James Bond and Jules Verne

150 years ago, Five Weeks in a Balloon ( Cinq semaines en ballon) appeared, the first book in the series of novels of the Voyages extraordinaires, which made Jules Verne world-famous as the father of science fiction literature. Reason enough to consider the influences of Verne to the Bond franchise!

Pierce Brosnan in "in 80 Days Around the World", 1989
Both Verne and Fleming had a large collection of notes about all sorts of geographical and scientific issues, and both worked as a stockbroker before their literary vocation, with limited success. They also saw the first film adaptations of their works - in Verne's case the famous film version LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE by Georges Méliès in 1902. And despite the great success, both never really gained literary recognition.

One of the most famous books of Jules Verne - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - includes the most famous character in Verne's work, Captain Nemo. Nemo is a brilliantly written character - on the one hand, a deeply embittered man who unscrupulously sinks enemy ships; on the other hand, a very intelligent and sophisticated one whith understandable motives. Only in the later novel The Mysterious Island, there is some detailed biographical information: Born as an Indian prince, he fought against the British occupation. After a rebellion, he lost his entire family and his kingdom, and he dedicated himself to scientific research. With his submarine Nautilus as a secret headquarters, he finally fights against imperialism. This attractive mix of menacing intellect and cultivated host behaviour influenced many subsequent larger-than-life antagonists, and thus also the Bond universe.

Book Illustration of "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea",
cover of the first edition of "Dr. No"
In the novels of Ian Fleming, especially Dr. No resembles Nemo, with his background as a scientist and his island hideaway, including an underwater window and giant squid. Whereas the Nautilus is considered a sea monster, No uses a dragon-like vehicle. Even the names are similar: Nemo is Latin for 'No one'.

But there is also a connection to Mr. Big: Nemo uses a found gold treasure of the Spanish Armada for his purposes; in the novel Live and Let Die Mr. Big used the treasure of the pirate Sir Henry Morgan to finance his operations.

But none of the Fleming villains has such an idealistic motivation as Nemo. Only later in the films, in 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED Me, Karl Stromberg is kind of a Nemo of the 20th Century. Instead of sinking ships, he hijacks nuclear submarines to trigger World War III and to create a new world in the depth of the ocean, what makes him less likable than Nemo.

In the Salon of the Nautilus, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"
Nemo was brilliantly portrayed by James Mason in the 1958 Disney classic. Mason, who is here one of the best villains ever for me, almost played Hugo Drax in MOONRAKER, too. (If one can believe the imdb.com trivia page, model for the literary Hugo Drax was another Jules Verne villain: Robur the Conqueror, a kind of a Nemo of the skies, with his rotor airship Albatros.)

"Facing the Flag" by Hippolyte Léon Benett
But there is another, a lesser known novel by Jules Verne, that reads like a pre-James Bond: Facing the Flag (Face au drapeau). Here, the pirate Ker Karraje kidnaps the brilliant but mad scientist Thomas Roch out off a sanatorium. Roch has developed a new type of super-explosive, with which one could build weapons of mass destruction. The engineer Simon Hart, who took care of Roch, is also kidnapped and sees through Karrajes game. The pirate has a secret headquarters in an extinct volcanic island (!), named Back Cup for it's shape. Karraje generates by pyrotechnics the illusion that the volcano is still active outwardly, and manages Roch to produce rockets with the super-explosive.

Hart can send out a message in a bottle and inform the world community, so that warships besiege the volcanic island. Karraje finally blows himself up along with the entire island, while only Simon Hart can escape. If one would turn the protagonist into an agent instead of an engineer, one would get a steampunk version of James Bond. Jules Verne was not only ahead of his time with describing the political implications of weapons of mass destruction, like the atomic bomb during the Cold War, but also with the danger of these weapons in the hands of terrorists, brought up in THUNDERBALL, for example.

Film historian Thomas Renzi considers the figure of the inventor Roch - who was inspired by the real chemist Eugène Turpin - the archetype of the mad scientist, that is an integral part of the Bond franchise, with characters like Dr. No.

Facing the Flag was made into a film by Czech director Karel Zeman in 1958. Zeman intriguingly adopted the copper engraving look of the early book illustrations for the film. Here is the DVD trailer for the film, which won the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in Brussels in 1958:

(First published on January 31st 2013, here.)

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