Inside Oliver Buckton’s New Book ‘The Many Facets of Diamonds Are Forever’
By Matthew Chernov
Countless books have been written about the James Bond franchise over the years, but only a small handful have focused exclusively on one individual title in the series. Instead, most tend to approach the Bond phenomenon from an all-inclusive perspective. In fact, other than Charles Helfenstein’s exhaustively researched making-of volumes about “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “The Living Daylights,” and Andrew McNess’s superb book-length analysis of “A View to a Kill,” it’s difficult to think of another example where an author delves deeply into one particular entry in the series rather than covering the entire 007 filmography as a whole.
Well, it’s time to add an intriguing new title to that short list.
On March 15, 2019, Lexington Books will publish “The Many Facets of Diamonds Are Forever.” Edited by Florida Atlantic University professor of English Oliver Buckton, and featuring ten original essays written by established scholars, bloggers, and new emerging critics, the book is the first to examine every aspect of Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond novel in depth, as well as explore the glitzy 1971 film adaptation.
Eager to learn more about Buckton’s exciting new contribution to Bond research, I spoke with him about why he chose to concentrate on “Diamonds Are Forever,” which is perhaps the most overlooked title in the entire series. Here are a few highlights from our conversation…
JAMES BOND RADIO: Before we discuss your upcoming book, can you tell me a little bit about your introduction to the world of James Bond?
OLIVER BUCKTON: The first Bond novel I read was Goldfinger, and what grabbed me most about it was the strangeness of the villains. There was a larger-than-life aspect to Auric Goldfinger and a menacing quality to Oddjob. Of course, I loved all the gadgets as a young reader. I even remember asking for the Corgi car replica of Bond’s Aston Martin as a present one year. So, you could say it became a bit of an obsession for me. After Goldfinger, I read Moonraker, which at the time I found somewhat disappointing because it wasn’t as exotic or exciting. But today I think it’s one of Fleming’s best novels.
JBR: What about the films?
OLIVER: The first Bond film I saw at the cinema was Diamonds Are Forever. Since you’ve asked the question, that wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision in my editing this new volume, but it may have been an influence because the film certainly left an impression on me.
JBR: A lot of people say similar things about seeing their first Bond film in a theater. It makes a huge impression, and it often cements their love for the actor who plays Bond. Is that true for you too?
OLIVER: Yes, Connery remains my favorite Bond. I’m a huge fan of Daniel Craig as well, because he really brought the series into the 21st century and gave it a new lease on life. But my sentimental attachment is to Sean Connery.
JBR: Why does Bond continue to fascinate people more than 65 years after Fleming created him?
OLIVER: I think what keeps Bond fresh is his adaptability. As written, the original character is very much a part of the 1950s, and some of his views and behaviors would seem conservative, or even reactionary, by today’s standards. What’s kept him interesting is the way he’s been updated and retrofitted by the films. Of course, the fact that they cast a new young actor in the role every decade obviously helps give him currency. Beyond that, people love the idea of an individual who’s able to make a difference in the world, and of course Bond has a great time doing it. That’s as relevant today as it was in 1953.
JBR: As a professor, what’s the response been like from your students and peers when they learn that you’re publishing work on James Bond?
OLIVER: The students love the course that I teach on Bond. I’ve taught it in a classroom setting and as an online course. It’s very popular, and the students are excited to have it available. Although, to be honest, I think some of them who’ve taken more conventional literature classes may be a bit surprised at first that I’m teaching it. Those students might not realize how important the spy thriller genre is, but they still like it. Perhaps some of my Victorianist colleagues who know my work in 19th Century literature might’ve been a bit puzzled when I first started publishing on Bond and spy fiction. By an interesting coincidence, one of the great centers of Victorian studies in the United States is Indiana University, and that’s also where Ian Fleming’s original manuscripts are held.
JBR: Since the release of your book is still several weeks away, how would you describe it to Bond fans who haven’t read it yet?
OLIVER: It’s a collection of essays that are focused on one of the less appreciated Bond novels and films in the series. I’d describe it as an in-depth study of Diamonds Are Forever that reveals some hidden complexities and surprising layers in both the novel and the film. Both are given equal treatment in this volume, so it’s very clearly a multi-media study. What will also make it appeal to readers is that it places Diamonds Are Forever in a larger context, and there’s a lot of discussion along the way of other novels by Fleming and other Bond films. So, it actually doesn’t look at Diamonds in total isolation.
JBR: How did you go about selecting the contributors for the book’s ten essays?
OLIVER: Originally, I put together a conference panel at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. I wanted to organize the panel specifically on Diamonds Are Forever for its 60th anniversary of publication. I ended up with about twenty written proposals, which allowed me to actually do two panels at the conference. Then, after discussing the subject with my publisher, we decided to turn it into a volume of essays, so I sent out another call for papers, and I received about fifteen more proposals, and narrowed them down to ten.
JBR: What sort of criteria were you looking for?
OLIVER: I was looking for variety of approach and originality. I wanted to hear arguments that told me something new as a reader, viewer, and critic. Things that I hadn’t heard or thought of before. That’s why the title is “The Many Facets of Diamonds Are Forever.” Basically, I wanted to include a number of different perspectives and points of view.
JBR: The book is organized into three main sections. How are they grouped together?
