A visit with Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming"

Ian Fleming”

Originally published in 1997.

By Bill Koenig
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A trip to the Lilly Library on the main Indiana University campus is like a trip back in time. The place reeks of the past. Rare manuscripts and books are a reminder of eras long gone. Like of the time Ian Fleming wrote James Bond novels.

The Fleming-related material is hardly the oldest or rarest of what’s here. But for a fan of 007, it is a treasure trove. Not only are most of Fleming’s original Bond manuscripts here there’s also a huge collection of correspondence to and from the author. The letters are, indeed, of a different time, when people took the time to type out a letter and drop it in the mail, not just send an e-mail or text.

The library has two collections of note. The first is comprised of fifteen Fleming manuscripts, purchased from Fleming’s widow in 1970. (The library also acquired rare books collected by Fleming in his lifetime.) The other is a collection of letters gathered by Leonard Russell, the late literary editor of The Sunday Times of London, and by John Pearson, Fleming’s biographer.

Fleming maintained correspondence with a wide variety of people from close friends like Noel Coward to casual acquintences. A recent two-hour examination of some of the Fleming material was but an appetizer of what is available. But even that brief a glimpse sheds light on Bond’s creator — what he was thinking, what he worried about, what he cared about.

To the public, Fleming said he simply wrote for money and that was that. Some of the correspondence indicates Fleming cared more about the work — and his image in literarture — than he let on.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

Consider an April 11, 1956, letter from the author Raymond Chandler, a friend of Fleming’s. “I think you will have to make up your mind what kind of writer you are going to be.”

Chandler, the creator of Philip Marlowe, amplifies the point a couple of weeks later on May 1, 1956. At one point Chandler tells Fleming “anyone who writes as dazingly as you do, ought, I think, to try for a little higher grade…I have just reread Casino Royale and it seems to me that you have disimproved with each book.”

In still another letter, however, Chandler betrays some of his own anxiety. “I have friends here but not many,” Chandler writes from New York. “Come to think of it, I haven’t many anywhere.”

Other letters show Fleming’s relationship with more casual acquaintances — except his casual friendships were with CIA directors or U.S. attorneys general.

Allen Dulles, the one-time CIA chief, didn’t know Fleming’s address when he wrote a letter on April 24, 1963. “I have received and finished reading your latest ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’ I hope you have not really destroyed my old friend and colleague James Bond, but I fear his bride has gone.” More than a year later, in June 1964, Dulles writes again. “I see that ‘From Russia With Love’ is now a movie and although I rarely see them I plan to take this one in.”

By the time of the Dulles correspondence, James Bond was becoming big in the United States — mainly thanks to President John F. Kennedy including From Russia With Love on the list of his 10 favorite books. Fleming acknowledges that fact in a 1962 letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. “I am delighted to take this opportunity to thank Kennedys everywhere for the electric effect their commendation has had on my sales in America.”

For fans of the literary James Bond, the best has to be the manuscripts themselves. Each manuscript is in a bound volume. The pages are in surprisingly good condition.

From Russia, With Love hardback cover

From Russia, With Love cover

Reading the pages is like a journey through time, especially for writers. The typewriters of Fleming’s day had no “1” key. Instead, Fleming used a capital “I” so that 1951 comes out I95I. An examination of From Russia, With Love, generally seen as Fleming’s best novel, shows the effort the author put into the work. Fleming’s writing method — plow straight ahead — is on display here. Whole passages have been crossed out, while in other spots he has handwritten inserts or other changes.

In one instance, most of a paragraph has been rewritten by hand on the back of the page. The title chapters were added after typing. His first thought for Chapter 7 was to title it “Kronsteen & Klebb.” That’s crossed out and “The Wizard of Ice” is written instead. With Chapter 8, he apparently first meant to title it “The Beautiful Woman.” He crosses out the last word and replaces it with “Girl.” He crosses that out and writes in “Lure” instead. Fleming also apparently decided upon his shock ending — Bond seeming to die from poison — after the initial draft. The manuscript at Lilly has a typical happy ending.

If you go
Directions: Bloomington is about 50 miles south of Indianapolis, the capital and largest city in Indiana. From Indianapolis, take State Road 37 south. While not an interstate highway, 37 has four lanes and relatively few stoplights. Indiana University is just east of downtown Bloomington. The Lilly Library is on 7th Street. Warning: Parking for visitors is extremely limited. You may need to park and walk some distance. One possibility is the main IU Library on 10th Street, which is a few blocks away from the Lilly Library.

Guidelines: Because the Lilly Library has rare materials, people requesting to see its collection of materials have to follow several rules. The manuscripts, books and other materials can only be seen in the reading room and cannot be checked out. The library staff has to get the materials for you. Also, you will need to register with the front desk before requesting to see any materials. You can’t take any pens into the reading room, only pencils. Coats and briefcases can’t be taken into the reading room; lockers are available to store coats and other items that are not allowed in the reading room.

For more information call (812) 855-2452.

To view the Lilly Library home page, CLICK HERE.

©1997 by William Koenig

4 Responses

  1. Wow! This was an excellent read. I’ve written a little about Fleming over at my own blog so I definitely found this fascinating.

  2. I only got to spend a couple of hours there. I definitely would like to return for a more extended visit.

  3. I’d love to go one day as well. They would probably need to drag me out of there though as I would want to spend an inordinate amount of time there.

  4. I’d love to do this now n some otherwise ever more.

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