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SK König Plauen
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13. Juli 2003
Chess and Bond, James Bond


This article will attempt to demonstrate the importance of game-playing in general and chess in particular in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. After Bond as well as Fleming have been shown to be passionately keen players, four abstract levels of discussion will be distinguished.

On the first level, numerous examples of the use of chess- and game-related vocabulary, as well as examples of chess history, will be cited as a piece of circumstantial evidence of an essential connection.
On the second level, the metaphorical use of chess will be investigated, as will its characterising function. The very act of thinking corresponds to the formal speech of the player - Bond or Fleming. This act of thinking strives to resolve complex situations into simplified structures of the game, with the aim of dealing with the situation easily and playfully. The initial thought here is the insinuation that conduct in games, especially in chess, acts as characterization. The enemy in particular (the Russians) are portrayed as chess players. They are cold, unfeeling and calculating (like chess players): Bond is distinguished from them by his love of gambling. The gambler is, however, no more than a mad (verrückte [1]) chess player and in terms of essence is therefore not distinguished from them. By characterising his enemies through the use of chess metaphors, Bond respects them, but is at the same time distinguished from them, and admits that he himself is no better than them, but that only he stands on the right side. (gambling vs. chess)

However, for him and his men, political business, including Secret Service work, is also portrayed as a game of chess, in which he only plays the role of a pawn.

The third level will investigate the plot, which is understood as a game of chess, according to Umberto Eco [2]. In his analysis, Eco determines an only slightly varied stock of conflicts between characters and values, which, in an "ars combinatoria with fairly simple rules”, is always realised in diverse yet structurally monotonous game situations, and lead us to understand the essential parts of the plot as a game.

The yield from these three partial investigations is verified in an interim extract with the help of the book "From Russia With Love”. In it chess plays a central role; it serves not only to highlight the basic political situation, and to characterise individuals and the entire Soviet-Russian system, but also acts as a framework and like a connecting thread.

Finally on the fourth level, a meta-level, the collected examples and ideas will lead to more abstract conclusions.

It is asked what makes for the appeal of the game of chance, and for what reason Bond/Fleming recoils from games where the chance factor is eliminated. It is the love of Chance, the love of Fate, the amor fati! (Nietzsche). Therefore, as a type, the figure Bond is of more general interest, as this love of fate is not one which is based on his composure (Gelassenheit), but rather on his fatalism. This fatalism, on the other hand, can be explained by Bonds existential ennui, which he flees, by an inner emptiness, which can no longer lend any intrinsic sense to his life. The Unforeseen, the Sudden Event and Chance must then become the elixir of life and intellectual comprehension is replaced by motor skills. Therefore Fleming has succeeded in sketching and anticipating a type of person whose relevance to the present is obvious. Life is, nowadays to an even greater extent, designed as a game. In this we can see the reason for Bond’s lasting success.

The love of Fate, the will to play with fortune leads Bond to victory. A game of a determined and intellectual nature such as chess must appear as the opposite of this idea and is avoided by Bond/Fleming. The chess players may be the others, but even this is all part of the alienation.

Bond is the man who can take no account at all of the complexity of his surroundings or can leave such thoughts to others. For him there are only basic decisions between good and evil, black and white; only in this way does he succeed in avoiding the "jungle of the world” and concentrating upon the job in hand.


Finally we shall once more ask the question about the secret for the success of the books. Is it the vulgar taste of the masses? Are they archetypes, "imagined by the collective unconscious of our time” [3]? Is it the identification with the hero? All of this may play an important role, but in any case it is being attempted to set forth that the attraction of Bond is also the attraction of games in general and of chess in particular. One can only understand Bond’s success if one understands the anthropological success of playing games. The tension and the satisfaction that the reader gains on reading these books are very probably comparable to that of the player. The very act of reading becomes a game and is part of the game situation. This, of course, requires identification with the hero, but does not, however, sufficiently explain the fascination.

[1] "verrückt” in German: mentally ill, nuts, insane, mad etc. but also: to move [or push] sth [somewhere]
[2] Umberto Eco: Die erzählerischen Strukturen in Flemings Werk. In: Der Fall James Bond. München 1966 (original: Il caso Bond. Le origini, la natura, gli effetti del fenomeno 007. Milano 1965)
[3] Antonimi: Psychoanalyse von 007. in: Der Fall James Bond. 152f and 162f


Copyright © 2002 by Christian Hörr