Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 251 (10/12) -- Alligator by I*n Fl*ming

Last week, the review blog Bookgasm covered a Harvard Lampoon parody from 1962 -- actually written by Michael K. Frith and Christopher B. Cerf, they said, and who am I to doubt them? -- of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. The book was Alligator, credited to "I*n Fl*ming," and it was published the same year as the novel The Spy Who Loved Me and the release of the first film, Dr. No.

So Alligator came out at the peak of literary James Bond, and at the last moment that a satire could be primarily about the books -- before the pop-culture steamroller of a major movie franchise flatted all of that mental real estate and remade it in a notably different style. So of course, as soon as I heard about it, I had to read Alligator right away. (After all, didn't I spend much of last summer reading straight through all of the Fleming Bond books?) Luckily, Bookgasm aimed me at Munsey's, where Alligator is available, for free, in a variety of ebook formats. Two quick plane flights later, I was at the tail of the Alligator.

The Bookgasm review covers Alligator's plot in great depth and detail, so I'll direct any intensely interested parties there; what interested me the most is its wry aping of Fleming's world-weary, depressive tones, the way that it's only a half-step more silly than a real Fleming Bond novel. B*nd orders all of his food and drink in massively intricate detail -- any one instance of which would be perfectly in place in a Fleming novel, and serve to show that Bond has definite tastes -- making a running joke at each meal. (Even the one that Lacernus Alligator, the requisite mad plutocrat, serves B*nd before attempting to kill him.)

There are no obvious jokes in Alligator, no nudges to the ribs, and no broad, slow winks -- this is a smart satire for readers who know the original, and will be amused by the twists that Frith [1] and Cerf take to Fleming's original. It's a much drier parody than the later, more famous Harvard Lampoon work of the next generation -- Henry Beard and Doug Kenney, with Bored of the Rings and then the National Lampoon -- based much more closely on knowledge of the original than on adding in as many jokes as possible. Alligator isn't a laugh-a-minute riot, but it's quite funny, and gets funnier as it goes along and the jokes accumulate -- and as the reader settles in, realizing that Frith and Cerf know their Fleming idiosyncrasies dead to rights and will be poking them all in turn.

Since it is available for free -- in fact, it's much easier to find for free than to pay for -- there's no reason for any Ian Fleming fan not to read it.

[1] Who, if I'm linking the dots correctly, later was a major designer and executive for Jim Henson's Muppet empire, including creating Fraggle Rock.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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