The Bond Code: The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James Bond, by Philip Gardiner
New Page Books, 2007. 255 pages including index and glossary.
The Bond Code by Philip Gardiner is equal parts maddening and fascinating. If you have a strong interest in the subject matter—Ian Fleming’s occult interests and how such interests made their way into the Bond novels—then I recommend the book. But be warned that there are a number of strikes against it.
Until the publication of The Bond Code, I was under the impression that I was the only author with expertise in both James Bond and the occult. The difference is, I keep my writing on those two subjects separate (and yes, even have separate websites for them). I’ve toyed with the idea of combining my interests into a single piece of writing, but never could figure out how. Gardiner has achieved what I could not. Unfortunately, he has done so in a book riddled with overstatement, far-fetched conclusions, and sloppy writing. This is a shame, because his basic premise is fascinating and well-argued.
Here’s the fascinating part: Gardiner describes previously undisclosed, or known but little-discussed, connections that Ian Fleming had to the occult. The one that startled me the most was Fleming’s strong interest in the alchemist Paracelsus. Fleming contacted Carl Jung for permission to translate into English a lecture Jung gave on Paracelsus. Gardiner suggests that the themes of this lecture—using alchemy and occult science to become more self-actualized and balanced—were sprinkled throughout Bond novels, and in fact, that Fleming was using the writing of Bond novels as a way to correct his own inner alchemical imbalances.
Also fascinating is the World War II “Hess operation.” It’s a bit too complex to explain in a review, but basically Fleming was involved in an intelligence operation designed to use Hitler’s interest in the occult against him. Fleming was brought into the operation, apparently, because of his known interest in the subject.
(Below the fold follows a very long review with yet more praise of the book’s fascinations, as well as a lengthy critique of its many flaws. Enter at your own risk, or click and then skip all the way to the bottom, where eventually I reach a conclusion, conveniently headed “Conclusion.”)
Perhaps more widely known is that the famed occultist John Dee—court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth, founder of the occult system today known as Enochian Magic—was a spy for Queen Elizabeth. He signed his correspondence to her “007,” and she signed hers “M.”
There are other legitimate, interesting connections. For example, a dragon motif that repeats in the subtext of Bond novels, and what that means; what it meant to Paracelsus and what it might have meant to Fleming. Certain character and place names are significant and Gardiner is clever in digging that stuff out. And there’s more. Quite a bit more, actually, and in fairness to the author, I’ll let you find it out for yourself. The material on the Mark of Cain, for example, is probably worth the price of admission.
But as interesting as all this is, the book is deeply flawed, and I cannot review it fairly without pointing out these flaws.
I suspect that a lot of the problem is that the core information was not enough to fill a book. At a slim 255 pages, it feels padded. There are repeated points (including an entire paragraph) and a lengthy digression about Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner (which post-dates James Bond and yet is written about as if it’s an influence). Far-fetched ideas may be given too much space because they fill pages.
The Meaning of Goldfinger
For example, the author makes much of the name “Auric Goldfinger.” It is clear to him that it provides evidence of alchemy (the science of turning lead into gold, which is also the science of purifying the soul). The “gold finger” must be the alchemist’s finger, and “auric” is an alchemical term. Unfortunately, he fails to mention that “auric” is simply Latin for “related to gold” and not specific to alchemy at all. Adrian Turner on Goldfinger: Bloomsbury Movie Guide says (pp 63-64) that Goldfinger was named after the architect Erno Goldfinger. Ian Fleming was part of a campaign to prevent construction of ugly Goldfinger-designed buildings. The name was used at least in part as revenge. It may be that there is a double-meaning, and Gardiner is correct about the alchemy, but by ignoring the real-world connection, Gardiner reduces his own credibility.
Crowley and Krill
The author works very hard to establish a connection between Ian Fleming and Aleister Crowley. He claims to have correspondence from O.H. Krill, whom he says is a Crowley author, stating that Fleming “knew of” Crowley, and from that and from some other distant associations, Gardiner spins a tale that they “must have” known each other. Often he states as fact that they did.
Unfortunately, Krill is a figure of some controversy. The pseudonym of an unknown person or persons, Krill is the author of a 1988 paper entitled A Situation Report on Our Acquisition of Advanced Technology And Interaction With Alien Cultures. As far as I have been able to determine, no one named Krill has ever written anything about Aleister Crowley.
Gardiner connects Fleming’s rumored “perversity” to Tantra, the Indian tradition of using transgression, including sexual transgression, to achieve enlightenment, although there is no evidence that Fleming was involved in Tantra. He takes that similarity (well, you know, sexual perversity is a lot like Tantra…) and uses it as evidence that Fleming understood sex magic and was using perverse sex to achieve Tantric states. No evidence at all, just supposition. Two pages later, these suppositions lead to saying that it was “well known” that Fleming was into Tantra. From here, he points out that Aleister Crowely was a practitioner of and an expert on Tantra, and uses that to establish a connection between the two men. Say what?
Finally, Gardiner kind of grumbles that no one keeps records of everyone he meets; implying that Crowley and Fleming knew each other even though there is no written record. But Crowely did keep incredibly detailed diaries of everyone he met; he was famous for this.