OLIVER: I devised this three-part structure as the proposals came in and I began to notice certain patterns in the themes they addressed. For instance, several of the papers were focused on issues of gender and sexuality, so that became one of the book’s sections. There, you’ll find essays on Tiffany Case for example. Also, both the novel and the film have these gay hitmen who play quite an interesting role, so they’re included as well. I also noticed that several of the essays were addressing issues of American culture and society, so that became another section. There was also a common theme centering around issues of adaptation, so that became another section as well. The essays in that part of the book look at how the film changes and adapts Fleming’s novel, and it includes my own essay, which deals with the relationship between Diamonds Are Forever and Fleming’s non-fiction book The Diamond Smugglers. In a sense, I see The Diamond Smugglers as a kind of non-fiction adaptation of Diamonds Are Forever.
JBR: Your book’s forward is written by Tom Cull, who runs an excellent website about Ian Fleming called Artistic Licence Renewed. I’ve contributed several articles to his site in the past, and I always enjoy his work. How did he end up becoming involved in your new volume?
OLIVER: Tom’s great, and his website is a wonderful resource for people who are writing about Fleming. The way it happened is that he actually interviewed me about my previous book called “Espionage in British Fiction and Film Since 1900.” He also helped publicize my panels on Diamonds Are Forever, and was very encouraging and supportive with respect to that. So, he seemed like the perfect choice! He’s obviously put a lot of time and effort into promoting Fleming’s writings, and I was thrilled that he accepted my invitation to write the preface.
JBR: I want to ask you about an essay in the book called “The Scorpion as Emblematic of Affect in Diamonds Are Forever,” which is written by Elyn Achtymichuk-Hardy. That’s such a beautiful title! What can you tell me about that one?
OLIVER: It’s a remarkable essay and a very good starting point for the volume because it really brings attention to something that’s important to Fleming’s writing. He’s a brilliant describer of natural environments and non-human life. Many people appreciate his underwater scenes and how much attention he gives to the underwater world, but his description of the scorpion in Diamonds Are Forever is a brilliant piece of nature writing. What Elyn does in her essay is link the scorpion, in a very subtle way, to James Bond himself. She sees the scorpion as both a deadly predator and a vulnerable victim, and she suggests that although we see Bond as a professional killer, he’s also quite vulnerable to even bigger predators.
JBR: Wow! That’s quite an original take.
OLIVER: Very original. It’s a great opening to the volume because it’s such a unique point of view.
JBR: You mentioned that your own essay deals with Diamonds Are Forever in relation to The Diamond Smugglers. Can you give me a preview of that piece?
OLIVER: I’d read Diamonds Are Forever many times before I read The Diamond Smugglers, and I was surprised at how little known it was. Although it’s a non-fiction book, I was struck by how well it imitates the form and atmosphere of a spy thriller. And then I found out that Fleming originally wanted to call it The Diamond Spy, which makes it sound more novelistic. So, I just became interested in this relationship between the fiction and non-fiction versions of the diamond smuggling plot. And I also became interested in how the central character in The Diamond Smugglers is a man called John Blaize, who happens to have the same initials as James Bond. In some ways, I think that Fleming wanted him to replace Bond, and I discuss this in relationship with the idea that Fleming was starting to get a bit tired of Bond by the time he wrote Diamonds Are Forever. He was looking for other outlets, and he saw John Blaize as a possible replacement. I also talk about the theme of identity theft that runs through Fleming’s work. His characters often change names and assume new identities, and I see a lot of that in Diamonds Are Forever. In fact, John Blaize is a pseudonym for a real man named John Collard, so I think there’s a lot of interesting parallels between those two books.
JBR: The final essay in the book is written by Edward Biddulph, who’s one of my favorite Bond bloggers. His specialty is the representation of food and drink in the 007 series. Is that what he covers in your volume as well?
OLIVER: Yes, exactly that. Edward’s chapter deals with the consumption of food and drink in Diamonds Are Forever, and it was a real eye-opener for me. I recognized how important food and drink are in Bond, but Edward goes into such rich detail about every meal in both the book and the film. One of the most interesting points in his argument is the differences between the two. To simplify it, there are far more diverse references to food and drink in the novel, while the film is rather lean in that culinary context, if you’ll forgive the pun. In his chapter, he points out that Bond becomes a bit more of a wine snob in the films. He’s always showing off his expertise, and in Diamonds Are Forever he manages to recognize a villain by exposing his ignorance about wine. So, he uses his wine snobbery as a form of detective work.
JBR: I’m looking forward to that essay, because one of my favorite moments in any Bond novel is when Bond tells Tiffany Case that his ideal woman has to know how to make a perfect sauce Béarnaise. Am I correct to assume that Edward mentions that as well?
OLIVER: Oh yes, he definitely talks about that! It’s one of Tiffany’s many hidden talents.
JBR: Now that you’ve explored Diamonds Are Forever in such incredible detail, if you had to choose another Bond novel and film to cover in a similar volume of essays, which title would you select?
OLIVER: That’s a tough one. But I think I’d probably have to go with From Russia With Love. It’s one of my favorite Fleming novels and it’s Connery’s best Bond film. It’s a Cold War classic!
Interview by Matthew Chernov
Production stills from the film Diamonds are Forever including the cover image are from the Thunderballs archive.