Walter Mitty Syndrome

“Who wouldn’t want to be the best-dressed man, most sophisticated diner, luckiest gambler, top secret agent and greatest lover of his generation all rolled into one? And what woman could resist projecting herself into his arms? Bond and his women have become fantasy figures arousing powerful empathic responses in both sexes. The wish for pleasurable excitement without the headaches of its problems is universal.”

Richard Maibaum, in Playboy’s Nov. 1965 issue, p. 133
Fig. 2. Fleming’s concept of Bond.
Source: “Portrait of James Bond as Envisioned by Ian Fleming.” ca. 1957. Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories, by John Griswold. AuthorHouse, 2006, p. 1.
Fleming reading a copy of Casino Royale
Fig. 1. Ian Fleming in his 40s shows some resemblance to the original illustrated concept for his character.
Source: “Ian Fleming Reading a Copy of Casino Royale.” ca. 1953. Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd.

Can Fleming’s personal history be used to understand both the psychology of the author and of his most well-known character? Popular research points to a number of wartime comrades and male idols who might have served for Fleming as “the real James Bond,” but to assume Bond arose as a commando composite is to ignore the most obvious source of inspiration for the character: Fleming himself. If the two are in fact the real-and-ideal versions of the same self — Malcom Mudderidge referred to them interchangeably — it’s possible Bond’s behavior towards and opinions of women largely reflect those of the author (36).

It was Fleming’s style to borrow liberally from his life experiences — personal habits, professional knowledge, social encounters, the details of real-world objects — to flesh out the universe of his fictional spy. This is doubly so for the main character, from whose perspective the stories are told in almost all cases. Still, Fleming wouldn’t readily admit to parallels, claiming he lacked the agent’s “guts or lively appetite” (Interview by Roy Plomley). When interviewed in 1964 for Playboy he again billed his character as a “highly romanticized version of anybody, (original emphasis) a 20th century commando “amalgam” whose lifestyle was too high-octane even for extreme sport enthusiast Fleming (100).

But while indeed James Bond represents a lifestyle free from the tedious restraints of ordinary life (not the least of which were health limitations and social obligations) Bond and his creator simply share too many characteristics — physically, behaviorally, and attitudinally  — for this to be true.

Concerned a comic adaptation of Casino Royale proposed by the Daily Express would stray too far from his authorial vision, Fleming commissioned a sketch around 1957 (fig. 2) to show his concept of Bond, which seems to borrow a number of his facial features (fig. 1). Fleming would ascribe to his character the “cruel face” and “saturnine” appearance which had been identified by real-life acquaintances in him (Pearson 61, 335).

The two also share the same height, affinity for motor cars, diving, and mountain sports, and French/German fluency. Both were Scots, old Etonians who would eventually would go on to become Royal Navy Commanders, whose fathers died while they were young. They also share their dislike of tea and Windsor knots (“Ian Fleming: The brain behind Bond.”). M chastizes Bond in Thunderball for his consumption of sixty cigarettes a day, a habit which would contribute to the declining physical state of Ian Fleming.

Perhaps revealingly, in his letter to the editor of the Manchester Guardian, Fleming refers to the name James Bond as a pseudonym, and alluded to the series as his “autobiography” (Pearson 432).  In a sense, it was. Bond allowed Fleming to vicariously pursue his more high-octane interests, as his marriage and failing health increasingly limited his lifestyle.

◀ Bond, Part 1: Fleming becomes his own hero // Bond, Part 3: Idolizing James Bond ▶