Fleming, Ian: You Only Live Twice
(researched by Joseph Maloney)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

The first American edition of Ian Flemingís You Only Live Twice was published in America by The New American Library of World Literature, in New York in 1964.

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

You Only Live Twice was originally published in cloth/hardcover. A paperback edition was not released until the following year.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

The bookís pagination begins with a leaf of red construction paper, then a page containing only the title in tall, upper-case characters. The next page is a listing of the previous James Bond novels by Fleming, as well as tw o of his non-James Bond works (The Diamond Smugglers and Thrilling Cities). This is followed by the title page, which features the title in large (approximately Ωî) characters, the name of the author, and the publisherís logo, with ìNew American Libraryî written beneath. The back of this page contains the publisher information. The next page contains the dedication: ìTo Richard Hughes and Torao Saito, but for who etc. Öî The next page consists of a quote from the Japanese poet Bassho ìYou only live t wice:/ Once when you are born,/ And once when you look death in the face.î Next is the table of contents. This is followed by another page (identical to the second page) which contains only the title. The next page says ìPart One: ëIt is better to trav el hopefullyÖíî The page after this begins the novel; it is not numbered, but the page after it is numbered ì4.î The last page of the novel is numbered 240, but it is followed by a single blank page, and then another red construction paper leaf before t he cover.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

This book is not introduced, and no editorís name is given.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

This book is not illustrated.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

You Only Live Twice was the last book in the James Bond series actually completed by Fleming, so it had a long and tremendously successful record behind it. That being the case, the book is of a fairly high qua lity. The typography, while not gorgeous, is attractive, clear, and easily readable. Most of the text is a standard serif font, but the chapter headings are much larger and more ornate. Overall, the book is free from any noticeable smudges or smears an d appears very well printed.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The bookís paper is of a high quality; it is not rich, but it is thick and textured. Considering it is 35 years old, the paper has held up very well, with no signs of deterioration or discoloration except for some browning along the top edge of each page. Otherwise it is in excellent condition.

11 Description of binding(s)

This edition is actually very well bound. The pages are collected into eight large sheafs which are stitched into the hardcover binding made of embos sed, line-grain yellow cloth. The front cover is stamped with a reproductions of Ian Flemingís signature in black while the spine features Flemingís name above the bookís title, underneath which there are a number of evenly spaced, horizontal lines, and finally the NALís logo; all in red. Like the rest of the book, the binding appears sturdy, and has held up well over time.

12 Transcription of title page

YOU|ONLY|LIVE|TWICE [the letters of the title are 10mm]|BY IAN FLEMING [5mm]|[45mm of blank page]|NAL|NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

All of Ian Flemingís papers, including his manuscripts for the James Bond novels, are held by the Lilly Library of Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

The New American Library published what amounts to two highly similar editions of You Only Live Twice. The first being the original American hardcover, and the second being a "Book Club Edition" which is identical in terms of paper and printing, but is bound slightly differently. The book club edition features a different dust jacket (pictured below) and a different cover. The original edition featured a yellow cloth cover with an impression of Fleming's signature, while book club edition has a black, grained cover with a yellow stripe along the left edge.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

There were five printings of the New American Library first edition, not including the book club edition.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

Jonathan Cape (London) published the British edition of You Only Live Twice, simultaneously with the American edition. In addition to this, there have been numerous paperback editions, including British paperbacks from Pan (London) in 1965, Triad/Granada (London)in 1978, and Coronet (Sevenoaks, Kent) 1988; American paperbacks published by Signet, New York, an new American hardback published by MJF, New York, 1996; nd Canadian paperbacks from Pan, 1965 (Toronto) and Coronet, 1988 (Toronto).

6 Last date in print?

You Only Live Twice was most recently printed by MJF, in 1997 as part of the James Bond Classics Library.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

You Only Twice was the 8th best-selling novel of 1964, selling approximately 65,000 copies. According to Alice Payne Hackett and James Henry Burke, in their book, "80 Years of Best Sellers," as of 1975 it had sold a total of 3,283,000 copies.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

The only annual sales figures I have found, at this point, are the above ones for 1964, when You Only Live Twice was in the top ten best selling books of the year.

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

Advertisements, which appeared in major newspapers around the time of the book's release read "In his new James Bond adventure novel, IAN FLEMING unfolds a spellbinding tale of sensual pleasure, mystery and murder in Japan. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE." And then in smaller print "3 big printings before publication! Now at your bookstore. $4.50 An NAL- World BOOK." A similar advertisment also appeared in Publisher's Weekly the same week, which showed a number of NAL books, but featured You Only Live Twice, and contained the same text as above.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available


11 Other promotion

As mentioned below, the novel was serialized prior to its publication as a promotion.

