Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nigger Heaven

(Note: This post has nothing to do with the right wing's fear of an Obama White House)

When it comes to movies based on novels, I like to read the source material if I enjoyed the film. Although I'm not a big fan of the James Bond series of movies, I have been curious to read the books that inspired them, and so I picked up Ian Fleming's second 007 novel, Live and Let Die. I was blown away...by how terrible it is.

In Live and Let Die, Fleming decided to take us into the exotic world of...black people. Yes, black people. Bond takes a trip to Harlem early on:
He leant forward. 'Just listen in to the couple behind you. From what I've heard they're straight out of "Nigger Heaven".'
Bond glanced carefully over his shoulder.
[...]
She was pleading anxiously and paid no heed to Bond's quick embracing glance.
'Listen and see if you can get the hang of it,' said Leiter. 'It's straight Harlem - Deep South with a lot of New York thrown in.'
Bond picked up the menu and leant back in the booth, studying the Special Fried Chicken Dinner at $3.75.
'Cmon, honey,' wheedled the girl. 'How come yuh-all's actin' so tahd tonight?'
'Guess ah just nacherlly gits tahd listenin' at yuh,' said the man languidly. 'Why'nt yuh hush yo' mouff'n let me 'joy mahself 'n peace 'n qui-yet.'
It's 1954 and Bond is facing the curious people known as negroes, specifically the mastermind Mister Big, "the most powerful negro criminal in the world," the "head of the Black Widow Voodoo cult" and "also a Soviet agent." A commie nigger? Truly Bond's most deadly foe.

Mister Big is not really a voodoo follower, but he just uses it to intimidate the uneducated darkies of New York. "Bond reflected it was no wonder that the Big Man found Voodooism such a powerful weapon on minds that still recoiled at a white chicken's feather or crossed sticks in the road."

While Fleming writes unflatteringly about black people, he does demonstrate some levels of respect for them. That doesn't excuse his racist descriptions, but I mention it only to contrast how much Fleming actually hates another group of people - the elderly. Listening to the saucy femme of the book, Bond is horrified at the description of the wrinkled citizens of St. Petersburg. Upon hearing that the old farts go to bed at 9 o'clock, play shuffleboard, and talk on sidewalk benches, Bond replies, "sounds pretty grim." Indeed, Mr. Bond.

Ignoring Fleming's aforementioned foibles, the author actually demonstrates quite a knack for action scenes. They are the strength of the book, by far. Two scenes that stick out are the strip tease in Harlem and the gunfight in the warehouse. Fleming is very engaging and exciting in those regards.

Unfortunately, those scenes are uncommon. Most of the book is spent on boring, mundane details that add little and could have been trimmed. For example, I think Bond's breakfasts were described at least three times and as much as five. While Bond in the movies enjoys a vodka martini, Bond in Live and Let Die enjoys toast with marmalade. In fact, the only thing he consumes more of than marmalade is smoking. "I smoke about three packs a day," Bond informs his lady interest. Only three? Sounds like a lightweight.

All of my complaints, combined with a rather anti-climactic finale, lead me to not recommend this book. I could ignore the blatant racial stupidity if the rest of the book lived up, but it doesn't.

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