The games played in the James Bond novels and movies go beyond the surface thrills. There are hidden meanings aplenty. Philip Gardiner's book The Bond Code: The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James Bond reveals how Bond-creator Ian Fleming's connections with the occult helped him create the mystique of his greatest creation. It covers ground not mined so deeply in more prosaic books on Fleming, such as John Pearson's The Life of Ian Fleming.
Gardiner was inspired to his explorations by a television airing of Live and Let Die, a Bond adaptation with genuine occult material. He noticed the connection between the "standard" James Bond plot in the books and movies and the alchemical Great Work — and the self-work "journey" that is implied in such stories.
Gardiner clarifies that, in most of the books, Bond has to unite with the feminine principle to achieve his goal. But so do many heroes in print fiction and the movies. While Gardiner experiences this theme through symbolism, it is a basic plot formula.
Nevertheless, Gardiner catches details others might miss. In the novel Live and Let Die, when Bond and the heroine Solitaire unite in love, Gardiner describes: "In the alchemical terminology, Solitaire is the watery, wise Sophia of the Gnostics, and Bond is the fire. The picture is painted with Solitaire's hair falling down in a 'cascade,' and Bond being described as an 'angry flame.'"
The codes in the Bond books go beyond any used by the characters within them; they are implanted in many of the names. It is not surprising that Ian Fleming would fill his books with hidden details. Fleming was a bibliophile, with an outstanding collection of books in a surprising number of fields, especially works that had "started something." There were esoteric volumes among them. As one of his literary efforts, Fleming once translated a lecture by Carl Jung about Paracelsus. (Jung had been fascinated with the esoteric system of Gnosticism, and considered Paracelsus' alchemical work a later development along that line.)
Another historic notable active in magic and the occult of fascination to Fleming was the mathematician, astronomer, and geographer John Dee – who may well have coined the phrase "British Empire." Dee had an immense personal library, a detail Fleming must surely have noted. The number "007" originally was an insignia number developed by Dee for Queen Elizabeth to use in covert communications between the Court and Dee. The double-Os in the number referred to Dee being the secret eyes of the Queen. The Queen signed her missives to Dee as "M." Some deem that one of Dee's major angelic-cabalistic-alchemical books was actually a cover for intelligence work. Only some of these details are covered in Gardiner's book.
If he is right, the process of writing the Bond novels was in a way an alchemical work. If Gardiner is over-reaching, the implanted symbols are still important parts of the fictional fabric. He makes it clear that some of the connections he draws are provable by events while others are conjecture on his part.
The names of Fleming villains are full of symbols. One example is Sir Hugo Drax ("the Dragon"), the mastermind in the book Moonraker. In the novel Goldfinger, the title character's full name can be taken as wholly alchemical. Auric, in one of its usages, is the alchemical term for gold made from lead, while Goldfinger represents the finger of the alchemist termed golden.
Sympathetic characters too have names with special meanings. That James Bond's wife Teresa had the maiden name of Draco, which refers to a dragon or winged serpent, is interesting in light of her upbringing by a dangerous father, Marc-Ange Draco.
Here are how a few characters in the books are interpreted by Gardiner:
Le Chiffre ("the cipher, or code")
Vesper Lynd ("birth of night")
Tiffany Case ("manifestation fallen from God")
Ernst Stavro Blofeld ("earnest strong")
Fleming had a knack for names. Many of them will be long-remembered, including the ones with the less hidden meanings – such as Pussy Galore from Goldfinger.
Gardiner's interpretations may not be Fleming's but they are valid in their own way.
Fleming probably leaned harder on etymology than symbolism in his creative process. The novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with its subject matter of heraldry, is more concerned with the sources of names than the other books in the series. But mystical code certainly seems to feature often enough, however intentional.
In the penultimate Fleming novel You Only Live Twice, Bond's number of 007 is changed to 7777 (which Gardiner explains as meaning "it is done").
Esotericism, codes and game-playing all figure in many of the books.
To anchor the themes he explores, Gardiner takes on the arc of Fleming's life. From Gardiner's book, Pearson's biography, and other sources, here are a few details of a life that seems like one out of his fiction.
Ian Fleming's early jobs included working as a sub-editor and journalist for Reuters, and a stint as a stockbroker.
