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Moonraker (novel)

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First edition cover, published by Jonathan Cape
Author Ian Fleming
Cover artist Ian Fleming / Kenneth Lewis
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series James Bond
Genre Spy fiction
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date
5 April 1955
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Preceded by Live and Let Die
Followed by Diamonds Are Forever

Moonraker is the third novel by British author Ian Fleming featuring the fictional British Secret Service agent Commander James Bond. The book was first published by Jonathan Cape on 5 April 1955, bearing a cover based on Fleming's own concept. Set completely in England, the story has two halves: the first concerns a battle over a game of bridge in London's clubland between Bond and industrialist Sir Hugo Drax, while the second follows Bond's mission to stop Drax from destroying London with a nuclear weapon. The book played on a number of fears of the 1950s, including the V-2 rocket, the re-emergence of Nazism, the menace of Soviet communism and the "threat from within".

There have been a number of adaptations of Moonraker, including a broadcast on South African radio in 1956 starring Bob Holness and a comic strip that appeared in the Daily Express in 1958. The novel's name was also used in 1979 for the eleventh official film in the Eon Productions Bond franchise and the fourth to star Roger Moore as James Bond. However, the story for the film was significantly changed from the novel so as to include excursions into space.


British Secret Service agent James Bond is asked by his superior, M, to join him for the evening at M's club, Blades, where one of the members, the multi-millionaire businessman Sir Hugo Drax, is winning a lot of money playing bridge, seemingly against the odds. M suspects Drax of cheating, but although claiming indifference, he is concerned why a multi-millionaire and national hero, such as Sir Hugo, would cheat at a card game. Bond confirms Drax's deception and manages to "cheat the cheater"—aided by a cocktail of powdered Benzedrine mixed with non-vintage champagne and a deck of stacked cards—winning £15,000 and infuriating the out-smarted Drax.

Drax is the product of a mysterious background, allegedly unknown even to himself. Presumed to have been a British Army soldier during the Second World War, he was badly injured and stricken with amnesia in the explosion of a bomb planted by a German saboteur at a British field headquarters. After extensive rehabilitation in an army hospital, however, he eventually returned home to become a major aerospace industrialist.

After building his fortune and establishing himself in business and society, Drax started building the "Moonraker", Britain's first nuclear missile project, intended to defend the United Kingdom against its Cold War enemies (c.f. the real Blue Streak missile). The Moonraker rocket was to be an upgraded V-2 rocket using liquid hydrogen and fluorine as propellants; to withstand the ultra-high combustion temperatures of its engine, it used columbite, in which Drax had a monopoly. Because the rocket's engine could withstand higher heat, the Moonraker was able to use more powerful fuels, greatly expanding its effective range.

After a Ministry of Supply security officer working at the project is shot dead, M assigns Bond to replace him and also to investigate what has been going on at the missile-building base, located between Dover and Deal on the south coast of England. All of the rocket scientists working on the project were German. At his post on the complex, Bond meets Gala Brand, a beautiful Special Branch agent working undercover as Personal Assistant to Drax. He also uncovers clues concerning his predecessor's death, concluding that the former Security Chief may have been killed for witnessing a submarine off the coast.

Drax's henchman Krebs is caught by Bond snooping through his room. Later, an attempted assassination nearly kills Bond and Gala under a landslide, as they swim beneath the Dover cliffs. Drax takes Gala to London where she discovers the truth about the Moonraker (by comparing her own launch trajectory figures with those in a notebook picked from Drax's pocket), but she is caught. She soon finds herself captive at a secret radio station (intended to serve as a beacon for the missile's guidance system) in the heart of London. While attempting to rescue her in a car chase, Bond is also captured.

