We’re all allowed a few guilty pleasures, and I’ve been digging into one of mine lately: Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels, which I last picked up sometime in high school. I recently finished rereading what I’d argue is the highlight of the novel series: The so-called “Blofeld trilogy,” which begins with Thunderball, continues with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and ends with You Only Live Twice.
Of course, the books have long been eclipsed in most people’s minds by the film franchise, and the Daniel Craig-starring 007 movies are in an interesting place right now. After Casino Royale, which offered a modernized riff on the first-ever Bond novel, we got Quantum of Solace and Skyfall — two totally original stories. But taken together, they serve as a kind of a mirrored trilogy; where Casino Royale systematically dismantled 007’s various well-worn tropes and stereotypes, Skyfall was built on sneakily restoring them. I imagine that screenwriter John Logan, who wrote Skyfall and was subsequently tapped to script the next two movies in the series, has found the process an interesting challenge; for the first time in ages, there’s virtually no prepackaged blueprint for where the 007 franchise can go from here.
The reintroduction of longtime series mainstays like Q, a male M, and a revamped Miss Moneypenny at the end of Skyfall leaves one last staple to check off the list: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who remains 007’s most memorable adversary in both the books and the movies. Blofeld’s already-campy place in the pop cultural canon — bald, scarred, constantly petting a cat — was dealt a deathblow by the Austin Powers series, and there’s almost no aspect of this character that fits into the more grounded style of the new films:
But the Blofeld of the novels is a more evasive figure, and one that would translate far more neatly to the modern 007 movies. In each of Blofeld’s literary appearances, James Bond isn’t even entirely sure that he’s targeted the right man; every time Blofeld evades justice, he undergoes extensive plastic surgery on his face, loses or gains a significant amount of weight, and flees to a well-stocked hideout, which makes him all but impossible to track with any kind of certainty.
In many ways, Blofeld has become a more poignant villain than ever. In a modern political context that has shifted from enemy states to scattered, elusive enemies, the idea of a villain with the intelligence and resources to reinvent himself is a frightening one. After the introduction of a young Q and a black Moneypenny, it’s obvious that the Daniel Craig-starring 007 films aren’t afraid to shake up Fleming’s original conception of characters. But Blofeld’s chameleonic qualities make him a uniquely strong candidate for reinterpretation.
And then there are the stories Blofeld stars in, which are ripe for reinterpretation. If you look back to the original novels, you couldn’t do much better than a modernized version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ends with the death of 007’s new wife Tracy. An increasingly vocal group of fans now hold up 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the best film in the series, but it has a fatal flaw: George Lazenby, making his sole appearance as 007.
Imagine a reconceived version of that story in the Daniel Craig era. Bond, who wrote off romance after being betrayed by Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself in a loving, truly equal relationship again — only to have a villain’s botched assassination attempt destroy his last chance at a stable wedded life. As a bonus, that story could lead into a sequel based on You Only Live Twice, which follows Bond’s subsequent depression and quest for revenge.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service tells a story worth revisiting, one with all the qualities that have defined the Daniel Craig era of the James Bond franchise: a darker, more focused 007; a well-developed female lead; a villain, operating in a modern political climate, who poses a threat that carries real stakes and consequences. As the creative team behind the next 007 movie attempts to define the future of the franchise, they’d be wise to look back at the past one last time.