When World War II commenced, Rear Admiral John Godfrey (the director of Naval Intelligence) recruited Ian Fleming as his personal assistant, a sort of male "Moneypenny." During a trip to the United States, William Donovan asked Fleming to write a memo to outline a planned American secret service. Much of his wording was used when the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was created, and thus Fleming influenced subsequent American intelligence efforts.
Fleming oversaw the 30 Auxiliary Unit (nicknamed "Red Indians") which was a commando unit consisting of men who were true prototypes of the fictional Bond. Fleming was the planner, not the field commander. By the end of the war, higher-ups took charge.
Following the end of WWII, Fleming took up journalism for the Times, despite a scandal involving Fleming's affair with the wife of a press baron. For the Sunday Times, he managed foreign correspondents.
Beginning in 1953, he also wrote the James Bond novels, at the pace of about one a year, usually between January and March at his rather austere and temple-like Jamaican home, Goldeneye. The rest of the year he took care of his journalistic duties.
His drinking and smoking — plus the stresses of a plagiarism lawsuit over the novel Thunderball detailed in Robert Sellers' book The Battle For Bond: The Genesis of Cinema's Greatest Hero — shortened his life. He barely lived into the time of the James bond craze — dying on August 12, 1964 at the age of 56.
Gardiner, having provided the essentials of Fleming's life, tours readers through the James Bond novels, where Fleming used his short life as fuel for his creativity. Gardiner points out the resemblance in the novel Casino Royale of the first Bond villain, Le Chiffre, to the occultist Aleister Crowley. Gardiner also mentions that James Bond devotees observe that Bond villains were based on him. There was a reason for this, which will be discussed shortly.
Gardiner also opines that Bond's relationship with Vesper Lynd (in the same book) seems related to the internal struggles Fleming was having at the time of his marriage to Ann Charteris, the former wife of Lord Rothermere (the press baron Esmond Harmsworth who Fleming cuckolded). In subsequent novels as well, Fleming works out his inner struggles in the context of an adult fairy tale.
By adding the macho of 30 Auxiliary Unit to the traditional spy novel, he took that sort of fiction in a new direction. By combining John Godfrey with Maxwell Knight, he created the memorable spymaster "M."
As a public persona, Fleming mocked and belittled his writings, but he applied much craft to them. To the outside world, he had dashed them off, but surviving marked-up manuscript pages (one of which is printed in Pearson's book) show the real hard work involved. Fleming's outward urbanity hid his troubled artistic temperament, as Michael Howard of Jonathan Cape Publishers once noted to Fleming in a letter.
Whether in fiction or fact, analysis was no stranger to Fleming. As a youth with problems, he underwent Adlerian psychoanalysis by Alban Ernan Forbes-Dennis. To Forbes-Dennis and his wife Phyllis Bottome, it was too late for the full intervention Fleming had needed. They improved his German, helped him prepare for Foreign Office examinations and in general encouraged his pursuit of knowledge, and Fleming later remembered them fondly, having come out of the analysis and education a more confident person. Fleming understood the psychological theories that applied to him.
Through Forbes-Dennis, the psychologist Carl Jung gave Fleming permission to translate Jung's aforementioned lecture on Paracelsus. Gardiner makes much of this event in Fleming's life. Jung, in the lecture, emphasized Paracelsus's ideas as being inseparable from "gnosis." Gardiner again emphasizes Fleming's need to heal himself through knowledge gained through his writing.
Fleming's struggle with his own divided self was reflected in his books. But in place of his own identity as a troubled man was Bond as the neutral figure in a divided world. The villains sometimes got Fleming's more negative qualities, like a taste for violent sex.
The fact that his arch-villain Blofeld shares a birthday with Fleming himself indicates to Gardiner that Fleming "was fighting out his own issues on paper."
Some qualities of Blofeld that did not come from Fleming came from a notorious person of whom he knew.
