"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it."
These three sentences, written 65 years ago, introduced us to a very different kind of anti-hero. Because over in the corner of the febrile casino that night, watching a little white ball bounce around the roulette wheel, was Bond.
The movies would soon arrive and soften him. But the early Bond was little more than a cipher. In written form, Ian Fleming made it very clear while Bond could be charming, he was ultimately an introvert prone to bouts of extreme fatalism. “You start to die,” Bond once observed, “the moment you are born."
But this was also not a man prone to prolonged bouts of depression or doubt. “Light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs” was his advice. This grasp of mortality explains the extra-ordinary hedonism that pervades Bond from the outset. His love of fine wine, rich food and romantic liaisons were all a product of knowing his time on the planet was as finite as it was pointless.
The secret agent in those early books rarely opens up and is described as “only a silhouette” of a man. Fundamentally, it is Bond’s immense physicality and strength that speaks for him. He sees himself as a “poet of deeds” not words. Fleming wrote Bond as an outsider, always looking on, detached at the glamorous and fantastical events taking place around him.
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