Who ghost-wrote Ian Fleming`s novel “The Man With The Golden Gun”?

Fleming was credited with the novel, though some readers, when the book was originally published – and others since then – have become strongly suspicious that Fleming didn`t write it, or at least wasn`t responsible for the published version. From “Ian Fleming: The Man With The Golden Pen” (by Eleanor and Dennis Pelrine):

Lynn: “The Man With The Golden Gun” wasn`t written by him. When he died, there was an announcement that he had outlined the plot of a story. A few months later he had almost finished it, and still later “He had completed it.”

Yet Andrew Lycett`s Fleming biography (“Ian Fleming: The Man Behind The James Bond”) stresses that the book had been completed and that at least one other person had read the completed manuscript (Fleming`s editor, the distinguished author and poet William Plomer); though it also says that Fleming was dissatisfied with the manuscript and wanted to rewrite it. So who and what to believe?

Fleming was in poor health, both physically and emotionally (see Andrew Lycett`s biography for specifics). Yet, arguably, “The Man With The Golden Gun” was Fleming`s best written, tautest novel.

Fleming`s prose was usually fuzzy. He overwrote. “The Man With The Golden Gun`s” writing is sharp. Fleming was arguably poor at beginnings: compare OHMSS`s bloated and overwritten beginning with “The Man With The Golden Gun`s” taut opening. The writing here is much cleaner and more efficient than in any of Fleming`s other novels. `Gun` moves at lightning pace, prose as taut as Bond`s reflexes. There`s also much more humour – which should have been a tip-off – especially in the beginning: we`re led to believe that the steak-and-kidney pudding detail ultimately convinces the British that Bond is who he says he is.

Fleming`s own writing style did seem to have been undergone something of a transition, but I`m not sure that the differences can be easily explained this way. “You Only Live Twice” (the middle fifth of which features some of Fleming`s best writing and is wonderful) is much better written than the previous novel OHMSS. Bond, of course, in “You Only Live Twice” is more like Sean Connery. Was “The Man With The Golden Gun” a step further in that direction? Namely, a fluid, tauter writing style? However, Fleming`s incomplete short story “Zographos”, started shortly before he died, disputes this:

…”It was like this, Mr Bond.” Zographos had a precise way of speaking with the thin tips of his lips while his half-hard half-soft Greek eyes measured the reaction of his words on the listener… “The Russians are chess players. They are mathematicians. Cold machines. But they are also mad. The mad ones forsake the chess and the mathematics and become gamblers. Now, Mr Bond.” Zographos laid a hand on Bond`s sleeve and quickly withdrew it because he knew Englishmen, just as he knew the characteristics of every race, every race with money, in the world. “There are two gamblers… the man who lays the odds and the man who accepts them. The bookmaker and the punter. The casino and, if you like” – Mr Zographos`s smile was sly with the “shared secret” and proud with the right word – “The suckers.”

The writing style also changes, rather suspiciously, throughout “The Man With The Golden Gun”:

A cleaner ambled in and, with the exquisite languor of such people throughout the Caribbean, proceeded to sweep very small bits of rubbish hither and thither, occasionally dipping a boneless hand into a bucket to sprinkle water over the dusty cement floor. Through the slatted jalousies a small breeze, reeking of the mangrove swamps, briefly stirred the dead air and then was gone. There were only two other passengers in the “lounge”, Cubans perhaps, with jippa-jappa luggage. A man and a woman. They sat close together against the opposite wall and stared fixedly at James Bond, adding minutely to the oppression of the atmosphere.” [Chapter 4]

Compare this to:

The cars began rolling up. Scaramanga was in evidence. He switched a careful smile of welcome on and off. No hands were shaken. The host was greeted either as “Pistol” or “Mr S” except by Mr Hendriks, who called him nothing. [Chapter 8]

Some passages sound exactly like Fleming:

Bond rose carefully. He could hardly believe it! Leiter must have been riding on the buffers behind the brake van. He wouldn`t have been able to show himself earlier for fear of Bond`s gunfire. Yes! There he was! His fair hair tousled by the wind, a long-barrelled pistol using his upraised steel hook as a rest, standing astride the now supine body of Scaramanga beside the brake wheel. Bond`s shoulder had begun to hurt like hell. He shouted, with the anger of tremendous relief[.]” [Chapter 14]

Also from the same chapter:

“Next to him, and behind him, the three gangsters gazed up at James Bond with whipped eyes. They hadn`t expected all this. This was to have been a holiday. The calypso shirts said so. Mr Scaramanga, the undefeated, the undefeatable, had said so. Until minutes before, his golden gun had backed up his world. Now, suddenly, everything was different. As the Arabs say when a great sheik has gone, has removed his protection, “Now there is no more shade! They were covered with guns from the front and the rear. The train stretched out its iron stride towards nowhere they had ever heard of before. The whistle moaned. The sun beat down. The dreadful stink of The Great Morass assailed their nostrils. This was abroad. This was bad news, really bad. The Tour Director had left them to fend for themselves. Two of them had been killed. Even their guns were gone. The tough faces, as white moons, gazed in supplication up at Bond. Louie Paradise`s voice was cracked and dry with terror. “A million bucks, Mister, if you get us out of this. Swear on my mother. A million.”

Fleming must have written these sections: they`re overwritten (compare them to the book`s first several paragraphs).

Just as many sections don`t sound like Fleming. Many agree that the Chapter 11 scene where Scaramanga confronts Bond and Mary Goodnight sounds nothing like Fleming (and is extremely jarring):

“Unless, that is, you were screwin` her.” He raised one eyebrow. “I was. Anything wrong with that? What have you been doing with the Chinese girl? Playing mahjongg?”

The strange dialogue, even Bond`s persona which is so different, bolsters the argument that somebody else wrote parts.

So who?

Kingsley Amis reportedly did some editorial work on the manuscript (though I`m not as sure it`s as much as some claim – he was only paid 36 Pounds, 15s for it), and parts do sound like him:

“James Bond frowned. He didn`t know that he had frowned and he wouldn`t have been able to explain why he had done so.” (Chapter 1)

Or,

The first law for a secret agent is to get his geography right, his means of access and exit, and assure his communications with the outside world. James Bond was uncomfortably aware of that, for the past hour, he had been driving into limbo and that his nearest contact was a girl in a brothel thirty miles away. The situation was not reassuring.”

(Chapter 7) Fleming`s Goldeneye maid Violet claimed that Fleming`s Jamaican friend, politician and journalist Morris Cargill wrote it (Fleming gave him an off-page cameo in Doctor No; he also appears as a judge in “The Man With The Golden Gun”). Compare Cargill`s writing style:

“Here again, an answer seems necessary to avoid misunderstandings, for the white or light-coloured Jamaican is often unwittingly provoked by the visitor who asks him whether the “natives” are restless, as if he were a kind of Englishman abroad, carrying the white man`s burden with stiff upper lip while holding down the “natives” with a firm hand. […] While the peasant woman in Jamaica is not in the least hesitant about having sexual intercourse with a man who attracts her, she believes strongly that these affairs should be conducted in privacy and with due regard to modesty. To her, there is something both indecent and unnecessary about the flaunting of a rather phoney sexuality such as one sees in so many motion pictures, or in American quasi-pornographic magazines, or in the parks of London. Sex, to her, is something to be enjoyed, not to be dangled around in public. She is, in fact, convinced that foreign women are immodest and rather indecent, and her visits to the motion pictures give her a strange idea of the habits of foreign white men. She can hardly be blamed. […] Jamaicans are not shocked at the need for these alliances. They are merely shocked at the need for such elaborate, flimsy and, to them, unnecessary pretences. it is the fuss that foreigners make about their sex that defeats the Jamaican.” [“A Preliminary Canter”, “Ian Fleming Introduces Jamaica”]

Notice also that Cargill has a sense of humour which Fleming generally lacked.

