In his foreword to the book The Seven Deadly Sins, published in 1962; Fleming declared that the traditional seven deadly sins — PRIDE, ENVY, ANGER, SLOTH, COVETOUSNESS, GLUTTONY and LUST — were no longer sufficient. He proposed seven deadlier sins more worthy of a one way ticket to Hell:
AVARICE, CRUELTY, HYPOCRISY, MALICE, MORAL COWARDICE, SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS & SNOBBERY.
This month, Revelator examines MALICE.
To properly define Malice, I will use the primary definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:
“The intention or desire to do evil or cause injury to another person; active ill will or hatred. In later use also in weakened sense: mischievous intent, the desire to discomfort.”
Malice can be easily confused with cruelty, since one leads to the other, but cruelty is determined by actions, whereas malice is a state of mind. Malice abounds in the literary world of James Bond, though Fleming wasn’t fond of the word itself—a digital text search of the novels gives only one result, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This occurs during Bond’s meeting at the College of Arms with the aggravatingly loquacious genealogist known by the title Griffon Orr. After expressing impatience, 007 suspects there is “an edge of malice in the Griffon’s watery eye” when he suggests the root meaning of the name Bond is “clearly ‘husbandman, peasant, churl’.”The Griffon’s malice is of the “weakened sense,” but what of the stronger stuff? All of the Bond villains are guilty of malice toward Bond, but to catalogue every manifestation of the sin would result in too lengthy an article. And why shouldn’t the villains try and kill Bond before he frustrates their schemes? We cannot really condemn them for acting in their best interests.
Malice is most sinful when least justifiable. Hugo Drax, out-cheated at cards by our hero, shows this when he says “I should spend the money quickly, Commander Bond.” A lesser sinner would have been grateful he wasn’t publicly shamed. But to Drax “a gentleman is just someone I can take advantage of” and gentlemen are symbols of England, toward which he has “active ill will or hatred,” originating from the childhood bullying he received at an English public school. Malice toward an entire nation is also shown by Red Grant, who “asked nothing better than to kill an Englishman. He had accounts to settle with the bastards.” Sadly, Bond himself is not immune; as his shameful thoughts about “putting Oddjob and any other Korean firmly in his place” demonstrate.
Bond sins yet again, toward an individual rather than a nation, thanks to malice of M, who faults Bond for nearly dying at the hands (or should I say feet?) of Rosa Klebb. Bond’s mission was otherwise being a great success, but M lashes out by stripping Bond of his favorite firearm and assigning him an insulting pushover mission in Jamaica, hardly deserving of a Double-O. Bond looks into M’s eyes and succumbs to malice: “For the first time in his life he hated the man. He knew perfectly well why M was being tough and mean. It was deferred punishment for having nearly got killed on his last job. Plus getting away from this filthy weather into the sunshine. M couldn’t bear his men to have an easy time. In a way Bond felt sure he was being sent on this cushy assignment to humiliate him. The old bastard.”
Bond’s boss clearly displays a “desire to discomfort,” but for malice at its most crude and despicable, we must look west of the Atlantic. Fleming’s American villains embody malice as an uncontrollable default attitude, in contrast to the good manners and froideur of their continental counterparts. In Diamonds are Forever, Serrafimo Spang’s shows this when a manicurist accidentally nicks his finger. He slaps her so hard she falls off her stool. “‘Fire that bitch,’ he snarl[s],” though his nervousness caused his accident.
Even more repulsive is the relentlessly rude Milton Krest, from “The Hildebrand Rarity.” Bond’s immediate reaction to his American machismo proves accurate: “this man likes to be thought a Hemingway hero. I’m not going to get on with him.” Krest owns a sting-ray tail, which he calls “The Corrector” and uses like a whip. When his guileless wife Liz accidentally reveals that Krests’s foundation is a tax dodge, he shows unalloyed malice:
“‘Treasure,’ Mr. Krest’s voice as soft as velvet. ‘Just supposin’ you keep that flippin’ trap shut about my personal affairs. Yes?’ The voice was amiable, nonchalant. ‘You know what you just done treas? You just earned yourself a little meeting with the Corrector this evening. That’s what you gone and done.’
