Dr. No (novel)
First edition cover, published by Jonathan Cape
|Cover artist||Pat Marriott|
|31 March 1958|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||From Russia, with Love|
Dr. No is the sixth novel in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape on 31 March 1958. The story centres on Bond's investigation into the disappearance in Jamaica of a fellow MI6 operative, Commander John Strangways and his secretary, Mary Trueblood. He establishes that Strangways had been investigating Dr. No, a Chinese operator of a guano mine on the Caribbean island of Crab Key; Bond travels to the island to investigate further. It is on Crab Key that Bond first finds Honeychile Rider and then Dr. No himself.
The novel was originally a screenplay written in 1956 for producer Henry Morgenthau III for what would have been a television show entitled Commander Jamaica. When those plans did not come to fruition, Fleming adapted the ideas to form the basis of the novel, which he originally titled The Wound Man. The book's eponymous villain was influenced by Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu stories.
Dr. No was the first of Fleming's novels to receive large-scale negative criticism in Britain, with Paul Johnson of the New Statesman writing his review about the "Sex, Snobbery and Sadism" of the story. When the book was released into the American market it was generally received more favourably.
Dr. No was serialised in the Daily Express newspaper in both written and comic strip format. It was also the first James Bond feature film of the Eon Productions series, released in 1962 and starring Sean Connery; the most recent adaptation was a BBC Radio version, broadcast in 2008.
After recovering from tetrodotoxin poisoning inflicted by the SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb (see From Russia, with Love) MI6 agent James Bond is sent by his superior, M, on a "rest cure" to Jamaica. Whilst there his task is a simple assignment to investigate the disappearance of Commander John Strangways, the head of MI6 Station J in Kingston, Jamaica, and his secretary.
Bond is briefed that Strangways had been investigating the activities of Dr. Julius No, a reclusive Chinese-German who lives on Crab Key and runs a guano mine; the island is said to be the home of a vicious dragon, and has a colony of Roseate Spoonbills at one end. The Spoonbills are protected by the National Audubon Society, two of whose representatives had died when their plane crashed on Dr. No's airstrip. On his arrival in Jamaica, Bond soon realises that he is being watched, as his hotel room is searched, a basket of poisoned fruit is delivered to his hotel room (supposedly a gift from the colonial governor) and a deadly centipede is placed in his bed while he is sleeping.
With the help of his old friend Quarrel, Bond visits Crab Key to establish if there is a connection between Dr. No and Strangways' disappearance. There he and Quarrel meet Honeychile Rider, who visits the island to collect valuable shells. Bond and Honey are captured by No's men after Quarrel is burned to death by the doctor's "dragon" – a flamethrowing armoured swamp buggy to keep away trespassers.
Bond discovers that Dr. No is also working with the Russians and has built an elaborate underground facility from which he can sabotage American missile tests at nearby Cape Canaveral. No had previously been a member of a Chinese Tong, but after he stole a large amount of money from their treasury, he was captured by the organisation, whose leaders had his hands cut off as a sign of punishment for theft, and then ordered him shot. The Tong thought they shot him through the heart. However, because No's heart was on the right side of his body (dextrocardia), the bullet missed his heart and he survived. Interested in the ability of the human body to withstand and survive pain, No forces Bond to navigate his way through an obstacle course constructed in the facility's ventilation system. He is kept under regular observation, suffering electric shocks, burns and an encounter with large poisonous spiders along the way. The ordeal ends in a fight against a captive giant squid, which Bond defeats by using improvised and stolen objects made into weapons. After his escape, he encounters Honey from her ordeal where she had been pegged out to be eaten by crabs; the crabs ignored her and she had managed to make good her own escape.
Bond kills Dr. No by taking over the guano-loading machine at the docks and diverting the guano flow from it to bury the villain alive. Bond and Honey then escape from No's complex in the dragon buggy.
Themes and characters
Two main themes run through Dr. No: the meaning of power; and the concept of friendship and loyalty. Bond talks about the meaning of power with a number of villains in the series and his conversation with Dr. No shows that No believes that it can only be secured with privacy, quoting Clausewitz's first principle. Of lesser note, as the academic Jeremy Black points out, although it is American assets that are under threat, it is British power, through the British agent that concludes the issue and a British warship, HMS Narvick, that is sent with British soldiers to the island at the end of the novel.
The concept of friendship and loyalty is the second major theme. The relationship between Bond and Quarrel, the Cayman Islander, is mutually felt. Quarrel is "an indispensable ally" who had assisted Bond in Live and Let Die. The continuation Bond author Raymond Benson sees no discrimination in the relationship between the two men and acknowledges that Bond feels genuine remorse and sadness at Quarrel's death.
For the first time in the Bond novels, there is friction between Bond and M in Dr. No, brought about because Bond was nearly killed by the SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb in From Russia, with Love. M orders Bond to take a new gun and sends him on a holiday assignment, which Bond resents. Benson sees M at his most authoritarian in Dr. No, punishing Bond both in terms of stripping him of his gun and then sending him on what was considered at first to be a "soft" assignment.
