Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Madness of 'King Ernst' in Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice (1964)

Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice (1964) is certainly one of the author’s most brilliantly bizarre and offbeat pieces of work from a James Bond oeuvre which was by that stage already rich with originality (see the short story 'Quantum of Solace' [1960] and the novel The Spy Who Loved Me [1962]). The penultimate James Bond novel incorporates travelogue, learned references to Japanese culture, lists of deadly flora and fauna, a revenge tale, the beginnings of serial killer fiction (a craze of the 1990s) and fine Gothic horror as well as being the unfolding story of a dystopia on a Huxleyesque scale. It is a Brave New World for Fleming in terms of writing territory and although it might seem like it at times, it is not true that (unlike Aldous Huxley) Fleming was on mescaline at the time of writing You Only Live Twice(!).  At the time of writing You Only Live Twice Fleming was sadly literally dying from the admirable ailment of “having lived too much” (in reality the Fleming family trait of a bad heart or “the iron crab” as Fleming called it, was to blame) at the time he was writing this novel and so the fascination with the theme of death and the general air of morbidity throughout the proceedings really rings true from a man already painfully aware of his own mortality. Somehow, Fleming sensed he was soon about to “shuffle off this mortal coil” as Shakespeare so eloquently put it and so he must have sat down at his golden typewriter at his house Goldeneye in Jamaica, and forgetting the winter sun outside, drew inspiration from his impending death. As it turned out, he was of course right – he sadly died in the early hours of 12 August 1964 after having just the day before been made the Captain of the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.

                                                                                You Only Live Twice (1964): UK First Edition.

Although it represents the final part of the Blofeld/SPECTRE Trilogy of James Bond novels there is no typical Bondian world domination plot here (cf. the film version) but instead a private estate run by a veritable mad hatter called Dr Guntram Shatterhand who of course turns out to be none other than Bond’s aforementioned arch-enemy and the murderer of his bride Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963). SPECTRE it seems has went the way of the Dodo, which is more realistic than how the evil organisation (and its leader Blofeld) kept coming back film after film (excepting Goldfinger [1964]) between 1962 and 1971 in the Eon Productions Bond film series. The Ernst Stavro Blofeld of You Only Live Twice is a different animal (a mad dog meets an Englishman; Fleming was certainly very clever in his themes!) to what went before and here he can be seen as a veritable mad king (called King Ernst most likely) and a lunatic ready for the asylum. In English Criminal Law there is in fact something called “the Henry VIII Syndrome” where the defendant goes around lopping people’s heads off (just like Blofeld) as he thinks he is King Henry VIII; it is therefore good grounds for a plea of insanity with the inevitable result of hospitalisation in a mental hospital. Henry VIII of course had two of his six wives beheaded, namely Ann Boleyn (by the sword) and Catherine Howard (by the axe). Blofeld also displays the madness that afflicted King George III for much of his reign (which lasted from 1760 to 1820). Blofeld shouts in German much like the ranting and raving Adolf Hitler in the F├╝hrerbunker near the end of World War II when the war was all but lost and he seems equally as much out of touch with reality. Evidence for this comparison consists of the fact that we are for instance told of "that lunatic Hitler scream" from Blofeld in the Garden of Death at one point in the novel. One reads of Nazis escaping to Argentina and Spain at the war’s end but perhaps a few escaped to Japan too? It may be that that was what Fleming was pointing at – that there was a diverse Nazi evil being spread throughout other third countries as a result of such real post-war Nazi SS resettlement organisations as Odessa or Spinne. For the very original idea of the Garden of Death it is possible that Fleming was inspired by the 1896 watercolour painting named 'The Garden of Death' by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg (1873-1917):

