "rings true" is I think a large part of why the written series was so successful.

    This is much like Hammett's experience as a Pinkerton making helping make his writing realistic.

  7. #7
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    One thing to keep in mind is that Fleming was a naval intelligence officer during World War II. That experience plus his being a journalist following the war informed the way that he wrote Bond. The fact that it "rings true" is I think a large part of why the written series was so successful.

    This is much like Hammett's experience as a Pinkerton making helping make his writing realistic.
    I do think it lends authenticity to his work, which served him even better when he started bringing in more fantastical elements.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  8. #8
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    I read this one a couple of years ago and it put me to sleep. Just couldn't get into it.

  9. #9
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    I like the movie Bond, but the one in the books is by far the more interesting character, for all the reasons that have been expressed here already. It's been awhile since I read them, but I don't think you'll ever find the wise-cracking, "all action, all the time" Bond of the movies in there. Not many glib one-liners that I can recall. He was really a pretty sober character, much of the time, capable of hedonistic indulgence, but then equally liable to a philosphical reaction to those indulgences, or indeed to the violence that's part of his world and his job. The opening of Goldfinger comes to mind where spoilers:
    he reflects on a recent experience where he had a kill someone with his hands: very different from the way the movie Bond would have just moved on with perhaps an improvised pun or quip
    end of spoilers. (BTW, not sure if spoiler tags are really necessary there, it's right at the beginning of the book and not a major part of the plot).

    I wonder if Fleming might have been influenced a bit by some of the more thoughtful American hard-boiled characters like Philip Marlowe. Bond doesn't usually achieve quite Marlowe's level of world-weariness, but there are moments when he comes close, given the differences between the two characters.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lancerman View Post
    One thing I loved that Fleming in the books was that while later on he made Bond alot more competent, he never made him the best at anything. Bond was good in a fight but a good guy could get one over on him and he wasn't going to take out two or three guys at once. He was a great driver but in the 3rd book Drax could outmanuever him. He was smart but was suscepitble to a well layed plan. He didn't come off as weak or stupid that way, just more real.

    Also you got the feeling that he actually cared a little but about the women he slept with. Sure he had a bit of a womanizing streak, but it wasn't a total love them or leave them situation. For instance in Dr. No Bond literally waits till the end of the book to sleep with the main girl to make sure her life is in order. And in the Spy Who Loved Me he gets in contact with the proper avenues to make sure a girl who was attacked by two criminals gets the proper treatment she needs after Bond must leave. And obviously he was madly in love with both Vesper and Tracy.

    I'm planning on rereading CASINO at some point, and maybe the rest of the Bond books, to see if they justify Alan Moore's unsubstantiated claim (in a foreword for DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) that Bond was a total misogynist. Thus far on the basis of what books I have reread, I would agree that he's a little chauvinisitic toward women but certainly not a misogynist.

    Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer-- that's another story--

  11. #11
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    My most recent Bond re-reading was the For Your Eyes Only short story collection, as I wanted to re-read Quantum of Solace before the movie came out, on the of chance it might reference the story in some small way (it didn't, naturally). There was more blatant misogyny than I remembered in at least one story (FYEO itself), but my impression ever since I first read the books has been that beneath this callous surface Bond almost always hides a surprising depth of feeling towards the female characters he gets involved with. David Walton has it right.

    As for the Alan Moore version in League, I think it isn't totally off the mark, as the misogyny is there, but it's a very shallow and thus rather uninteresting view of the character. As a matter of fact, by far the most cutting and insightful deconstruction (if I can use that word) of Bond was provided by Fleming himself in a story called The Hildebrand Rarity, in which all the main facets of the Bond persona are examined in such a way as to bring out the unresolved contradictions of the character: 1) his relationship with women, 2) Britain's imperial/colonial legacy, & 3) Britain's relationship with the superpower that supplanted it, the USA. Truly fascinating for anyone interested in the Bond myth.

  12. #12
    Mattress Tester T Hedge Coke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by berk View Post
    for the Alan Moore version in League, I think it isn't totally off the mark, as the misogyny is there, but it's a very shallow and thus rather uninteresting view of the character.
    Of course, that Bond was only the first Bond seen in the League, and one of the points in Century was that the later Bonds are all improvements, both in competency and mindset. (Also, in terms of being of service. ^_^)

    And, really, I think that's true. The initial James Bond in fiction was less than competent, he was prone to getting his ass kicked, and he was misogynistic and self-blind. Later Bonds, as we've known them, tended to be more competent, wittier, and less boorish, while being at times either colder than the original, less professional, softer or harder.

  13. #13
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Bond's misogynistic tendencies have always been superficial at best. He believes women only get in the way of the job, but that's as much an acknowledgment that he has a soft spot for them and they tend to compromise his personal commitment to the mission. Which pans out in various ways beginning with Vesper Lynd. In Live and Let Die, he agrees to take on Solitaire in spite of knowing it's an unpardonable gamble for a spy to take. On the flip side, he sticks with the plan to go to Jamaica and take on Mr. Big's operation rather than stopping by Cuba with the intention of saving her.

    I give Fleming a lot of credit for making Bond a complex character from the beginning, a misogynist in theory but not so much in practice.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  14. #14
    Elder Member Libaax's Avatar
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    I felt the same as you when i read Casino Royal, the prose, the philosophy trying to understand Bond world view, the lack of many action scenes and more focus on spy work was very was appealing to me. In the second book Bond is more competent killer, there is several grim action scenes ala Craig Bond/Bourne. I liked the actions scenes but the second book was much weaker, generic than this one. Over the top villain,cool action but Bond was much more interesting in Casino Royal.

    I respected Fleming fort his book because he made Bond more human,interesting than the films before Craig era ever did.
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    Elder Member Libaax's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slam_Bradley View Post
    One thing to keep in mind is that Fleming was a naval intelligence officer during World War II. That experience plus his being a journalist following the war informed the way that he wrote Bond. The fact that it "rings true" is I think a large part of why the written series was so successful.

    This is much like Hammett's experience as a Pinkerton making helping make his writing realistic.
    Thats why i was surprised how informed it was in the way Bond worked. Bond wasnt in much control and didnt have it easy like in the films. I expect more fantasy and not simple,calm spy work. I have read only the first two books and i hope Fleming gets back that feel in other more fantastic stories of the series too.

    I remember reading also a short story where Bond is send to Jamaica to kill a double agent or someone like that. It was simple,more real than i thought. Like The OP doing footwork,chasing evidence and calm work and not solving the case without doing anything.
    Pull List:
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    American Vampire,Animal Man,Swamp Thing
    Daredevil, Winter Soldier,Indestructible Hulk

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