Rider is one of three women in the Bond canon who have been scarred by rape (Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger being the others). This follows a pattern where the women Bond comes across are somehow different to the norm, although Black points out that this gives Bond an opportunity to help and save both Rider and the others. Rider is described in the book as having buttocks like a boy, which brought a response from Fleming's friend Noël Coward that "I was also slightly shocked by the lascivious announcement that Honeychile's bottom was like a boy's. I know that we are all becoming more broadminded nowadays, but really old chap what could you have been thinking of?"
Benson considers that Dr. No is "a wickedly successful villain", the best since Hugo Drax in Moonraker, while Time magazine thought Dr. No to be "one of the less forgettable characters in modern fiction". The character is like a number of Bond villains, physically abnormal, being six feet six inches tall, with steel pincers for hands, having dextrocardia. Bond considers him to look like "a giant venomous worm wrapped in grey tin-foil."
In March 1956, Ian Fleming and his friend Ivar Bryce accompanied Robert Cushman Murphy (with the American Museum of Natural History) and Arthur Vernay (with the Flamingo Protection Society) on a trip to Great Inagua in the south of The Bahamas to a flamingo colony. The colony was one hundred square miles of inaccessible mangrove swamp and salt flats, home to flamingos, egrets and roseate spoonbills: the location became the background for Dr. No's island of Crab Key. Much of the travel overland on Great Inagua was by a swamp vehicle, a Land Rover fitted with over-large tyres that became the model for the "dragon" used in the story. Fleming's inspiration for the Dr. No character was Sax Rohmer's villain Dr. Fu Manchu, the books about whom Fleming had read and enjoyed in earlier years. After returning from his nature trip, in June 1956, Fleming became involved in a project with Henry Morgenthau, III to collaborate on a television series Commander Jamaica, centred in the Caribbean with the main character of James Gunn. Although the project came to nothing, Fleming used the idea as the basis for the Dr. No novel. Fleming wrote the novel in January and February 1957 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica and initially gave it the title of The Wound Man.
As he had done in his previous novels, Fleming borrowed names from his friends and associates to use in his book; Ivar Bryce's housekeeper, May Maxwell, became Bond's Scottish "treasure" May. One of Fleming's neighbours in Jamaica, and later his lover, was Blanche Blackwell, mother of Chris Blackwell of Island Records: Fleming named the guano-collecting ship in Dr. No as Blanche. He later used Blackwell as the model for Pussy Galore in his novel Goldfinger and Blackwell gave him a boat called Octopussy, the name of which he used for a later short story.
After Diamonds Are Forever was published in 1956, Fleming received a letter from Bond enthusiast and gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, criticising his choice of firearm for Bond. Boothroyd suggested that Bond should swap his Beretta for a Walther PPK 7.65 mm, an exchange that made it to the novel. Boothroyd also gave Fleming advice on the Berns-Martin triple draw shoulder holster and a number of the weapons used by SMERSH and other villains. In thanks, Fleming gave the MI6 Armourer the name Major Boothroyd in Dr. No and M introduces him to Bond as "the greatest small-arms expert in the world".
Release and reception
Dr. No was released on 31 March 1958 in the UK as a hardcover edition by publishers Jonathan Cape, priced at 13s 6d. It was released in the US under the name Doctor No in June 1958 by Macmillan. As with his previous four novels, Fleming himself came up with the concept of the front cover design; as he had considered Honeychile Rider to have a Venus-like quality when introduced in the book, he wanted this echoed in the cover, which he commissioned to show her on a Venus elegans shell; the final artwork was undertaken by Pat Marriott.
Prior to the release of Dr. No – and unconnected with the book itself – Bernard Bergonzi, in the March 1958 issue of Twentieth Century attacked Fleming's work, saying that it contained "a strongly marked streak of voyeurism and sado-masochism" and that the books showed "the total lack of any ethical frame of reference". The article also compared Fleming unfavourably to John Buchan and Raymond Chandler in both moral and literary measures.
In 1964, Dr. No was serialised in France Soir for the French market and the year marked the growth of sales in Bond novels for that market, with 480,000 French-language copies of the six Bond novels being sold that year. The largest boost in books sales came in 1962 with the release of the film version of the same name and the subsequent Bond films. In the seven months after the film Dr. No was released, 1.5 million copies of the novel were sold.