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

You Only Live Twice was also made into a successful motion picture by Eon Productions in 1967. It featured Sean Connery as Bond, and was directed by Lewis Gilbert, with a screen play by Roald Dahl. This was the fifth James Bond film.

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

You Only Live Twice has been translated into:
Danish: Rita Damm, trans. Du Lever Kun To Gange. 1965 Skrifola, Copenhagen.
French: On Ne Vit Que Deux Fois. 1965, Plon, Paris.
German: Du Lebst Nur Zweimal. 1990, Scherz, Munich.
Dutch: O. Falk, trans. Je Leeft Maar Twee Maal. 1984, Utrecht, Netherlands.

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Prior to its publication, a shorter version was serialized in Playboy Magazine. Part I, appeared in the April, 1964 issue (p. 70), Part II in May, 1964 (p. 78), and Part III in June, 1964 (p. 100).

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

Ian Fleming published a series of James Bond novels, of which You Only Live Twice was one of the last. The other James Bond novels by Ian Fleming are:
Casino Royale. 1953, Macmillan, New York.
Live and Let Die. 1954, Macmillan, New York.
Moonraker. 1955, Macmillan, New York.
Diamonds Are Forever. 1956, Macmillan, New York.
From Russia With Love. 1957, Macmillan, New York.
Dr. No. 1958, Macmillan, New York.
Goldfinger. 1959, Macmillan, New York.
For Your Eyes Only. 1960, Viking, New York.
Thunderball. 1961, Viking, New York.
The Spy Who Loved Me. 1962, Viking, New York.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service. 1963, New American Library, New York.
You Only Live Twice. 1964, New American Library, New York.
The Man With the Golden Gun. 1965, New American Library, New York.
Octopussy. 1966, New American Library, New York.
A number of subsequent James Bond books have been written by other authors since Fleming's death. For a complete listing of them, Bryan Krofchok's The Bond Index, (at www.gsu.edu/~mccbmk/Bond) is an excellent resource.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Ian Lancaster Fleming was born into the British upper crust on May 28th, 1908, and was raised by his parents Valentine and Evelyn Fleming in the Mayfair district of London. At the age of eight he was sent to the
Durnford School, a spartan boarding establishment that emphasized physical toughness before academics. This seemed to suit Fleming, who later excelled in track and field sports at Eton, while receiving mediocre grades. After Eton, Fleming took the entra
nce exams for the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, where he was accepted and eventually enrolled. Prior to this though, he spent a summer studying in an Austrian school called the Tennerhoff. After graduating from Sandhurst, he returned to Tennerhof
f for a year to study for the Foreign Office exam. During this time he also traveled around Europe, attending lectures at the universities of Munich and Geneva. Despite this preparation, however, Fleming did not pass the Foreign Office exams. So, in 19
31, he went to work for Reuters news service where he was sent on assignments all over Europe, including Moscow. Eventually, Fleming decided that his Reuters job did not pay well enough, so he became a banker, then a stock broker. Then, in 1939, he took a leave of absence, ostensibly, to cover a British trade mission to Poland and Russia for the London Times, in a
ctuality this was the beginning of Ian Fleming's career as a spy. Because of his past in journalism, and his previous experience in Moscow, he had been asked by the Foreign Office to gather information about Russia's potential usefulness as an ally in
the impending war. When World War II did begin, Fleming was hired as an assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. In this position he received spy training and directed a small intelligence gathering unit. After the war, Fleming went to work as the manager of foreign news for Kemsley Papers in London, and built a vacation home in Jamaica, which he named "Goldeneye." It was there that, in 1952, Fleming finally began the spy story that he had been intending
to write for some time. The result was "Casino Royale" the first James Bond novel. Fleming showed the typescript to some friends of his in publishing, and after revising, it was printed by Jonathan Cape, London, in 1953, when Fleming was 45. The book