Drax tells Bond that he was never a British soldier and has never suffered from amnesia. In fact, he was a German commander of a Skorzeny commando unit and the saboteur (in British uniform) Graf Hugo von der Drache, whose unit had placed the car bomb at the army field headquarters, only to be injured himself in the detonation. The amnesia story was simply a cover he used while recovering in hospital, in order to avoid allied retribution, although it would lead to a whole new British identity. Drax, however, remained a dedicated Nazi, bent on revenge against England for the wartime defeat of his Fatherland and his prior history of social slights suffered as a youth growing up in an English boarding school before the war. He now means to destroy London with the very missile he has constructed for Britain, by means of a Soviet-supplied nuclear warhead that has been secretly fitted to the Moonraker. He also plans to play the stock market the day before to make a huge profit from the imminent disaster.

Brand and Bond are imprisoned under the Moonraker's booster engines so as to leave no trace of them once the Moonraker is launched. Before this first (supposedly un-armed) test firing, Bond and Gala escape. Gala gives Bond the proper coordinates to redirect the gyros and send the Moonraker into the sea. Having been in collaboration with Soviet Intelligence all along, Drax and his henchman attempt to escape by Russian submarine—only to be killed as the vessel flees through the very waters onto which the Moonraker has been re-targeted. After their de-briefing at headquarters, Bond meets up with Gala, expecting her company—but they part ways after Gala reveals that she is engaged to be married to a fellow Special Branch officer.

Characters and themes[edit]

According to continuation Bond author Raymond Benson, Moonraker is a deeper and more introspective book, which allows Fleming to develop the characters further and so Bond "becomes something more than a cardboard figure" than he had been in previous two novels.[1] The start of the book concentrates on Bond at home and his daily routines, which were largely modelled on Fleming's own.[2]

As with Le Chiffre in Casino Royale and Mr. Big in Live and Let Die, Moonraker involved the idea of the "traitor within".[3] Drax, real name Graf Hugo von der Drache, is a "megalomaniac German Nazi who masquerades as an English gentleman";[4] his assistant, Krebbs, bears the same name as Hitler's last Chief of Staff.[5] In using a German as the novel's main enemy, "Fleming ... exploits another British cultural antipathy of the 1950s. Germans, in the wake of World War II, made another easy and obvious target for bad press."[4] Moonraker uses two of the foes feared by Fleming, the Nazis and the Soviets, with Drax being German and working for the Soviets;[6] in Moonraker the Soviets were hostile and provided not just the atomic bomb, but support and logistics to Drax.[7]

Moonraker played on fears of the audiences of the 1950s of rocket attacks from overseas, fears grounded in the use of the V-2 rocket by the Nazis during World War II.[3] The story takes the threat one stage further, with a rocket based on English soil, aimed at London and "the end of British invulnerability".[3]


A V-2 rocket launch from summer 1943: the threat remembered from the war was the basis of the novel.

Fleming's own copy bears the following inscription, "This was written in January and February 1954 and published a year later. It is based on a film script I have had in my mind for many years."[8] According to biographer Andrew Lycett, Fleming, writing in early 1954 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, "wanted to make Moonraker his most ambitious and personal novel yet."[9] Because of the subject matter, the author undertook significant homework on the novel, asking fellow Times correspondent Anthony Terry for information on V-2 rockets and the German Werewolves.[10] Fleming also visited the Wimpole Street psychiatrist Dr E.B. Strauss to discuss the traits of megalomaniacs, and came away with information on diastema for the character of Drax.[10] While in a failed negotiation to sell Moonraker‍ '​s filming rights to the Rank Organisation, Fleming detailed that the novel emerged from a failed attempt to write a film script, and he "had to more or less graft the first half of the book onto my film idea in order to bring it up to the necessary length”.[11]

The early chapters of the novel centre on Bond's private life, with Fleming using his own life as a basis for Bond's. Fleming used further aspects of his private life in the shape of his friends, as he had done in his previous novels: Hugo Drax was named after his acquaintance Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax,[12] while his friend Duff Sutherland (described as "a scruffy looking chap") was one of the bridge players at Blades.[13] Other elements of the plot came from Fleming's knowledge of wartime operations carried out by T-Force, a secret British Army unit formed to continue the work of 30 Assault Unit, itself created by Fleming.[14]

