You'll Know His Name
Newsletter 5: Essay 1 of 6
This is the first in a series of essays about one of my favorite problematic men… James Bond. I promised a front seat into my obsession with the legendary character and here it is. My perspective and analysis has come from the Eon Productions films with a little help from synopses of the original Ian Fleming novels. Please note that these essays will contain spoilers.
For this installment, we’ll start at the beginning. James Bond was not always a globetrotting secret agent, but a boy like any other.
The Birth of a Spy
Many hero journeys begin with the death of a parent.
The action focuses on the development of this young person (or animal) who has, through a traumatic loss, had to learn to grow up quickly. They are not in the shadow of a great parent, but live with their memory as a constant reminder of their destiny. Their parent is frozen in time as an infallible visage of wisdom. We remember back to the very solid lessons and see the foreshadowing.
“One day, little one, you’ll have to learn this on your own,” we can imagine them saying. Our young hero is forced to make tough choices at a young age, to be molded and shaped by their experiences on their journey to that destiny.
It’s not discussed until Golden Eye, but James Bond is an orphan. In Skyfall, he returns to the long vacant mansion of his childhood, to the hallowed ground where the Bond ancestors are buried. We even meet a faithful keeper of the land, Kincaid, the Alfred to this British Batman. He reveals that the past always stings a bit because it opens a vault all those Baccarat table onlookers never see… the real James.
M is mum about her involvement, simply saying, “Orphans always make the best recruits”. She knows everything about Bond, even more than he must know about himself. She is also in the best position to know which missions are best suited for him. Unfortunately, Bond suffers intimate loss on many occasions because of the work he does. M must know he will dissociate himself and remain unfeeling. Bond disregards life but always survives.
The course of Bond’s young life takes a turn when he’s 12 and his parents die in a climbing accident. A man named Hanns Oberhausen is given temporary guardianship in 1973.
Bond’s nemesis, Blofeld, fills in part of his childhood. They were stepbrothers briefly and Blofeld’s father taught Bond to hunt, fish, and ski over two winters. They must have had a deep connection as young James was nurtured by a father figure at a time he was suffering with incredible loss. Bond stood to lead a relatively normal life until another tragedy struck. Blofeld himself was already highly disturbed and intensely jealous of his new stepbrother. Blofeld describes Bond as a cuckoo bird, a brood parasite, that can only grow in another’s nest, displacing the host young. Blofeld created an avalanche that killed his father and helped fake his death. Young Franz Oberhauser “died” and Ernst Stavro Blofled emerged in his place, heading up the international criminal enterprise, Spectre.
Both parents and a father figure are killed in a short period. For a young teen, this is extraordinary trauma. Kincaid says that when Bond’s parents died, he hid for two days and had a rebirth. We cannot assume, however, that he was not ready for death to visit again.
What happens between the death of Oberhausen and Bond’s promotion to the 00 section? The James Bond literary canon by Ian Fleming reveals that he joined the Royal British Navy after graduating from Cambridge University where he achieved commendations for exemplary service. He attained the rank of Commander and then moved to covert operations. But we also get a read from Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, who opines that Bond wears suits with contempt. A benefactor paid for his fine clothes and education as a young man. Bond’s silence seems to be confirmation. His frequent disobedience and disregard for rules as a schoolboy did nothing, however, to hamper his success. The makings of a spy were partially formed during that period when he honed his skills improvising, ducking detection by superiors, and manipulating others to suit his ends.
It was after 10 years of military service and specialized training that he was promoted to the 00 section. That’s where the adventure begins…