Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ian Fleming and the "Terrible Grip of Blood Lust"

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Ian Fleming. His novels and short stories flesh out the character of James Bond more than most of the movies do, and you can see him arc from youthful idealism to cold realism over the course of Fleming’s corpus of work. From Russia with Love was one of JFK’s favorite books, and Anthony Burgess listed Goldfinger in his 1984 compendium Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939–A Personal Choice.

In You Only Live Twice, the last work published before his death, James Bond catches up with Ernst Stavro Blofeld and exacts vengeance for the killing of his wife in the previous novel. Battling in hand-to-hand combat in Blofeld’s Japanese castle, Bond seems to be flailing:

Blofeld saw his advantage and began attacking, making furious forward jabs that Bond could only parry by hitting at the flat of the sword to deflect it. But now the stave was slippery in the sweat of his hands and for the first time he felt the cold breath of defeat at his neck. Blofeld seemed to smell it, for he suddenly executed one of his fast running lunges to get under Bond’s guard. Bond guessed the distance of the wall behind him and leaped backwards against it. Even so, he felt the sword-point fan across his stomach. But hurled back by his impact with the wall, he counter-lunged, swept the sword aside with his stave, and, dropping his weapon, made a dive for Blofeld’s neck and got both hands to it. For a moment, the two sweating faces were almost up against each other. The boss of Blofeld’s sword battered into Bond’s side. Bond Hardly felt the crashing blows. He pressed with his thumbs, and pressed and pressed and heard the sword clang to the floor and felt Blofeld’s fingers and nails tearing at his face, trying to reach his eyes. Bond whispered through his gritted teeth, “Die, Blofeld! Die!” And suddenly the tongue was out and the eyes rolled upwards and the body slipped down the ground. But Bond followed it and knelt, his hands cramped round the powerful neck, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, in the terrible grip of blood lust.

One of my favorite passages from all the books.

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