was a modest success, and Fleming soon began to work on Live and Let Die. Eventually he wrote thirteen stories total, From Russia With Love (1957) being the first major success, after which virtually all of his books were best-sellers. The first James B
ond film, Dr. No, was made in 1962, and an enormously successful series followed. Throughout all this, Fleming continued to write for Kemsley, and between 1956 and 1964 he published three non-Bond books, but James Bond was already a cultural icon at this point, and Fleming's major endeavor. Despite a 1961 heart attack, he continued
to write a Bond novel every year, until his death, in Jamaica (while working on "The Man With The Golden Gun") on August 11th, 1964. All of Fleming's papers and manuscripts were donated to the Lilly Library in Indiana.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was the last James Bond book that Ian Fleming saw all the way to completion; he died shortly after its publication. By this time, many already felt that the series was becoming a bit tiresome
and repetitive. In fact, had Fleming not died, the book may well have been dismissed as nothing but one more tired iteration of the same formula that the Bond series was based on. Even with Fleming's death, complaints that the book was tired and formul
aic were not uncommon: Anthony Boucher of the New York Times called YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, "a protracted but enjoyable travelogue of Japan, towards the end of which the author reminds himself to insert a some action-adventure? but much of the book seems an
exercise in filling pages with no narrative material." A review in the New Yorker concurs saying "This book? the next-to-last of the late Mr. Fleming's, reports on that bloodthirsty keeper of world peace, James Bond. It is, unhappily, a tedious and sil
ly one." These are about the harshest reviews, but even the nicer ones do little to contradict the impression of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE as a relatively weak effort. Charles Poore (also from the New York Times) gives the book high praise saying, "It's all rich, wond
erful stuff, Fleming at his flaming best." Yet even he cannot help poking fun at the book and the series, saying of Bond and the tortures he faces, "Although I can't remember that he was ever boiled in a big beaker of salad oil, just about everything els
e has contributed to his partial dismantling." And this is coming from a fan! But, it seems, even a critic who obviously loves the series cannot, in good conscience, let the book go by without pointing out its all-too-familiar characteristics. Poore's
generally positive review is still filled with phrases like "Bond now plunges in to his usual world," "the heroine, of course, is the fixture as before," and "His mission, of course, concerns the defense of Britain." "Of course," "fixture," "usual" there
's also a "I don't think I need to tell" you and a "give Bond One More Chance," in the review. So the tired and repetitive nature of the book is largely undisputed even by those that enjoyed it. Fleming's death did, however, prompt at least one reviewer to take the long view, looking at YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and its conventions, not as shortcoming, but as part of something greater. Alex Campbell of the New Republic, almost a year after its publica
tion, gives the book the closest thing it gets to a completely positive review. In it, Campbell praises the last installments of the Bond series, shrugging off their formulaic aspects, he says that, because of them, "Without further question, Bond now jo
ins the knightly company of the storybook heroes. All of them are athletic daring and handsomely virile, but their mark of distinction is that their patron saint is George and they chivalrously spend much of their time saving pretty girls from dragons of
one kind or another." This is a particularly apt reading of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which is set and Japan, and is actually filled with references to dragon slaying. And, interestingly enough, it is this exact insight into James Bond's almost mythic statu
s that will come to dominate the later critical interpretation of the series

