A Licence To Read The Man With The Golden Gun

1st Edition
1st Edition
© Jonathan Cape

After Ian Fleming’s death on August 12, 1964, fans might have assumed that the literary James Bond had died with its creator. This was not the case, and even before any continuation novels were published, there was still some original Fleming work to come.

The Man With The Golden Gun was published on April 1, 1965 by Jonathan Cape. The novel featured another cover painting by Richard Chopping, this time with a novel twist: The cover image spanned not only the front and spine but also the back cover, as did the title lettering. This approach serves to show off the talent of Chopping even more.

‘Can I Help You?’

The Man With The Golden Gun was written by Fleming between January and March 1964 – however, mystery surrounds whether or not the novel was actually completed by Fleming himself. Fleming was an ill man during that period, and was not able to put in the amount of time that he did with his previous novels. He was unable to revise the book himself, which explains the novels lack of polish when compared to Fleming’s other works. Despite being probably the weakest of Fleming’s novels, it is not without its merits. After further research it seems that Fleming died after only correcting half of the final manuscript for The Man With The Golden Gun. It seems that Kingsley Amis was one of those who may have actually re-drafted the novel -here is a lengthy excerpt from a letter he wrote to Tom Maschler on the 5th of October 1964

“Have been driving hard at The Man With The Golden Gun. I forget what if anything, we arranged about this. Anyway, you may care to glance at the enclosed list of errors, etc. My own feeling in general is that, while some kinds of error could easily be spotted by a competent reader (repetition of words, the omission of question-marks -though I may say that none of Fleming’s previous books has been thoroughly corrected for this – the ‘Adams’ mantelpiece, etc.), there are on the other hand several passages that need to be rewritten by someone with a feeling and flair for style: this is especially true of the 2½ pages of dialogue that will have to be entirely re-drafted (pp.127-129). Anyway, forgive me if some of the errors listed seem insultingly obvious.

My greatest discovery has been to spot what it is that has done most to make the book so feeble. As it stands, its most glaring weaknesses are:

i. Scaramanga’s thinness and insipidity as a character, after a very lengthy though pretty competent and promising build-up on pp. 26-35;

ii. The radical and crippling implausibility whereby Scaramanga hires Bond as a security man (p.67) when he doesn’t know him and, it transpires, doesn’t need him. This is made much worse by Bond’s suspicions, ‘there was the strong smell of a trap about’ and so on.

Now I am as sure as one could be in the circumstances that as first planned, perhaps as first drafted, the reason why Scaramanga asks Bond along to the Thunderbird is that he’s sexually attracted to him, which disposes of difficulty no. ii right away and gives a strong pointer to the disposal of no. i. I wouldn’t care to theorise about how far Scaramanga was made to go in the original draft; far enough no doubt, to take care of no. i.

Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis

At some later stage, Flemings own prudence or that of a friend induced him to take out this element, or most of it: see p.33-34, which as things are have no point whatever. He was unable to think of any alternative reason for Scaramanga’s hiring of Bond, and no wonder, since the whole point of this hiring in the first version was that it had to be inexplicable by ordinary secret-agent standards. And then he was forced to hold on to the stuff about Bond’s suspicions, and its always better to leave an implausible loose end than make your hero look a nit.

There are no doubt all sorts of reasons why we can’t have the book in its original version, the most telling of which is that it probably doesn’t exist any more, if it ever did. I could re-jig it for you, but there are all sorts of reasons against that too. But if you think you could initiate a discreet inquiry about whether there was a buggery thread at some stage, I should be most interested to learn of any confirmation for my brilliant flash of insight.

I’m sending the typescript back under separate cover. We go to Molins the day after tomorrow. Ageda inquired kindly after you. Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed your stay with us and were sorry to see you go. We send our Love.

*!Hasta la vista!
Kingsley

Kingsley Amis was later commissioned to write the next official James Bond novel Colonel Sun – the fact that he offered to help revise The Man With The Golden Gun and subsequently wrote Colonel Sun under the pseudonym of Robert Markham it is reasonable and not far fetched to believe he did indeed revise The Man The Golden Gun but only under strict guidelines by the publishers.

Minutes Of The Meeting

The novel begins with one of the most surprising openings of any James Bond novel: 007 returns after his disappearance at the end of You Only Live Twice. But Bond has been brainwashed by the KGB, and he attempts to assassinate M. After the attempt on M’s life is foiled, Bond undergoes electroshock therapy in order to return to a normal state. M then sends him to assassinate Francisco Scaramanga – a professional killer in the employ of Cuba. Compared to many of Fleming’s other villainous characters Scaramanga is perhaps a little bland. He is little more than a thug, who lets Bond into his confidence very easily and doesn’t have the criminal genius of the great Bond villains. However, he does have one or two characteristics that are typical of a Fleming villain – especially his distinctive third nipple. Scaramanga’s character is perhaps a missed opportunity, because the character did have some interesting facets which were not properly fleshed out. Kingsley Amis wrote as also alluded to in the afore mentioned excerpt from the letter to Tom Maschler, “We hear a lot about him early on in the ten page dossier M consults, including mentions of homosexuality and pistol-fetishism, but these aren’t followed up anywhere.” This is perhaps a problem which could have been rectified if Fleming had been able to apply the same level of polish as he had on his earlier novels.

The Wrap Up

As a final novel, The Man With The Golden Gun is perhaps not the ideal ending to the original Bond series, but we must remember that it is the work of an author in poor health, who wasn’t able to apply himself fully to the crafting of the story. However, the novel is still worthy of reading, as it still unmistakably an Ian Fleming James Bond adventure. Despite the novel’s shortcomings, it was released to a public that was hungry for James Bond adventures and spent weeks at the top of bestseller lists, proving that 007 was going to endure long after the death of his creator.

Critics’ opinions

“surprisingly quiet” – YORK EVENING PRESS

“James Bond should have a better exit. Sadly, [The Man with The Golden Gun]… ends not with a bang but a whimper. The world will be a vastly more lacklustre and complicated place with 007 gone.” – NEWSWEEK

“Bond and Fleming were fun. They entertained, sometimes mildly, often grandly – but always consistently. Life will be less interesting without them.” – ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Perhaps Ian Fleming was tired when he wrote it. Perhaps – his publishers didn’t tell us -he left it unrevised. The fact remains that this posthumous Bond is a sadly substandard job.” – OBSERVER

“The latest brush to be thrown on one of the damndest wildfires of all time – The James Bond Industry … A gory, glittering saga … the James Bond spirit soars on” – NEW YORK TIMES

“James Bond is a phenomenon of the Sixties and will probably endure until a more sophisticated generation forgets him” – HARTFORD CONNECTICUT TIMES.

Cover Gallery

British book club edition
British book club edition

Paperback edition
Paperback edition
© Coronet books

Dutch edition
Dutch edition

Paperback edition
Paperback edition
© Pan

Film tie-in edition
Film tie-in edition
© Pan

Modern Classics edition
Modern Classics edition
© Penguin

US paperback edition
US paperback edition
© Penguin

Paperback edition
Paperback edition
© Triad Panther

US Hardback edition
US Hardback edition

Dutch edition
Dutch edition

Norwegian edition
Norwegian edition

Paperback edition
Paperback edition
© Pan

Paperback edition
Paperback edition
© Pan

Centenary hardback edition
Centenary hardback edition
© Penguin

UK paperback edition
UK hardback edition
© Penguin

Paperback edition
Paperback edition
© Signet

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