                                                                                     'The Garden of Death' (1896) by Hugo Simberg.
It is notable that Blofeld’s plan here is not to hijack a Vulcan bomber and its deadly cargo of two nuclear bombs for a grand ransom (Thunderball [1961]) or to use biological weapons against the United Kingdom (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) but merely to induce the notoriously suicide-prone native Japanese population to kill themselves in ever more eccentric fashion in a “garden of delights” populated by highly poisonous flora and fauna, piranha fish, scorpions, snakes and fumaroles. This garden is the locale where Blofeld goes utterly insane and indeed it is a veritable anti-Eden where the Fall of Man brought about by Adam and Eve’s quest for knowledge is all too evident. It is as if the imaginative horrors of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale or a novel by the Marquis de Sade have somehow come to life in the early 1960s with a little early Swinging Sixties hocus-pocus thrown in for good measure. Blofeld does his rounds of the garden in a full suit of armour as does his companion Bunt (with the grotesque addition of a bee-keeper’s hat) and Fleming seems to be making the point that Blofeld is trying to be a legitimate samurai warrior with all of the code of honour that implies though we the reader see he is woefully inadequate in this role and that he is a mere gaijin, common criminal and definite bounder. The madman Blofeld is nothing more than a mere shadow warrior playing at being a samurai warrior just like children play at being James Bond. Blofeld and Bunt even plan to eventually sell up from Japan and then take their ghastly “death show” on the road in other locations around the world such is their ultimate cruelty, depravity and deeply twisted inhumanity.

In You Only Live Twice there is no world domination master plan but in its stead there is just the mad king Blofeld lopping off people's heads with a samurai sword, years before the serial killer fiction craze of the 1990s (which has of course continued on until the present day) that Blofeld's plan to maximise Japanese suicides in his Garden of Death is akin to. In this sense Blofeld can be seen as a forerunner to that other madman in a Castle of Death, the serial killer ex-actor David Dragonpol in John Gardner’s James Bond continuation novel Never Send Flowers (1993) who lived in the aptly-named Scholss Drache (‘Drache’ being German for ‘Dragon’ as well as Sir Hugo Drax’s real name in Fleming’s Moonraker [1955]) in the Rhineland, Germany. Indeed, there are many interesting connections between both Bond novels, though the Fleming purist might blanch at the idea of Gardner’s  off-beat creation Dragonpol being compared to Fleming’s infamous arch-villain Blofeld! Like Dragonpol with his assassination targets of the good and the great, Blofeld attracts the suicidal Japanese seemingly for his own sick enjoyment and also for the delectation of his squat and grotesque consort Fraulien Irma Bunt. Bunt has the type of wardress face often associated with a Nazi death camp guard and as she is German and of the right age that could well have been her occupation. Fleming may well have drawn inspiration for Irma Bunt from some notorious female Nazi concentration camp guards like Ilse Koch (1906-1967), who eventually committed suicide in prison or ‘The Bitch of Buchenwald’ or Irma Grese (1923-1945), whom the Press called ‘The Beast of Belsen’ during her 1945 ‘Belsen Trial’ for war crimes and whom the inmates also dubbed ‘The Hyena of Auschwitz.’ Grese was found guilty at the trial and executed by hanging in 1945. In any event, Fleming’s contemporaneous readers would have been aware of the allusion to female Nazi wardresses Irma Bunt represented. Bunt (as described by Fleming) also looks a tad like the convicted serial killer Rosemary West.

              George Almond's painting of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in his Garden of Death in Fleming's 
You Only Live Twice (1964).