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

It is difficult to say that the later reviews of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE are uniformly better or kinder than the ones that accompanied its initial publication, but they are certainly very different. For one thing, Fleming's work is frequently and negatively
compared to the works of other mystery writers of his era like Spillane, Hammet, Chandler and Greene. Fleming, the upper-class Brit, is often acknowledged as having the most literate style, but in virtually all other critical respects he comes out behin
d, having less inventive prose, less psychologically complex characters, and comparatively muddled plots. George Grella, says of Fleming, "his style and outlook are facile and pedestrian" compared to the likes of Hammet and Chandler. These short comings are particularly evident in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. LeRoy L. Panek, author of The Special Branch: The British Spy Novel, 1890-1980, called the book "a structural mess" and Joan DelFattore calls YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, "a depressed and tire
d story" the villain of which is "the least adequately motivated and the most macabre in the entire Bond series." She also feels, by the way, that in general "Fleming's books are superficial, implausible, and erratically structured." Critical opinion, however, is at least somewhat divided. Even DelFattore concedes that YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is "outrageously entertaining," "imaginative and eminently readable." Kingsley Amis claims that "Fleming has set his stamp on the story of action
and intrigue, bringing to it a sense of our time, a power and a flair that will win him readers when all the protests about his supposed deficiencies have been forgotten." And it is that point that actually draws the most critical attention: James Bond's continuing appeal. Most modern critics are more interested in James Bond novels as part of a sociological phenomenon than as works of art. Critics seem in total agreemen
t that, if nothing else, James Bond is a modern Icon. George Grella argues in his 1972 book The Critic as Artist: Essays on Books, that Bond is, in fact, an epic hero since he, "fights epic battles? Like Ulysses, he travels far? He makes the obligatory t
rip to the underworld when he skin-dives in the Bahamas, travels through the sewers of Istanbul, visits the domain of Mr. Big in Harlem, negotiates Dr. No's cruel tunnel of terror." William Plomer goes so far as to call the Bond stories, "brilliant, roman
tic fairy-tales in which a dragon-slaying maiden-rescuing hero wins battle after battle against devilish forces of destruction, and yet is indestructible himself: an ancient kind of myth skillfully re-created in a modern idiom." This is the fundamental assumption in modern Bond-criticism; he is universally acknowledged as a myth of our times, a hero and an ideal for millions. But the precise nature of that ideal is somewhat in question. Albert Goldman claims that Bond offers "
the beguiling modern dream of a life of total self-sufficiency and sophisticated self-indulgence." Plomer, however, feels simply, "that Bond and his adventures are something of an adolescent fantasy." Julian Symons, in his book Mortal Consequences, thin
ks that Bond's appeal lies in the fact that "He was a perfect pipe dream for organization man because he was an organization man, but unlike the standard model, he was individually powerful." Other critics have also pointed to Bond's escapist appeal for
the typical post-industrial office-worker. J. Kenneth Van Dover points out that both Perry "Mason and Bond attend meetings, initial memorandums, study dossiers and transcripts," in short, have ordinary, boring office work to deal with, just like the rest
of us. But Bond, at least, periodically bursts free into his fairy-tale world of adolescent fantasy. Fleming himself once called James Bond "a highly romanticized version of anybody." The enduring appeal of the series, then, is probably best summed up by Grella when he says, James Bond "lives the dreams of countless drab people, his gun ready, his honor intact, his morals loose: the hero of our anxiety-ridden, mythless age."

