Monday, August 11, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "The Living Daylights"

"The Living Daylights" was first published in 1962 as part of a color supplement for The Sunday Times. The Times was a rival to the Daily Express, which had been serializing and adapting Bond stories for about six years by that point, so the Express was naturally upset. In fact, "The Living Daylights" created a big rift between Fleming and the Express to the point that the Bond strip was abruptly ended part way through the adaptation of Thunderball. More about that on Thursday, though. "The Living Daylights" was also published in the United States a few months later in Argosy magazine.

I have a lot of praise to gush on the movie The Living Daylights, which I'll do at the proper time, but one of the things I love about it as that it adapts its short story pretty faithfully, but with a twist that propels the rest of the movie. In the short story, Bond is called to Berlin to assassinate the person who has in turn been assigned to assassinate someone escaping to the West. In the short story, the escapee is a returning double agent instead of a defector, but Bond is still supervised by a tiresome liaison and still changes his shot when he discovers that his target is a woman. And not just any woman, but a cellist he's been watching and fantasizing about as she's come and go from a nearby building over a few days.

One of my favorite lines in the movie version is when Bond lashes back at his annoying supervisor by exclaiming that the worst that can happen is that M will fire Bond, but that Bond would "thank him for it." I've always associated that with Bond's attitude at the end of Casino Royale, but re-reading "The Living Daylights" reminds me that it's yet another element right out of the short story. Bond is uncharacteristically sulky in this story and grumbles a couple of times about not minding if he gets kicked out of the Double-O section.

The best explanation that I have for that is that Bond is changing as a person. He's become less and less selfish since Dr No and has apparently become a happier person for it. Certainly his sense of humor has improved in Goldfinger and Thunderball. There's even a bit in "The Living Daylights" where he acknowledges to someone that the Bentley is a "selfish car." That kind of awareness is remarkable and important. It shows that while Bond still loves his car, he's also a little embarrassed about what it says about his past self. He sees that past selfishness and is able to comment on it, which I don't think he would've been able to do in the early books.

As Bond continues to change, it makes sense that he's becoming less patient with the uglier aspects of his job. His current mission is outright, cold-blooded assassination. He's never been super fond of that (as we saw in From Russia with Love), but it seems to be really getting at him now. The only time he's seemed okay with it was in "For Your Eyes Only," but that was more about his compassion for M than about willingly taking another person's life. My theory about Bond's attitude in "The Living Daylights" is that the assignment has got him especially down and is creating a bad attitude about his job and life in general. If it pops up again over the next few assignments, I'll adjust that theory, but it works for now.

One last thing that bothers me (not about Fleming's writing, but about Bond's mindset) is that Domino doesn't come up at all. From a storytelling perspective, I don't actually expect her to, but from a fannish, continuity-exploring perspective, I wish that there was more fallout from that relationship than just Bond's fantasizing about a pretty cellist. I fantasized myself about Bond and Domino's forming a mature relationship, so it hurts a little that she's just disappeared over the last couple of stories. There may be good, extratextual reasons for that (McClory?), but again, I'm just talking about continuity. Something apparently happened between Bond and Domino to sour things and I want some closure. I don't expect Fleming's next full novel, The Spy Who Loved Me to explain it, but I wish it would. And if not, I'm perfectly willing to come up with something on my own.

[Argosy cover found at Galactic Central]

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