Of course, Fleming’s novel is as far away from the dire Roald Dahl-scripted 1967 film version as it is possible to get. (Harold Jack Bloom also worked on the screenplay before Dahl was hired and he was credited with "additional story material" as Dahl used some of his ideas in his new script). As the producers Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and director Lewis Gilbert were unable to find a castle built near the sea on their recce to Japan (it turned out that the Japanese did not build castles near the sea due to the tsunami risk) they decided to move almost completely away from the Fleming source novel by literally throwing it in the wastepaper bin and starting over again with a topical Cold War Space Race plot.  Meanwhile, the Fleming purist can only hope that You Only Live Twice will at some point in the future be filmed as a new chapter in Bond villainy where evil is seen to have had no other point than glorying in said evil itself. That seems a good theme for a Bond film that could sit very well along with the Bond film villains Karl Stromberg and Hugo Drax (of the films The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] and Moonraker [1979] respectively) who were not interested in money or extortion but rather in creating new worlds in their own inherently evil image, just as it could be said Blofeld did originally with his Garden of Death in Japan. Bunt makes the point in conversation with Blofeld that the world has never seen the like of Blofeld’s Garden of Death before and so too would have Stromberg and Drax had they been interviewed about it following the success of their annihilator schemes. Ian Fleming's other villainous creation Dr Julius No was of course also an influence on the Bond film villains Stromberg and Drax and their nefarious schemes. Blofeld has seemingly single-handedly turned the Godly garden and the Englishman’s dwelling place of a summer day into a dark and grotesque “Disneyland of Death”. In opposition to this perversion of the inherent sacredness of the garden is the fact that the English county of Kent is known as "The Garden of England" (cf. The Garden of Eden?) and this was of course on the side of the angels and was a haunt of Ian Fleming's and was where the majority of his third novel Moonraker was set. Moonraker featured a duplicitous ex-Nazi called Sir Hugo Drax who is based in Kent near the White Cliffs of Dover with his answer to Britain's defence, the “Moonraker” nuclear rocket. The fact was surely not lost on Fleming that he chose this very location given the Battle of Britain and the new British saviour weapon in the arsenal called the the Spitfire aircraft (as well as defences from ‘Operation Sealion’) that saved dear dependable old Blighty in her ‘Hour of Need’. Blofeld selfishly wanted his Garden of Death to be a success just as Stromberg’s wanted his own underwater civilisation at the expense of the rest of the world or that Drax wanted to annihilate the Earth (in a Hiterian Holocaust) and then populate it with a new Super Race of perfect physical specimens of all races. 

                                                                                     You Only Live Twice (1964): US First Edition.
One can quite easily see (in the Blofeld of the You Only Live Twice novel) the seeds of these truly bizarre and barking-mad characters in some of the Bond villains of the Roger Moore-era Bond films. In this sense, perhaps a bit of the You Only Live Twice Blofeld has rubbed off on some of the cinematic Bond villains that came in the years after Ian Fleming’s death where the screenwriters like Roald Dahl, Tom Mankiewicz and Christopher Wood otherwise turned away from the original Fleming Bond source material when it came to Bond villains and other components. With all of this in mind, one also thinks of Richard Maibaum’s original plot suggestion for The Spy Who Loved Me film to have real-world terrorists blow up the world’s oil fields with stolen nuclear submarines and watch the world burn just for the sheer hell of it. That would have been as close to the Blofeld of You Only Live Twice novel as the Bond films would likely have ever gotten. It was sad indeed that Maibaum’s vision for something “completely different” (as the Monty Python’s Flying Circus gang would have put it) never made it onto the screen. The producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli ruled out going ahead with Maibaum’s script for The Spy Who Loved Me out as being too overtly political for the James Bond film series, although he did like the idea. Of course sections of the recent Skyfall was based at least in part on events near the end of You Only Live Twice where Bond is shot in the head and loses his memory, and for the Fleming enthusiast that was surely a great thing to behold. Indeed, the hotly anticipated release of the twenty-fourth James Bond film Spectre in October 2015 gives the Fleming purist renewed hope that the criminally neglected novel You Only Live Twice, with its mad king Blofeld and his equally mad Garden of Death will finally make the transition from the printed page to the cinema screen.

Dedicated to Sir Miles of AJB007 Forums, with thanks.

Liked this article? Then see also on TBB the following related article: 

Ian Fleming's "Thrilling" Inspiration for Roald Dahl's You Only Live Twice (1967)

TBB Article No. 22

© The Bondologist Blog, 2015.