Fleming`s brother Peter`s writing style is also suspiciously close to many of the earlier, more fluid passages. It`s obvious from Peter Fleming`s 1951 novel *The Sixth Column* (and I strongly recommend that you read it) that the Fleming brothers had much in common as writers. (It`s a shame that Peter Fleming didn`t write a Bond novel – he`s one of too many writers who should have.)

“Morning, Hall-Porter. Any letters?” “Good morning, General. No, no letters; but there`s a guest waiting for you.” “Thank you, Hall-Porter.” In 1907, or thereabouts, Black`s Club had engaged as hall porter a man whose name was, as it happened, Porter. By this name, as soon as they found it out, the members naturally addressed him. But there was at that time in the club a very pompous and unpopular man called Porter-Hall, and some half-forgotten wholly inconsequent chain of events led a clique of his enemies to believe that they could score off him by insisting that it was derogatory, unjust and cruel to call the hall-porter Porter; he must, they insisted, always be addressed as Hall-Porter. This abstruse and childish gambit, once adopted by an influential few, soon became obligatory for all; and, although Porter-Hall and Porter both died long ago, the convention which they involuntarily combined to establish has acquired the permanence of protocol, and it is as obligatory for a member of Black`s to call the uniformed figure in the little glass-fronted cubby-hole “Hall-Porter” as it is for a Grenadier Guardsman to say only “Sir” when everyone else in His Majesty`s Force would say “Yes, sir.” If the bar of the Shanghai Club is the longest in the world, the bar at Black`s – at any rate in relation to the volume of alcohol served across it – must be one of the shortest. Tucked away in an alcove of what is called, no longer very appositely, the Coffee Room, its dimensions suggest that it was originally designed to fit into the saloon of a moderate-sized yacht. Since few members of Black`s deem it prudent to ingest a meal without taking beforehand two, or three, or even four glasses of some beneficent cordial, the smallness of the bar means, so to speak, that a very large force has to attack on a very narrow front, which causes overcrowding, frustration and delay and often results in people deciding not, after all, to have another large pink gin but to go into luncheon before the cold salmon has been annihilated by the abstemious. Guests, and even new members, are sometimes puzzled by the club`s failure to equip itself with a bar les incommensurate with the needs – ever-present and often urgent – of its members. Looking at the thing from a purely material point of view, they deduce that Black`s must make a profit on the bar, difficult through it is of access; and they cannot understand why a larger and more convenient bar is not provided, and a bigger profit thereby made. Their callow speculations do less than justice to the wisdom of successive Committees. These enlightened bodies have long realized that the bar is too small and that to construct a bigger one would – by enabling members to drink as much as, instead of slightly less than they feel inclined to drink – increase the amenities of the club and strengthen its financial position. But it was also realized that this was but a specious, short-term point of view. A longer bar would mean a longer casualty-list, a quicker turnover of members; and though there would be no difficulty in filling the gaps in the ranks, new members – apart from being undesirable phenomena *per se* – would scarcely have the absorptive capacity of the Old Guard whom they replaced; so that capital expenditure on a new bar would have result which, while undesirable socially, would be of doubtful and perhaps diminishing value from a purely economic point of view. Projects for enlarging the bar at Black`s, though periodically and enthusiastically mooted, really come within the purview of Major Foxley-Ebbe`s section of MI5; they aim at upsetting the balance of nature in England.” [“The Sixth Column”, by Peter Fleming, 1951, Chapter 10]

(The careful reader will have noticed the similarities to Chapters 3 and 4 in Fleming`s novel “Moonraker”.)

“The Man With The Golden Gun” also has a much broader sense of humour than in any of Fleming`s other novels, which also strongly suggests Peter Fleming`s hand:

“Well let`s see, it`s Wednesday. Shall I tell you what`ll be the main dish on the menu in the canteen? It should be steak-and-kidney pudding.”