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

In 1964, Ian Fleming published his twelfth James Bond novel, You Only Live Twice, and it became a major best-seller. It is an interesting and unusual book in many ways. When it was first released, it was embraced by the public and received politely by critics, despite, or perhaps in part because of, its very western look at Japanese culture. Much of the book's popularity though was due to the spy-craze of the 1960's. And while critics today largely dismiss it as inferior to other popular spy fiction of the time, You Only Live Twice, and James Bond, enjoy far more popular success than their competition. You Only Live Twice certainly has its flaws, but at its core it is a masterpiece of escapist fantasy and well deserves its tremendous popularity. Overall, contemporary critical opinion of You Only Live Twice was somewhat mixed. Most reviewers felt that the book was a rather tired iteration of the same old James Bond formula, that the plot was ridiculous and the old gimmicks were wearing thin. Despite this, it was almost unanimously considered a good, fun read. The book dutifully delivered what fans had come to expect from the James Bond stories: a liberal mix of sex and gadgets and adventure. What's more, the book's exotic setting provided for what many reviewers found to be an interesting and entertaining travelogue. The year before, Fleming had written a book entitled Thrilling Cities, about various exciting vacation spots around the world. One of these cities was Tokyo, and his visiting of that city was definitely a major source of inspiration for You Only Live Twice. In fact, among his papers kept at the Lilly Library in Indiana, Fleming explains that Richard Hughes and Torao Saito, to whom the book is dedicated, were his tour guides in Tokyo. And much of the book is dedicated to nothing more than Tiger Tanaka, the head of Japanese intelligence, showing Bond around Japan and teaching him about Japanese culture. While there is a vague connection between Bond's cultural studies and the book's main plot, it is tangential at best. Interestingly, while many contemporary reviewers considered these "travelogue" aspects to be the best parts of the book, from a 1990's perspective they seem shockingly ethnocentric. In one exchange between Bond and Tanaka, where they are comparing the merits of the their respective societies, Bond gets the last word by saying "Just because you're a pack of militant potential murderers here, longing to get rid of your American masters and play at being samurai again, snarling behind your subservient smiles, you only judge people by your own jungle standards. Let me tell you this, my fine friend, England may have been bled pretty thin by a couple of world wars, our welfare-state politics may have made us expect too much for free, and the liberation of our colonies may have gone too fast, but we still climb Everest and win Nobel Prizes... [T]here's nothing wrong with the British people." To this apparently withering attack, Tanaka can only reply "Well spoken, Bondo-san... those are very similar to the words I addressed to my Prime Minister." It is hard to imagine today this sort of blatantly nationalist propaganda being considered an enjoyable peek at an exotic culture. Indeed, there is hardly any element of Japanese culture that Fleming, through Bond and other characters, does not find completely ridiculous. All of Japanese culture, from cuisine to religion, is portrayed as being somewhere between hopelessly backwards to outright barbaric. Nevertheless, reviewers in 1964 considered the travelogue components of the book to be "jaunty" (Poore) and "enjoyable" (Boucher). However, the dramatically pro-British sentiments of the book are in keeping with Bond's character, and largely with Fleming's as well. Fleming's family was a part of the British upper- class and could, in fact, trace its ancestry back to John of Gaunt. Fleming himself grew up attending Eton and then the Royal Military College. He studied extensively to join the British Foreign Service, and while he failed the exam, during World War II he became the personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence (who, incidentally, he modeled the M character, of the Bond series on), and directed a small Assault Unit. Fleming even received some legitimate spy training in Canada. All of which, of course, tends to lead to at least the suspicion that James Bond, the snob/spy, is Fleming's literary alter-ego. There is even a physical resemblance between the author and his character: both are tall and lean with dark hair. Fleming, however, laughed off any speculation that James Bond was some sort of idealized version of himself, claiming that James Bond was an idealized version of ANYONE. But even if he denied it publicly, it seems improbable that Fleming (or, indeed, anyone) would not want to be considered the prototype for James Bond, and that is doubtlessly thpublic image he tried to convey. The jacket of You Only Live Twice's American book club edition features a large picture of Fleming blowing the smoke from the barrel of a Smith and Wesson revolver. A gun is hardly a neutral prop, especially for the author of spy novels. The jacket also contains a brief biography of Fleming which, of course, mentions his wartime intelligence service. The point of the picture and biography is clearly to get readers to think of Fleming himself as a man of action, a spy even. Even if the public does not go so far as to believe that Fleming is a real-life Bond, they at least want to feel that he knows what he's talking about in his spy thrillers. The same thing is true of other spy novelists; John le Carre, the author of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, is described on the inside leaf of the first American edition of that book as being "the pseudonym for a British civil servant employed in one of the Whitehall ministries." This brief description conveys the image of le Carre as both having inside knowledge of espionage, and as resembling his faceless protagonists. Likewise, Ian Fleming's conveyed image is that of someone who has inside knowledge of intelligence, and also has James Bond's dashing adventurousness. Whether it is just a spy novel convention for the author to resemble his main character, or because James Bond really is based on his creator, Fleming's public persona is definitely that of a real-life version of his super-spy. In fact, Fleming's own celebrity was, to some extent, responsible for the large sales and media attention that You Only Live Twice received. By 1964, Fleming was an established literary star; not only the creator of James Bond, but also the author of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, a successful children's book, and a few works of non-fiction as well (Thrilling Cities and The Diamond Smugglers). His death, therefore, just prior to the release of You Only Live Twice, generated significant interest. A number of the reviews for the book, in publications like the New York Times, were really almost obituaries for the author. So, the world wide attention Fleming's death received almost certainly contributed to the book's tremendous success. The general spy-craze of the era was also a contributing factor. The runaway best-seller of 1964 was actually le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, but