Ian Fleming had a lifelong fascination with flowers and this motif would permeate many of his books and corresponding artwork for years to come.
His first and only poetry collection, privately printed in 1928, was titled The Black Daffodil (unfortunately no copies exist today). His good friend Ivar Bryce remarked on reading The Black Daffodil:
“He read me several poems, the beauty of which moved me deeply; however it was never spoken of again and embarrassed its author so profoundly that, I believe, he took every copy that had been printed and consigned the hole edition pitilessly to the flames. I should love to have another glimpse of it.”
Living in Jamaica surrounded by beautiful flora and fauna must have inspired Ian. Fleming was at one point going to write a book on said subject of flora and fauna in Jamaica and of course took the name of ‘James Bond’ from ‘Birds of Jamaica’ by James Bond.
But Fleming’s best friend recalled Ian’s almost paradoxical attitude towards flowers:
“Everything grows so fast in Jamaica, it is a gardener’s paradise. But Ian was no gardener and had an actual dislike of flowers – flowers out of their natural habitat, that is – in the house, for instance. He hated pot plants and flower arrangements and bunches of blooms, just as he hated flower beds he called ‘kitten’s graves’ – and artfully planted pathways and herbaceous borders.”
“He loved big trees, however, and night-scented shrubs and flowers with nectar that attracted hummingbirds. He grew proud of a few special species which grew naturally and boasted impressive names, which he could memorize. The most interesting species, and the most abundant, seemed to be the sensitive plant ‘mimosa pudica‘, that little weed that spreads its tiny fronds over the six inch petals with leaflets spread to catch the sun, and which at the gentlest touch folds every leaf, like a miniature butterfly its wings, and drops its fronds flat to the ground, inconspicuous to the eye of the disturber.”
Fleming actually wrote that James Bond didn’t like flowers in a room in Casino Royale (1953) when Bond was recuperating after his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre. Fleming was heard to have said: “it only mattered whether or not they bit or stung, whether they smelled good or bad.”
There is a rather interesting section in Moonraker is where Bond and Gala Brand are walking along the beach near Dover. Gala picks a flower whereupon Bond talks about flowers being able to feel pain, scream and bleed. Gala responds that Bond has made her feel like a murderer. Bond takes the flower from Gala and puts it in his lapel, saying:
“What’s a little more blood on my hands. You said I’m covered with it already.”
In You Only Live Twice, Fleming offered a portrait of the garden and its darker side, courtesy of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and in chapter 2, Bond spends time in Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, observing and smelling flowers as he contemplates his circumstances and his future.
“Growing in small bushes was yellow oleander, with its delicate curled petals – one leaf ingested can kill a child. There was the Jimson Weed – used as a medicine and hallucinogenic intoxicant for centuries. But in high doses, your trip will go very, very badly. Right before cardiac arrest, you will experience “incoherent speech, impaired coordination, rapid heartbeat, and dry, flushed or hot skin.”
Nothing much recreational about this drug.
There was also Castor Bean plants, Common Oleanders, Crab’s Eye, Nux Vomica, Pride of India and the Jamaican Dog Wood in Blofeld’s Garden of Death. There were dangerous hallucinogens, intoxicants, convulsants, depressants, and others, all secreted by harmless-looking trees, shrubs, seeds and flowers. Fleming did his research.
In A View To A Kill, a pink rose is used as part of the secret hideout used to gun down a dispatch rider and The Poppy is Also a Flower, only a Fleming story idea, was made into a film in 1966 directed by Terence Young and also titled Danger Grows Wild.
Flowers also adorned a number of Fleming’s collaborations with dust jacket artist Richard Chopping and subsequent covers right up until today. Chopping’s main job was a wildlife and botanical illustrator.
When John Gardner took over the reins as continuation author, the book jackets continued along the same tack. Long after Fleming died, Chopping continued the association with flowers for his dust jacket for John Gardener’s first Bond novel – License Renewed. Subsequent artists Trevor Scobie and Bill Botten also integrated Chopping-esque motifs including the use of flowers.
Scobie’s Nobody Lives Forever is a beautiful cover with what looks to be an Oleander – any Botanists out there care to correct me? It was also the last time (to date) the trademark ‘wood grain’ cover art has been used on a Bond novel. It was first seen on Chopping’s From Russia, with Love in 1957.
Several reprints and continuation authors have also carried on this tradition including John Gardner’s Never Send Flowers, Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care, (whose main female character is called poppy and the opium poppy is central to its plot) and a recent edition of For Your Eyes Only.
We shall see if the tradition ever returns to the James Bond book jackets in the future, but I for one would welcome it.
View some of the real deadly flowers from ‘You Only Live Twice‘.
Thoughts on ‘You Only Live Twice’ by Simon Guerrier
One thought on “Flower Motifs in Literary James Bond”
I think this botanical approach presents a new angle on Fleming and deserves much more attention. On the Scobie cover for Nobody Lives Forever, I do wonder whether that is an Oleander or an Orchid – perhaps, a cymbidium.