Bondage

The James Bond Dossier

by Kingsley Amis
New American Library, 142 pp., $3.95

The Man With the Golden Gun

by Ian Fleming
New American Library, 273 pp., $3.95

The earliest of Ian Fleming’s penny-bloods were received with laughter and mock ecstasy. The wooden doll, James Bond, was garlanded with extravagant epithets: a streamlined figure full of gadgetry, carnivorous to the back teeth, this sado-masochistic private eye, daydream of male prepotence. (I collected such quotations when I was commissioned to write advertisements for Goldfinger.) There were reasons for the reviewers’ merry praise. The testicle-beating of Casino Royale seemed a pleasant change from the painless hurting and smug moralities of British body-in-the-library entertainment. Raymond Chandler, himself a product of an English “public school,” approved the novelty of Fleming’s shamelessness, the decision to describe the details of killing and torture and recognize their fascination; in a way, the new fantasy was facing facts.

Later the innovations were gleefully denounced as “sex, snobbery and sadism” by Paul Johnson in an influential New Statesman article but, in the early stages, they could be honestly if playfully welcomed—rather in the same way that Margery Allingham’s cranky whodunits had long been publicized as “for those wise men who like their nonsense to be distinguished.” Only when the Fleming nonsense was mass-produced for less well-educated citizens did the moral concern begin. The private joke had gone too far; it had been made public. An epidemic of parodies had already broken out, probably initiated by the Daily Mail‘s “Flook” strip-cartoon. Soon every other British journalist was creating his own John Bind or James Bum, so many that I find I criticized another man’s Bond-parody for “breaking a slug on a wheel.” In his painstaking tribute to Fleming’s preposterous oeuvre, Kingsley Amis now writes forgivingly of the burlesques: “parodies have their laughter-value, but the laugh is partly affectionate.” Maybe, sometimes…

Anyhow, nobody’s laughing any more. Bond-books have become a theme for polemic, uncouth sex-snob accusations and counter-charges. Amis notices the development—and then joins in, denouncing Bond-haters as “old maids of both sexes.” The magazine, Private Eye, has retorted that Ian Fleming was a eunuch and Amis’s own work is “masturbatory.” This is all pretty coarse, but perhaps Amis asked for it. There is usually something wrong with a man who sneers at spinsters. What has gone wrong with Kingsley Amis?

The first bad sign is that he keeps saying “we,” as if determined to join some group or persuade others to join his. Here there is a touch of the slangy, soft-sell preacher, the kind who kills desire with his earnest commendations of teen-age petting, desperately stressing the cosy normality of his exotic cult: “We all lose our rag or blow our top with our foreman or manager or even our bishop. Don’t we? I know I do.” In just the same tone, Amis claims:

We rather enjoy being told by our wives and sweethearts that we’re smoking and drinking too much. It enables us to feel devil-may-care at little trouble or expense. A third way of feeling this is to drive too fast, and here …

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