The Chief Security Officer picked up the direct telephone to Captain Walker. Captain Walker said to James Bond, “Damn! There`s the other telephone again. Shan`t be a minute.” He picked up the green telephone. “Yes, sir?” “I don`t like that bit about the steak-and-kidney pudding.” (Chapter 1, “The Man With The Golden Gun”)

“This document was afterwards picked up on the fourth green at Huntercombe by Professor TK Loopwith, who is employed by the Royal Institute of International Affairs at L1700 a year to study the effects of German propaganda on Central American folklore. Professor Loopwith, unable to fit into a thesis, which was then engaging his mind, on “Totalitarianism and the Basket-Dancers of Yucatan”, passed it on to a colleague who, shelving for the moment his work on “Silt as a Factor in International Relationships”, took it up to London and showed it to the Foreign Office. Here its importance was quickly recognized. Dr Lenkfals` notes are the most conclusive of various separate pieces of evidence which all points to 6.55pm as the time at which, 30,000 feet over the parish of Bix in Oxfordshire, a time-bomb in a thermos flask completely destroyed Herr Hitler`s aeroplane with all of its occupants save one.” [Chapter 3, Page 30, “The Flying Visit”]

So many lines and details echo previous novels that it strongly suggests someone had Fleming`s novels open while writing/rewriting the manuscript. True, it does seem to copy from past novels: the train set-piece (“Diamonds Are Forever”), the dossier (“Casino Royale”), the hood`s congress (“Goldfinger”), M`s cypher (“Live And Let Die”), the hospital (“Thunderball”), the “Z” scratch (“Goldfinger”), “funny coincidence department” in Chapter 11 (“You Only Live Twice”), the hotel situation (“The Spy Who Loved Me” discards; it also anticipates the film “Godfather 2”). The last two chapters recall “Thunderball” and “Casino Royale”. Felix`s pest control speech recalls Rene Mathis`s Red Indians observations from “Casino Royale”. The poison and the quick doctor recalls the transition from “From Russia, With Love” to “Doctor No”. The cyanide gun is from “The Property Of The Lady”. The Blades details are from “Moonraker” and “You Only Live Twice”. Not a major flaw, but they are disconcerting. Scaramanga sounds rather like Felix Leiter: read the pages in Chapter 7 where Scaramanga tells Bond who`s coming to the meeting. Now compare it to Felix Leiter`s dialogue in “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Thunderball”. See my point? Pretend Felix Leiter speaks those lines in *The Man With The Golden Gun*. It sounds dead on for Leiter. This only confounds the issue of who really wrote *The Man With The Golden Gun*. Would Fleming have imitated Felix`s speech patterns? Or did the real author hope nobody would notice? (The tone is so jarring it throws the reader off, even those like myself who like the novel.) Or compare the monologue in Chapter 12: that`s Felix Leiter talking, particularly the shell joke. In fact Scaramanga`s “talking” style changes as though somebody else wrote parts. All of this suggests somebody constantly referred back to Fleming`s other novels to ensure that this one fit in.

But! –Consider what would have happened had Fleming died in 1961. *The Spy Who Loved Me* would have been his last Bond novel. Much the same reaction would have followed. Indignant cries of, “Fleming didn`t write this, he wouldn`t write this way!”

The Man With The Golden Gun was probably an experiment, which explains why so many people doubt it`s veracity. In fact, it reads more like a product of the author of The Spy Who Loved Me.

Perhaps Ian Fleming did write all of it. There`s as much evidence supporting this theory as there is refuting it. Perhaps Fleming wrote an outline and somebody else filled in the blanks. Perhaps somebody, Peter Fleming, Cargill, Amis, whoever revised, re-wrote Fleming`s first draft. Perhaps much work was required, perhaps all Fleming left behind was an outline. Who knows? Glidrose, for one, and they`re not telling.

One last trivia note: Fleming may have intended to set this novel in Panama. He had wanted to see first hand how the canal locks worked, but family obligations, then later ill-health, intervened. “Fleming`s genius for imaginative gadgeteering would have reached its climax in a simple man`s guide to the manipulation of locks by oceans instead of by keys.” (Richard Hughes, *Foreign Devil*, Chapter 28, “Sayonara To James Bond”)

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