The girl’s hand flew to her mouth. Her eyes were wide. She said in a whisper. ‘Oh no, Milt. Oh no, please.’”
Later, a drunken Krest accuses Bond of hitting on his wife. During the confrontation Krest fingers a whistle used to call his German sailors and says:
“‘Feller, you move any closer and I blow this–just once. And you know what? It’ll be the old heave-ho for Mr. goddam Bond… Man overboard. Too bad. We back up to make a search and you know what, feller? Just by chance we back up into you with those twin screws. Would you believe it! What lousy bad luck for that nice feller Jim we were all getting so fond of!’”
To the roll call of vulgarly malicious Americans we can add Francisco Scaramanga, The Man with the Golden Gun. Though Spanish born, he immigrated to the US as a teenager and talks exactly like an American gangster. His malice is even more upfront than Krest’s. He first encounters Bond in a whorehouse at Savannah La Mar in Jamaica. Bond says to the manageress, “It always gets extra hot around six before the Undertaker’s Wind has started to blow.” From behind his back comes a malevolent response: “Mister, the undertaker’s right here. You care to feel his wind?”
“You made me jump” says Bond.
“I sometimes make ‘em dance. Then I shoot their feet off” replies Scaramanga, who bears “no trace of a foreign accent underneath the American.” Shortly he pulls a gun on Bond and shoots two nearby birds. Holding out his “glittering gun as if he was offering James Bond a rose,” Scaramanga grips Bond by the arm and says “Mister, there’s something quite extra about the smell of death. Care to try it?”Like Red Grant and Drax, Scaramanga has plenty of malice toward the English: “I don’t like limeys. Like some good Yankee once said, ‘For every Britisher that dies, there’s a song in my heart.’ Remember the guy? Around the time of the Israeli war against them. I dig that viewpoint. Stuck-up bastards. Stuffed shirts. When the time comes, I’m going to let the stuffing out of this one.” That Yankee was screenwriter Ben Hecht, a vocal Zionist whose criticism of British conduct in Palestine caused his films to be banned in Britain. In a truly strange coincidence, at the time Fleming was writing Scaramanga’s line, Hecht was scripting an adaptation of Casino Royale. (For more on that project, read Jeremy Duns’s fascinating ebook Rogue Royale.)
For the greatest illustration of malice at its most American—its most vulgar, crude, and stupid—we conclude with the American gangsters Sluggsy and Horror, from The Spy Who Loved Me. Their case is especially memorable, because they are being foiled by their own malice. Sluggsy and Horror have a simple job to do: burn down The Dreamy Pines Motor Court for the insurance, and make sure that its temporary caretaker Vivienne Michel burns with it, so she can take the blame. The plan would have worked too, if only they hadn’t treated Vivienne with such malice!
Sluggsy, within minutes of meeting her, demands that she make him eggs: “Scramble ‘em, baby. And nice and wet. Like mother makes. Otherwise poppa spank. Right across that sweet little biscuit of yours. Oh boy, oh boy!” He accompanies this charming outburst with several boxing steps toward Vivienne, slaps him. Sluggsy takes this in stride: “You know what, baby? You just earned yourself one whale of a night. An’ it’s goin’ to be long and slow an’ again and again. Get me?” Vivienne stands her ground and asks for his credentials. He whips out his gun and shoots several holes through a coffee can. “How’s them for credentials, baby?” Their relations do not improve, and when James Bond shows up, Vivienne covertly invites him to stay and protect her, thus dooming the gangsters’ death warrant.
Had Sluggsy and Horror treated Vivienne without malice, she would have sent Bond on his way or not have set him on guard, and they would have succeeded in burning down the hotel and fleeing from the scene of the crime. Instead they paid the wages of sin. Like all of Fleming’s American villains they lack the sophistication, intelligence and self-control needed to cloak their malice. Given Fleming’s occasional anti-Americanism, dare I say that the portrayal of these Americans suggests a hint of malice on the part of their creator?
Read more from our series of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins