"Goldfinger" by Ian Fleming (1959)
"Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterson was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality.' As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits - barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them."
Ian Fleming was a British naval intelligence officer before he turned to fiction. His first novel, Casino Royale, appeared in 1952. His heavy drinking and smoking led to his early death at age 56.
Before I get into an analysis of this book, let me state for the record that I'm a huge fan of the Bond films, and that among these films Goldfinger is one of my favorites. I've seen it so many times that I can recite bits of its dialogue from memory. I've also watched all of the Bond films, in their entirety, at least five times each.
So perhaps you'll imagine my disappointment after finally reading one of Ian Fleming's novels. Not only is it casually sexist, but it's even more casually racist into the bargain. Even for the time in which he wrote, Fleming was an astonishingly prejudiced person, beholden to ideas of sexual and racial superiority that have thankfully fallen out of fashion.
In Goldfinger Koreans are frequently described as "ape-like," and women serve little purpose beyond secretarial work and sexual gratification. Anything non-White is deemed inferior, and Bond, the ideal of British manhood, represents the apex of a racial and sexual pyramid that probably has blacks, Jews, and homosexuals at its base.
The plot? It's fairly similar to the movie, yet without the flourishes that made the movie such a hit. Pussy Galore, rather than being the head of an all-female flying aerobatic team, is instead the boss of a "lesbian gang." Auric Goldfinger, rather than being an enigmatic, vaguely European presence, is instead a more conventional sort of villain. Even Oddjob, so memorably used in the movie, is reduced to a racial stereotype, the inscrutable Asian lackey.
Which is not to say the movie was a racially, sexually, or politically aware work of fiction. Of course it wasn't. It was campy fun. It was its era's version of The Fast and the Furious. But where the movie is relatively innocuous, the book is a more toxic brew, composed of the sort of snobbery your average British aristocrat would have dealt in circa 1959.
Will I be reading any more of Ian Fleming's books? No, I have no desire to return to that narrative. I'm just happy that the producers of the Bond films were able to distill something better from the novels, a more generalized, more accessible male fantasy that has withstood the test of time.
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