For the first time in the series, Fleming encountered some harsh criticism for one of his novels. The most virulent of the criticisms came from Paul Johnson of the New Statesman who opened his review, "Sex, Snobbery and Sadism", with: "I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read". Johnson went on to say that "by the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away", Although Johnson recognised that in Bond there "was a social phenomenon of some importance", this was as a negative element, as the phenomenon concerned "three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult." Johnson saw no positives in Dr. No, saying that "Mr Fleming has no literary skill, the construction of the book is chaotic, and entire incidents and situations are inserted, and then forgotten, in a haphazard manner."
|“||Perhaps these are superficial excuses. Perhaps Bond's blatant heterosexuality is a subconscious protest against the current fashion for sexual confusion. Perhaps the violence springs from a psychosomatic rejection of Welfare wigs, teeth and spectacles and Bond's luxury meals are simply saying "no" to toad-in-the-hole and tele-bickies. Who can say? Who can say whether or not Dr. Fu Manchu was a traumatic image of Sax Rohmer's father? Who, for the matter of that, cares?||”|
— Ian Fleming, 
Maurice Richardson, writing in The Observer, summarised the novel, calling it "the usual sado-masochistic free-for-all, plus octopuses." Writing in The Manchester Guardian, the critic referred to Johnson's 'sex snobbery and sadism' tag, but pointed out that whilst "the casualties take place on a somewhat narrower front than usual, they are heavy". The Manchester Guardian 's critic disagreed with part of Johnson's summary, saying that "to regard [the novel] as necessarily being a sign of moral decay would be to oversimplify the relationship between literature and its audience." Instead, they said, "we should be grateful to Mr. Fleming for providing a conveniently accessible safety-valve for the boiling sensibility of modern man." Where the critic was negative about the novel was in the enjoyment of objects because of their exclusivity, which was "pernicious" and "symptomatic of a decline in taste" in British society.
On 1 April 1958, Fleming wrote to The Manchester Guardian in defence of his work, referring to both that paper's review of Dr. No and the "nine-page inquest in The Twentieth Century". Fleming accepted the criticism from the paper concerning the exclusivity of Bond's objects, such as cigarettes and food, but defended it on the basis that "I had to fit Bond out with some theatrical props". These included his cocktail, ("The Vesper"), which Fleming said "I sampled several months later and found it unpalatable" and Bond's diet. Fleming called these devices "vulgar foibles" which he was saddled with, although maybe, he suggested, "Bond's luxury meals are simply saying "no" to toad-in-the-hole and tele-bickies."
Writing in The Times Literary Supplement Philip Stead was more generous to Dr. No, although he thought that Fleming was offering "too opulent a feast" with the book, although he manages to pull this off, where "a less accomplished writer, lacking Mr. Fleming's quick descriptive gift and his powers of making his characters talk with such lucid and natural style, would never have got away with this story."
The critic for Time magazine acknowledged the critical storm around Fleming and Dr. No, but was broadly welcoming of the book, writing that whilst "not all readers will agree that Dr. No ... is magnificent writing, ... pages of it, at least, qualify for Ezra Pound's classic comment on Tropic of Cancer: 'At last, an unprintable book that is readable'." Writing in The New York Times, Anthony Boucher—described by a Fleming biographer, John Pearson as "throughout an avid anti-Bond and an anti-Fleming man"—was again damning of Fleming's work, saying "it's harder than ever to see why an ardent coterie so admires Ian Fleming's tales". Continuation Bond author Raymond Benson described Boucher's critique as "true to form" and "a tirade" as Boucher concluded his review by saying: "it is 80,000 words long, with enough plot for 8,000 and enough originality for 800."
The reviewer for The Washington Post, Book Editor Glendy Culligan also received Dr. No well, calling it "a thin little whodunit which rocked the British Empire and shook the English Establishment", adding "Bully for it!" Culligan admitted that "Confidentially though, we enjoyed Dr. No, and if this be sick, sick, sick, gentlemen, make the most of it." James Sandoe in his book review for the New York Herald Tribune was very positive about Dr. No and thought that it was "the most artfully bold, dizzyingly poised thriller of the decade. You'd much better read it than read about it."
Comic strip (1960)
The story serialisation was followed by a further Daily Express adaptation, this time as a daily comic strip. The strip ran from 23 May to 1 October 1960 and was written by Peter O'Donnell and illustrated by John McLusky. The Dr. No comic strip was reprinted in 2005 by Titan Books as part of the Dr. No anthology that also includes Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia, with Love.
Dr. No (1962)
In 1962 Dr. No was the first James Bond novel to be adapted by Eon Productions for the cinema. It introduced Sean Connery as the first actor to portray James Bond on the big screen with Joseph Wiseman portraying Dr. No and Ursula Andress as Honeychile Rider. Although the story follows the same general storyline, there are some changes: the film shows Dr. No to be an operative of SPECTRE and his island fortress is nuclear-powered; No is killed not by the mountain of guano, but by drowning in reactor coolant.
Radio adaptation (2008)
On 24 May 2008 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio adaptation of Dr. No. Actor Toby Stephens, who played Die Another Day Bond villain Gustav Graves, played James Bond, while Dr. No was played by David Suchet.
- James Bond portal
- Quotations related to Dr. No at Wikiquote
- List of James Bond novels and short stories
- Outline of James Bond
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- Ian Fleming Bibliography of James Bond 1st Editions