Moonraker is the only Bond novel that takes place solely in Britain,[15] giving Fleming the chance to write about the England he cherished such as the Kent countryside, including the White Cliffs of Dover,[16] and London clubland.[9] Even though Fleming owned a cottage in St Margaret's at Cliffe, he went to great lengths to get details right, lending his car to his stepson, Raymond O'Neill, to time the journey from London to Deal.[17] Fleming used his experiences of London clubs for the background of the Blades scenes. As a clubman, he enjoyed membership of Boodle's, White's and the Portland Club. A combination of Boodles and the Portland Club is thought to be the model for Blades;[18] author Michael Dibdin found the scene in the club to be "surely one of the finest things that Ian Fleming ever did."[19]

Fleming considered a number of titles for the story; his first choice had been The Moonraker, until Noël Coward reminded him of a novel of the same name by F. Tennyson Jesse.[17] Fleming then considered The Moonraker Secret, The Moonraker Plot, The Inhuman Element, Wide of the Mark, The Infernal Machine,[17] Mondays are Hell[20] and Out of the Clear Sky.[21] George Wren Howard of Jonathan Cape suggested Bond & the Moonraker, The Moonraker Scare and The Moonraker Plan,[20] while William Plomer suggested Hell Is Here;[20][21] the final choice of Moonraker was a suggestion by Wren Howard.[20]

Release and reception[edit]

Moonraker was published in the UK in hardback format on 5 April 1955 with a cover designed by Kenneth Lewis, following the suggestions of Fleming[22] and in the US on 20 September that year. In December 1956 the novel was published in paperback in the US under the title Too Hot to Handle by Permabooks: the edition had been re-written to Americanise the British idioms used and Fleming provided a number of explanatory footnotes, such as the value of English currency against the dollar.[23]


Julian Symons, writing in The Times Literary Supplement found Moonraker "a disappointment",[24] going on to say that "Fleming's tendency ... to parody the form of the thriller, has taken charge in the second half of this story."[24] Maurice Richardson, in his review for The Observer was forthright: "do not miss this",[25] he urged, saying that "Mr. Fleming continues to be irresistibly readable, however incredible".[25] Hilary Corke, writing in The Listener, thought that "Fleming is one of the most accomplished of thriller-writers",[26] going on to say that Moonraker "is as mercilessly readable as all the rest".[26] On the down side, however, Corke warned Fleming away from being over-dramatic, declaring that "Mr Fleming is evidently far too accomplished to need to lean upon these blood-and-thunder devices: he could keep our hair on end for three hundred pages without spilling more blood than was allowed to Shylock."[26]

John Metcalf for The Spectator thought that "It is utterly disgraceful – and highly enjoyable ... without (Moonraker) no forthcoming railway journey should be undertaken",[27] although he also considered that it was "not one of Mr. Fleming's best".[22] Anthony Boucher, writing in The New York Times, was mixed in his review, saying "I don't know anyone who writes about gambling more vividly than Fleming and I only wish the other parts of his books lived up to their gambling sequences".[22] Richard Lister in the New Statesman thought that "Mr. Fleming is splendid; he stops at nothing."[28] Writing for The Washington Post, Al Manola believed that the "British tradition of rich mystery writing, copious description and sturdy heroism all blend nicely"[29] in Moonraker, providing what he considered was "probably the best action novel of the month".[29]


John Payne unsuccessfully attempted to option film rights to the book in 1955, but nothing came of the attempt. The Rank Organisation also took up an option to make a film, but this also eventually fell through.[30] The novel was originally not one of Fleming's novels acquired by Eon Productions in 1961. In 1969 Eon acquired the rights and commissioned Gerry Anderson to produce and co-write a screenplay. Anderson and Tony Barwick prepared a 70 page treatment that was never filmed, but some elements were found to be similar to the final screenplay of The Spy Who Loved Me.[31]

Radio adaption (1956)

The first adaption of Moonraker was on South African radio in 1956, with Bob Holness providing the voice of Bond.[32] According to The Independent, "listeners across the Union thrilled to Bob's cultured tones as he defeated evil master criminals in search of world domination".[33]