You Only Lived Twice, despite being released relatively late in the year, also managed to make it onto the list of the top-ten fiction best-sellers. Other less successful spy books were abundant as well. The Manchurian Candidate was released in 1962, and was a critical and popular success. That same year Len Deighton's book The Ipcress File was strong seller, and in 1965 it was made into a major motion picture. In addition to these works, the sixties also gave rise to television spy series like Mission: Impossible, which debuted in 1966. Before the books were translated to film, CBS had seriously expressed interest in making a James Bond television series. In all, according to the Internet Movie Database, 138 movies and television shows, produced between 1960 and 1969 fell into the "spy" genre. A similar list for the years 1980 to 1989 turns up only 72 items, or about half as many. Just this brief analysis of book sales and movie and television productions makes it clear that the 1960's were a decade of great interest in espionage and espionage thrillers. The reasons behind this are not hard to comprehend. Espionage was more of a reality in the sixties; it had a vividness for readers and movie-goers. The Cold War between the super powers was at its height. In addition to events on a major political and social scale, like the erection of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, there were smaller occurrences that really did smack of the kind of cloak & dagger activities of spy novels. The covert Bay of Pigs operation and the capture of the U2 spy plane are notable examples. In such an environment it is no wonder that people were captivated by spy fiction of all kinds. Throw in the fact President Kennedy himself was a professed fan of the Bond novels and the success of You Only Live Twice seems as though it was assured almost before it was written. And the series continues to be healthy and popular: web sites, fan clubs and conventions abound. Tomorrow Never Dies, the most recent James Bond film was also the most financially successful, and a number of classic Bond tales, including You Only Live Twice, were re-published by MJF in 1997, thirty-three years after its initial publication. Many modern critics, however, find the continuing popularity of the Bond series baffling. While most contemporary reviewers were polite towards the book, many now consider Fleming's writing to be abysmal and his plots to be shoddily constructed. He is often compared, negatively to other mystery and thriller writers of the twentieth century. Joan DelFattore, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography says that Fleming began his first novel, Casino Royale, "admiring W. Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories and the novels of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, he originally intended to write realistic espionage fiction centering around the type of featureless, gray protagonist that those authors often used. However, his vivid imagination and love of the dramatic... led him into giving Bond a number of personal idiosyncracies and into placing him in thoroughly improbable situations. As a result, his books never approached those of Maugham, Ambler, and Greene in realism, depth, or complexity." This is rather harsh criticism, but it is widely accepted, and in at least some regards, quite accurate. In You Only Live Twice, Bond is far from a "featureless," or "gray," on the contrary, he's witty, ironic, and lusty; a striking figure that his Japanese partners must work desperately to make inconspicuous. The story, also, is hardly "realistic espionage fiction," it is a parade of exotic settings and situations capped off with Bond storming an ancient castle surrounded by poisonous plants and volcanic fumaroles. Prior to this he briefly attends a ninja school and goes undercover as the rower on the boat of a gorgeous Japanese pearl diver (who, incidentally, used to be a Hollywood actress). Graham Greene himself actually criticized Fleming's flashy story telling. Lars Ole Sauerberg, in his book Secret Agents in Fiction refers to Greene's The Human Factor, saying "In the first half of the novel, Greene alludes often to Bond, pointing out his remoteness from espionage and life as well as his fundamental romanticism." He then goes on to quote a passage from the book where three of the characters actually joke about James Bond and Ian Fleming. So if Fleming stacks up poorly against espionage novelists like Greene, Ambler and Maugham (a group to which Sauerberg adds le Carre and Len Deighton), is there another group that he can be compared too? In his book The Special Branch: The British Spy Novel, 1890-1980, LeRoy Panek says "the hard-boiled detective novel is as good a place as any to begin an assessment of Fleming's spy novels." While Fleming's novels are not really written in the classic hard-boiled style, they have many of the same characteristics; most importantly that they are greatly concerned with sex and violence. Panek goes on to compare the Bond stories with the works of Hammet and Chandler, and Micky Spillane. Hammet and Chandler, in Panek's opinion, are the better writers, but he considers Spillane and Fleming more or less evenly matched. Spillane and Fleming both have a recurring main character (Mike Hammer and James Bond, respectively) and use many of the same devices and symbols. Nevertheless, Spillane's novels are seen as having a more distinctive, gritty style than Fleming's work. So, the modern critics leave us with the impression of the James Bond books as being rather snooty, versions of second-tier hard-boiled detective fiction, or alternatively, as preposterous and vastly inferior versions of serious spy novels. But this assessment offers no explanation for why James Bond is so much more popular today than George Smiley or even Mike Hammer. The critics are inclined to dismiss the issue of mere popularity by arguing that the stories simply tap into escapist fantasies for the common-drudge reader. In reality however, creating a successful and compelling escapist fantasy is no mean feat. Fleming may have been impressed by the work of Greene, Maugham and others when he sat down to write the James Bond books, but he also began with the stated intention of writing "the spy novel to end all spy novels," something definitively different and superior. While issue of critical superiority is far from clearly in Fleming's favor, his spy, his series, is still around, and still a success, while his competitors are just memories. James Bond, because he is "idiosyncratic" instead of "featureless" is actually a real character that people can and do relate to, and because his adventures are bizarre flights of fancy, instead of dated Cold War or gangster stories, they have a timeless, visceral appeal. Creating an escapist fantasy that is still viable long after the craze that gave rise to it has passed is really Fleming's great accomplishment. You Only Live Twice is set in 1964, but it still works today because James Bond is still an appealing character, and the situations he faces are no less probable (or improbable) now than they were thirty-four years ago. If staying power and popularity are measured, You Only Live Twice easily stands up against the toughest competition in its genre.

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