In my last column I reasoned how an Icelandic nursery rhyme may have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic adventure The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy (I watched The Hobbit with my brothers yesterday and was not disappointed).
In this column I will discuss how Ian Fleming may have based his immortal character James Bond, the ever handsome, classy and cunning agent on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, on an Icelandic farmer’s son turned spy.
I was furious when I read Rolling Stone’s reasoning that the latest Bond movie Skyfall was the fifth best ever—because the otherwise infallible 007 cries!—and at the same time trashing all the best Bond movies for having a sense of humor.
Enough with the Americanization of a beautifully faulty character already… who cares about his never-before-mentioned boyhood trauma and mother complexes towards M?
This charming hybrid of an English gentleman and ruthless womanizer needs no psycho analysis. Give him a license to kill, vodka martini shaken-not-stirred, crazy gadgets, fast cars, exotic scenery, deceitful and stunning Bond girls and a bad guy with a mad master plan to take over the world (not because he also has mother complexes towards M, though, as Skyfall will have you believe).
With Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman no longer at the helm, the Bond movies have lost their touch. Not least with the characterless Daniel Craig turning the sophisticated spy into a typical Hollywood action hero.
With a glint in his eyes and non-politically correct joke on his lips, Roger Moore uses his wits rather than his muscles to conquer his enemies—and the ladies.
My favorite Bond film is probably Octopussy (1983), which I watched about a million times in my youth.
The fascinating setting of India, wild animals, secret order of powerful women, alligator submarine, silky saris, sparkling jewelry and a colorful circus with the most romantic Bond song, ‘All Time High,’ in the background never fail to thrill me.
Only recently have I started to appreciate Sean Connery’s cooler approach to 007, which is probably closer to how Fleming envisioned him. Goldfinger (1964) truly is a classic. But to me, it’s not as entertaining as the Moore films.
So what about the Icelandic connection?
Like Bond’s mortal enemy Ernst Blofeld, Icelanders are plotting to take over the world. Not by blowing it (although PBS has predicted as much) up but by slowly but surely claiming all its best pieces of fiction.
Lord of the Rings I’ve mentioned and we’ve also reported that Disney’s Snow White is ours.
In the same vein, Ingi Hans Jónsson, director of the History Center in Grundarfjörður, has spread the word that one of Fleming’s real-life inspirations, spymaster William Stephenson, was the son of a farmer from Snæfellsnes, West Iceland.
Born near Winnipeg, Canada, in 1896 (or 1897), he was raised by Icelandic couple Kristín Guðlaugsdóttir and Vigfús Stefánsson who moved to the New World from the farm Klungurbrekka on Skógarströnd, as Ingi states in an article on mbl.is.
However, Wikipedia points out that William Samuel Clouston Stanger was born to an Icelandic mother and father from the Orkney Islands, Sara Guðfinna Johnson and William Hunter Stanger.
After Stanger’s death, the boy was adopted by Kristín and Vigfús at an early age and given their Anglicized family name, Stephenson.
Stephenson fought for the Allied Forces in World War I and later became a successful businessman in Canada.
Following the escalating tension in Europe, already in 1936, he started providing the then British opposition MP Winston Churchill with information about Hitler’s plans.
In 1940, Churchill, now Prime Minister, sent Stephenson to New York to secretly establish and operate the British Security Coordination (BSC).
Stephenson also became a close advisor to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Knighted by King George VI in 1945, the spy and spymaster died in 1989 at age 92.
Fleming, who worked with Stephenson, told The Times of London in 1962: “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is ... William Stephenson.”
In Fleming’s biopic Goldeneye, Fleming portrays Stephenson as the real M (he probably never could have imagined Judi Dench playing the part) but there is much to suggest that the spy’s life also proved as inspiration for Bond himself.
For example, as pointed out in an article on grapevine.is, Stephenson’s service number as an infantryman in the Canadian Army in World War I was 007.
Whatever your Bond preferences may be, the next time you watch the resourceful agent save the world, consider his origins. Not whatever childhood trauma the latest screenwriters may have come up with, but rather the real-life characters on which he is based, whose roots may extend as far as rural Snæfellsnes in West Iceland.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org