Comic strip (1959)

Moonraker was adapted as a daily comic strip that was published in the Daily Express newspaper and syndicated worldwide. The adaptation was written by Henry Gammidge and illustrated by John McLusky, and ran from 30 March to 8 August 1959.[34] Titan Books reprinted the strip in 2005 along with Casino Royale and Live and Let Die, as a part of the Casino Royale anthology.[35]

Moonraker (1979)

"Moonraker" was used as the title for the eleventh James Bond film, produced by Eon Productions and released in 1979. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, the film featured Roger Moore in his fourth appearance as Bond.[36] The Nazi-inspired element of Drax's motivation in the novel was indirectly preserved with the "master race" theme of the film's plot.[37] Since the screenplay was original, Eon Productions and Glidrose Publications authorised the film's writer, Christopher Wood, to produce his second novelization based upon a film; entitled James Bond and Moonraker.[38]

Elements used (2002)

Elements of Moonraker were also used in the 2002 film Die Another Day, with Blades being the club in the film. During the DVD commentary, actress Rosamund Pike mentions that her character, Miranda Frost, was originally to have been named Gala Brand.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Benson 1988, p. 98-99.
  2. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 58.
  3. ^ a b c Black 2005, p. 16.
  4. ^ a b Black 2005, p. 81.
  5. ^ Black 2005, p. 20.
  6. ^ Black 2005, p. 17.
  7. ^ Black 2005, p. 22.
  8. ^ Barnes & Hearn 2003, p. 130.
  9. ^ a b Lycett 1996, p. 253.
  10. ^ a b Lycett 1996, p. 254.
  11. ^ Lycett 1996, p. 281.
  12. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 88.
  13. ^ Chancellor 2005, p. 113.
  14. ^ Longden 2009, p. 312.
  15. ^ Black 2005, p. 64.
  16. ^ Black 2005, p. 23.
  17. ^ a b c Lycett 1996, p. 257.
  18. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 180.
  19. ^ Fleming 2006, p. vi.
  20. ^ a b c d Griswold 2006, p. 105.
  21. ^ a b Chancellor 2005, p. 56.
  22. ^ a b c Benson 1988, p. 11.
  23. ^ Benson 1988, p. 11-12.
  24. ^ a b Symons, Julian Gustave (20 May 1955). "On the Shady Side". The Times Literary Supplement. p. 265. 
  25. ^ a b Richardson, Maurice (24 April 1955). "Crime off the ration". The Observer. p. 15. 
  26. ^ a b c Corke, Hilary (19 May 1955). "New Novels". The Listener. p. 903. 
  27. ^ "Display Advertising". The Listener. 5 May 1955. 
  28. ^ "Display Advertising". The Times. 28 April 1955. p. 16. 
  29. ^ a b Manola, Al (16 October 1955). "Coroner's Verdict". The Washington Post. p. E7. 
  30. ^ Chapman 2009, p. 98.
  31. ^ p.187 Hearn, Marcus & Archer, Simon What Made Thunderbirds Go!: The Authorized Biography of Gerry Anderson Hearn, Marcus & Archer, Simon BBC, 2002
  32. ^ "Bob Holness on Game Shows". Retrieved 14 September 2007. 
  33. ^ Roberts, Andrew (8 November 2006). "The Bond bunch". The Independent. p. 14. 
  34. ^ Fleming, Gammidge & McLusky 1988, p. 6.
  35. ^ "The James Bond Omnibus Vol.1 (Paperback)"., Inc. Retrieved 12 September 2011. 
  36. ^ Barnes & Hearn 2001, p. 134.
  37. ^ Inside Moonraker (DVD). MGM Interactive Inc. 
  38. ^ "007 Magazine: A Complete Bibliography". Retrieved 16 September 2007. 
  39. ^ Rosamund Pike, DVD commentary, Die Another Day, MGM Home Entertainment, 2003


External links[edit]