The author has a tendency towards overstatement, shifting from suggestion to evidence to proof in several places. This makes me suspicious of material that seems well-sourced. For example, on page 150, Fleming’s use of concepts connected to Gnosticism is “absolute proof” that he understood Gnosticism. No, it’s not. It’s suggestive, and nothing more.
For a perfect example of this, on page 166, Gardiner says there is “some evidence that Ian Fleming was reading a biography of [John] Dee while writing his first Bond novel.” A mere three pages later, Gardiner states that “we do know that he was reading” the biography. When did “some evidence” (which is never specified) become knowledge?
It seems like, once the author discovered alchemical connections in Bond novels, he couldn’t stop finding them. It’s sort of like the time my dog had fleas and they infested the living room couch. After a short while, I felt itchy flea bites even when there weren’t any; even when I wasn’t home.
Gardiner wants us to believe that all Bond novels follow the path of alchemical union. Unfortunately, the plot scenario that Gardiner describes as an alchemical code is in fact a commonplace of Western literature. And indeed, this may be alchemical, having historical roots in the mystical traditions of the troubadours, whose 14th century movement heavily influenced—practically invented—modern notions of romance, so that union with the beloved is analogous to spiritual fulfillment. Because mystical stuff slipped its way into Western literature through a different path than Gardiner describes, and because it’s all over the place in Western literature, it’s kind of hard to take “man overcomes torment to defeat villain and reunite with woman” as proof of a specific code. Suggestive, perhaps, when combined with other connections, but not proof.
In order to make his case, Gardiner states that Bond always unites with the Bond girl in order to fulfill the alchemical formula and defeat the villain, but this isn’t true. In Moonraker, Gala Brand turns Bond down. In Goldfinger, the “Bond girl” throughout the adventure is Tilly Masterson, and Pussy Galore only comes to Bond after it’s all over, because he defeated the villain.
Gardiner makes much of a serpent/dragon connection, and there’s great material there, some of the book’s best. But in connecting Bond to King Arthur, he continually refers to Guinevere as meaning “Queen of Serpents.” Not so much. Guinevere means “fair; white.”
Gardiner claims (pages 106-107) that Fleming was part of the Bloomsbury Set, but I can’t find any reference to such affiliation anywhere.
Fleming connected himself to villains. Gardiner shows proof of this (Blofeld and Fleming share a birthday, for example) and explains why, in occult logic, this should be so. Good stuff. But at the end, in a characters section, the connections are too far-fetch. Gardiner will note a characteristic Fleming and the villain share and show the connection, but then he will show a villain’s characteristic that is opposite of Fleming and say that is also a connection. So anything can be a connection. Similarly, Gardiner makes much of the scar on Bond’s hand, which was carved in Cyrillic, and says this is a connection to St. Cyril. I doubt this, because then any letter would do, not a specific one.
Every book has errors, there’s no way around it. You think you know something so well that you don’t bother to double-check, or something creeps in during editing; but the fact is that Gardiner’s primary expertise is the occult, and his Fleming material is based on research. Therefore I really think the material on James Bond should have been more carefully checked. For readers who are more Bond fans than occultists (which is the presumed audience, based on the level to which Gardiner explains basic occult concepts), errors in Bond material will be irritating.
Among these errors: Gardiner says the movie Live and Let Die opens with the murder of three agents in the Southern U.S.—only one of the three murders occurred in Louisiana, the others were in New York and the Caribbean. He also indicates that Bond “joins up with” Strangways in Jamaica; but Strangways is already dead by the time Bond arrives.
The book says Fleming sold rights to “all” his books to Broccoli and Saltzman, not noting that Casino Royale was not part of the deal, nor were the contents of The Spy Who Loved Me (only the title).
In a section of synopses of the novels, Blofeld is referred to as “number one” in Thunderball (true in the movie but not in the novel); and mobsters are said to threaten Vivienne’s “house” in TSWLM (it’s a motel she manages).
In the section on the meaning of names, Gardiner notes that Scaramanga was a villain of “style and panache.” But in the novel he was not, he was crude and vulgar, and it was for the vulgar character that the name was created.
Finally, the author wonders if “Fleming based his secretive groups for world domination, namely SMERSH and SPECTRE, upon groups such as the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucians, and Freemasons.” But he fails to note that SMERSH was real, and that SPECTRE may have created in collaboration with Kevin McClory and Jack Wittingham.
I don’t particularly care for the writing of The Bond Code; sentence structure is unlovely and for some reason the word “infamous” appears on almost every page, often used improperly (when “famous” or “notorious” is meant). The book uses the concept of “hundredth monkey” completely incorrectly, and uses a made-up definition having nothing to do with the actual story of the hundredth monkey. It’s kind of appalling because it’s a well-known story, especially in New Age circles.
Production is cheap, and a bunch of footnotes are missing. It appears that Gardiner used both footnotes and endnotes, and the footnotes (perhaps five of them) are missing entirely.
Buy the book if Fleming’s occult connections fascinate you, but follow up with supplementary reading. Gardiner may be the only one to have written a book about Fleming and the occult, but he’s not the world’s most reliable source or its best writer.