Friday, August 08, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "Octopussy"

The short story “Octopussy” was written late in 1962, but wasn’t published until 1965, after Fleming’s death. It was serialized in the Daily Express, which had also published “From a View to a Kill,” “Risico,” the James Bond comic strip, and had serialized both Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia with Love.

Fans of the movie Octopussy will remember that Maude Adams’ character is friendly towards Bond because he had once allowed her proud, but criminal father the choice of suicide instead of the humiliation of a public trial. The short story is the account of that confrontation and choice.

“Octopussy” sometimes gets compared to “Quantum of Solace” in that Bond’s participation in the story is basically a bookend to the actual tale. But unlike “Quantum of Solace,” where Bond is simply being told the story as a way to pass time, he’s the catalyst for “Octopussy.” His investigation of a decade-old murder has led him to Dexter Smythe and Bond already has all the evidence he needs to put the old man away. As the movie Octopussy says, Bond does offer Smythe a week to get his affairs in order before he’s arrested, which Smythe believes is an opportunity to kill himself. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that it’s not as clean and simple as the way Maud Adams tells it.

Whatever Smythe’s final fate, it is pretty clear that Bond intends to let Smythe commit suicide as an alternative to spending his final days in prison. Which is an enormous kindness on Bond’s part considering Bond’s personal investment in the case. The reason Bond requested the investigation when it happened across his desk is that he had a personal relationship with Smythe’s victim. Bond reveals that the dead man was not only the person who taught Bond to ski as a teenager, but was also a surrogate father at a time when Bond really needed one. He offers no more detail than that, but it’s a major clue in the mystery of Bond’s childhood.

I’m reading the short stories in the order that they take place in Bond’s career, not in the order that Fleming wrote them, so it’s possible that Fleming confirms Bond’s being an orphan in one of the last novels. But chronologically, “Octopussy” is the first indication that Bond may have lost his parents and it seems to indicate that he was a teenager when it happened.
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