The Sochi Winter Olympics haven't been short on drama: The Russians upset the South Koreans in figure skating; the Dutch upset us in speed-skating; everybody got upset about Bob Costas's eye infection. But after two weeks and a great deal of curling, a certain amount of Sochi fatigue is setting in. So it might be refreshing to look back at one of the iconic heroes of winter sports: Agent 007 himself, James Bond.
Bond's career as a winter athlete peaks in Ian Fleming's 11th novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond's nemesis Blofeld, having spent his ill-gotten gains on an alp, has set himself up in a remote, super-exclusive ski resort near St. Moritz (which happens to be the site of both the 1928 and 1948 winter Olympics). Bond decides to infiltrate the place. It doesn't hurt that the resort doubles as a health spa for ski bunnies who appear to be suffering from chronic sexiness. "You ski perhaps?" they ask Bond. "Or make the bob-sleigh?"
When his cover is blown Bond escapes in a brilliant nighttime ski chase, schussing down the virgin slopes under a hail of flares and grenades and gunfire — "he pointed his skis down and felt real rapture as, like a black bullet on the giant slope, he zoomed down the 45-degree drop." Later Bond races Blofeld on a skeleton sled down a bobsled run while firing his Walther PPK, a maneuver they might consider adding to the next biathlon.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the epitome of mid-century Alpine glamor, full of apres-ski trysts and flasks full of schnapps and blonds in tight sweaters and exciting-sounding Swiss-German ski terminology like langlaufing. But what makes it truly great is that unlike the Bond films, it's not a hymn to human invulnerability. Bond's knees tremble; his ankles ache; he's constantly worrying about his outdated skiing style and lousy form — "keep forward, you bastard!" he tells himself. "Get your hands way in front of you!"
It's not a victory lap, it's a cautionary tale about human fragility in the face of cold, merciless, frictionless ice and snow.
Which is after all, what makes the winter Olympics so thrilling in the first place. That and the curling.
Lev Grossman is the author of The Magicians trilogy. The final book, The Magician's Land, comes out in August.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This weekend the Winter Olympics in Sochi wrap up. The games have been dramatic: a Russian upset of South Korea in figure skating; the Dutch upset the U.S. in speed skating; and lots of TV viewers were upset by Bob Costas and his ill-timed eye infection.
We're going to mark the end of these games now a little prematurely with author Lev Grossman. He has a look back at one of the great heroes of winter sports, 007.
LEV GROSSMAN: James Bond's career as a winter athlete hit its peak in Ian Fleming's novel "On her Majesty's Service." Bond's nemesis, Ernst Blofeld, has spent his ill-gotten gains on an Alp. That's right, he bought a mountain, and he built himself a remote, super-exclusive ski resort on top. It's near San Moritz, where the 1928 and '48 Winter Olympics were held.
So Bond decides to infiltrate the place. It doesn't hurt that the resort doubles as a health spa for ski bunnies who appear to be suffering from chronic sexiness. You ski, perhaps, they ask Bond, or make the bob sleigh. When his cover is blown, Bond escapes in a brilliant nighttime ski chase under a hail of flares, grenades and gunfire.
He pointed his skis down, Fleming writes, and felt real rapture as, like a black bullet on the giant slope, he zoomed down the 45-degree drop. Later Bond races Blofeld down a bobsled run on skeleton sleds while firing his Walter PPK. Let them try that at the Sochi biathlon.
"On her Majesty's Service" is the epitome of Alpine glamour, but what makes it truly great is that, unlike in the films, Bond is human. His knees tremble. His ankles ache. He's constantly worrying about his lousy skiing form. Keep forward, he tells himself. Get your hands way in front of you.
It's not a victory lap; it's a cautionary tale about human fragility in the face of ice and snow, which is what makes the Winter Olympics so thrilling in the first place, that and the curling.
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SIEGEL: The book is "On her Majesty's Service" by Ian Fleming. It was recommended by author Lev Grossman. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.