Staff Review by Chris Saliba
Ian Fleming’s only novel for children is a fun adventure with lots of humour thrown in for good measure. Enjoy the Potts family’s adventures in their magical car and their triumph over baddies like Joe the Monster.
So many famous novels, it seems, start out as bedtime stories that their authors originally told their children. Think of classics like The Wind in the Willows and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Ian Fleming, best known for James Bond, told his son Caspar the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every night before bed. While recovering from a heart attack a friend suggested Fleming write up the bedtime story into a novel. He set to his task with vigour, but unfortunately did not live to see his book into publication.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the Magical Car
Everyone, it’s safe to say, pretty much knows the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. A dilapidated car in a junk yard is bought by mad inventor Commander Caractacus Pott, known somewhat affectionately by the locals as ‘Crackpot’. He is married to Mimsie and has two children, Jeremy and Jemima. Commander Pott immediately starts making the necessary repairs to the car, but also notices that the car is making intriguing changes itself. It seems that the car, which Pott names Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because of the sounds it makes, has a mind of her own. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a magical car that can fly and also sail, delighting the family with its extraordinary versatility. The car is soon leading the Pott family into some magnificent adventures, culminating in the busting of a gang involved in all sorts of illegal underground exploits.
Lots of Villainous Fun with Joe the Monster
Ian Fleming’s only children’s novel doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a lighthearted caper. The only moral is that the good end happily and the bad unhappily, fulfilling Oscar Wilde’s ironic prerequisite for fiction. While Fleming’s novel is not ironic, its pantomime-villains are certainly delicious fun, as are the novel’s crime set pieces. The leader of the gangsters is Joe the Monster, built like an ape but with a mincing turn of phrase. When he cleverly abducts Jeremy and Jemima (bundling them up in their bed sheets as they sleep and holding them aloft as though they were bags of lollies), he addresses them as ‘duckies’ and ‘kiddies’. The scenes where Joe the Monster forces the children into helping him rob Monsieur Bon Bon’s famous Parisian chocolate shop are hilarious. Again, another nice touch for Joe the Monster and his cronies Soapy Sam, Bloody-Money Banks and Man-Mountain Fink: you don’t think of toughened thugs wanting to rob a fancy chocolate shop.
I’ve not read any of the James Bond novels, so this is my first Ian Fleming book. If I didn’t know anything of the Bond novels, I’d say he was first and foremost a natural children’s story teller. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is full of adventure, fun and humour. Fleming doesn’t stray too much from the English values of derring-do and basic uprightness of character, but that in no way makes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang anachronistic or chauvinistic. It’s all good fun, with a wink and a nudge thrown in for adult readers. It put me in a very cheerful mood indeed.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming. Published by Macmillan. ISBN: 9781447213758 RRP: $14.99