Gardiner, like Pearson and others before him, examines the famous anecdote about Fleming trying to involve Aleister Crowley in the effort to interrogate the captured Nazi Rudolf Hess, who had landed in Britain during World War II. Having been fascinated by Crowley's image for years, Fleming had devised, and spymaster Maxwell Knight had approved, a plan in which Crowley could exploit Hess's interests in the occult. Knight headed up Department 5, the counterespionage unit within MI5. Crowley corresponded that he would be ready to assist. But the plan was vetoed higher-up, and apparently Fleming never met Crowley face to face.
One biography, The Man Who Was M: The Life of Charles Henry Maxwell Knight by Anthony Masters, claims that Fleming was behind the plan that actually lured Hess to Scotland, but is the only book so far to assert this.
Gardiner presents a few versions of the Hess incident, since the actual truth is not fully known. He sees the Crowley anecdote as an indication of Fleming's interests in magic and the occult, and tries to make as many links with Crowley as possible. He also links to Crowley through Maxwell Knight, one of the models for the character "M." Knight had been introduced to Crowley through thriller writer Dennis Wheatley. Both Knight and Wheatley had attended Crowley rituals, out of intellectual rather than magical interest.
Gardiner feels that the use of gold coins as a catalyst in the novel Live and Let Die is another link to Crowley, but this is probably debatable. That Fleming had some knowledge of the occult, and incorporated aspects of Crowley's persona into villains like Le Chiffre and Blofeld, does not mean that Crowley is really a major element of the majority of the books. Fleming was a wide reader, whose readings informed his writings in countless ways, from the Manichean perspective of Bond (dualistic, with the human as the battleground) to the erudition shown by Fleming on many other matters.
Yet touchstones to the esoteric appear in many places in Fleming's writings. There is a Bill Templar in Diamonds Are Forever, alluding to the Knights Templar. The Ourobourous (the alchemical symbol of a serpent eating its own tail) is part of the name of the Ourobouros Worm and Bait Company in Live and Let Die.
The first Bond novel, Casino Royale, was also the first in which the villain had a ciphered name. Bond works through the code, so to speak, and when Le Chiffre (the black knight to Bond's knight errant, the dark side of the psyche to Bond's lighter side) dies, the bullet wound resembles the third eye of illumination.
Overall the basics of the fairy tale are the basics of storytelling, and Fleming's Bond novels are fairy tales overlaid with Fleming's life and expertise. Gardiner's approach to analyzing Fleming and his famous character can be used to explicate umpteen other adventure novels outside the Bond canon, and he takes on a few of them here, including that most heavily coded of television shows The Prisoner. Like Fleming (and his "alter-ego" Bond), Number 6 in The Prisoner is battling — psychologically or otherwise — with aspects of himself. In the last episode his nemesis is unmasked as himself. This is like in the works of Fleming, where the villains were the repressed side of Fleming and Bond was the idealistic side.
Gardiner opines that Fleming kept much of his inner self private because — as part of his profession — he was expert at keeping secrets.
But Gardiner stretches some of his connections farther than they will go. As in all books that include conspiracy materials, there are many debatable links drawn between strands of the subjects covered. Relating Q to the New Testament source called the "Q Document" is really stretching things. Fleming may have read voluminously, and filled his books with clever allusions, but this does not seem his style. He was playful with his knowledge and experiences, but not to the point of making that sort of joke.
What Gardiner is especially good at in The Bond Code is helping the reader experience the stories anew, with the symbolism laid bare. There have been needs for dream analyses of the Bond books, and Gardiner provides them with panache. Those wanting to tread on more solid ground can refer to the conventional biographies, which do not rely on so much speculation.
Philip Gardiner, The Bond Code: The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James Bond (Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2008)
John Pearson, The Life of Ian Fleming (London: Jonathan Cape, 1966)
Robert Sellers, The Battle For Bond: The Genesis of Cinema's Greatest Hero (Sheffield, England: Tomahawk Press, 2007)
John Cork and Bruce Scivally, James Bond: The Legacy (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002)
Lawrence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000)
Ian Fleming — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Fleming
Maxwell Knight — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_Knight
John Dee — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dee
D.W. Cooper and Lawrence Gerald, "A Bond for All the Ages: Sir Francis Bacon and John Dee: the Original 007," http://www.sirbacon.org/links/dblohseven.html
Stephen A. Hoeller, "C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Renewal," The Gnosis Archive, http://www.gnosis.org/jung_alchemy.htm