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Literature / Moonraker

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The third James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published in 1955.

Bond is tasked to teach one Hugo Drax a lesson in a game of Bridge, so he'll stop cheating and avert a possible scandal. Afterwards, he has to investigate strange going-ons in Drax's project to develop a ballistic missile for the British Government.

The novel avoids several features of what would come to be regarded as the typical James Bond adventure. Instead of an exotic foreign location, it's set entirely in the Home Counties of England. The course of Bond's relationship with the main female character also doesn't go as one might expect.

All of which, along with the fact that the plot is built around a technology that was cutting-edge in 1955 but already behind the times when the film franchise started, goes some way toward explaining why the eleventh James Bond film has very little to do with the book, only sharing its title and the Big Bad's name. Some elements from the book would eventually make its way into the seventeenth film in the series, GoldenEye, and others into the twentieth film, Die Another Day.

Not to be confused with James Bond and Moonraker, the novelization of the aforementioned film, written by Christopher Wood.

This novel contains examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: A German technician's last actions before he commits suicide are to salute and yell "Heil!" It turns out that Hugo Drax and his men are in fact Nazis who have been hiding under new identities since World War II.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Subverted with the radiation example (no. 4) of the trope; the nuclear explosion is passed off as a conventional one to cover up Drax's plot. The radiation had blown north.
  • Ate His Gun: Egon Bartsch, the scientist who killed the original chief of security of Drax's base killed himself this way after the deed.
  • Beardness Protection Program:
    • Drax has his underlings shave their heads and grow moustaches, meaning they can later disguise themselves by shaving off their moustaches and letting their hair grow out.
    • Also played straight, as the scientists working on Drax's rocket are all German, and former Nazis. Drax even mentions that with their heads shaved and with the mustaches in place, no one recognizes them.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: In the final scenes, Bond is covered with bandages. There's no mention of Gala being in an equivalent condition, even though they went through the same ordeal. (Justified, to an extent, as some of the time Bond was intentionally shielding her with his body.)
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Bond fakes one up to cover the fact that he and Gala are still in the base.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hugo Drax's plan is circumvented, but there is still collateral damage in three-digit casualties and they're not all bad guys. James is surprised and disappointed to learn that Gala is already engaged.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Instead of killing Bond and Gala right away, Drax leaves them to be killed by the blast from the Moonraker, giving them the opportunity to escape and foil his Evil Plan.
  • Bottle Episode: This is the only novel to be set entirely inside the United Kingdom; in fact the action never leaves London and Kent.
  • British Teeth: Sir Hugo Drax is often described with very crooked and distended teeth. Part of it is explainable from the war incident that scarred his face. Subverted in that Drax is revealed to be German, not the British Rags to Riches dockworker he claimed to be. Bond speculates that the crooked teeth stem from Drax's childhood thumb-sucking.
  • Broken Pedestal: Bond saw Drax as a famed British war hero and admired him until finding out about his Nazi past and scheme to destroy England
  • Car Chase: A much more action-packed one than what Casino Royale offered, though it ends just as badly for Bond.
  • Character Tics: Drax tends to bite his fingernails when he gets nervous. Bond notes during the bridge game at Blades that all of them have been gnawed down to the quick.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Drax wins thousands of pounds at the Blades Club by cheating at bridge. Bond stops him by cheating in his own way, switching in a stacked deck.
  • Complexity Addiction: Drax's entire plan of assembling an all-German team of scientists, using them to construct a highly experimental rocket missile and aiming it at London without arousing suspicion falls into this, especially considering the rocket could easily have malfunctioned and either exploded mid-air or landed off-course. Simply having a nuclear bomb smuggled into his Belgravia flat would have been less hassle. Justified however as Drax is trying to create an epic masterpiece in humiliating Britain and simply letting off a nuke out of nowhere wouldn't be nearly as satisfying.
  • Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story: Hugo Drax adopted the identity of one of the countless British servicemen missing in action in the aftermath of a large battle in WWII. The identity he assumes was that of an orphan with no close friends, who by sheer coincidence happened to have a name that was remarkably close to his real one (Graf Hugo von der Drache).
  • Cool Car: Drax drives a Mercedes 300 S, which Bond describes as "ruthless and majestic". 007 himself owns a 1930 Bentley Coupé, in which he chases Drax towards the end of the book. It's also an automotive example of a National Weapon, as Drax drives in a German Mercedes while 007 drives in a British Bentley.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Drax chooses to dispose of Bond and Gala Brand by leaving them to be incinerated by the Moonraker's exhaust on lift-off. Incidentally, this is one of the few bits that made it into the 1979 film.
  • Damsel in Distress: Gala Brand is a notable aversion; she proves to be as important to foiling Drax's plot as Bond (it's actually her that discovers that the rocket is to be fired at London) and while she does get captured, Bond also does shortly afterwards.
  • Dangerously Loaded Cargo: Invoked. During a car chase, Drax has his henchman climb onto a lorry and cut its load free, sending it into the path of Bond's car.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Sir Hugo Drax was born in Germany as Graf Hugo von der Drache. Because his mother was English, Drax was educated in England until the age of 12. He served as a Skorzeny Werwolf commando in WWII. After the Ardennes offensive he stayed behind Allied lines when their forces crossed the Rhine and started operating in the Low Countries with his commando group. During a mission, he dressed as a British soldier so that he could sabotage and destroy a farmhouse holding a mixed liaison group of American and British servicemen, but he ended up at the same farm after being attacked by his own fighter because he was wearing a British uniform. While he was still conscious, he managed to destroy his motorbike and documents. Later he was found and brought to the farm, so he was caught in the explosion and nearly killed. He was then rescued by the British and nursed back to health, faking amnesia and claiming to be a "missing soldier" by the name of Hugo Drax.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Drax, in reality a former Nazi soldier, has masqueraded as a proud, distinguishable Briton for the past several years after he was "rescued" in his British military disguise, stole the identity of a missing British soldier, and faked amnesia to justify not remembering his pre-World War II life.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Bond and M both note that Drax is so wealthy that he'd have absolutely no reason to cheat at cards. Bond theorizes that he suffers from an inferiority complex since childhood and feels a need to dominate others even in needless circumstances.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Bond runs into a case of this with Gala at the end, where it's revealed that she's engaged. Bond playfully dismisses to her any serious romantic interest he might have shown for her, but it's clear that he's actually hurt by the revelation. This results in a Bittersweet Ending.
  • The Dragon: Willy Krebs, Drax's right-hand man.
  • Evil Gloating: Apart from peppering his Motive Rant with this, Drax also tells Bond he has left a detailed account of his real life with a Scottish law firm, intending it to be revealed to the British public the day after his nuclear attack on London.
  • Evil Is Petty: The first sign that Drax is a bad'un is when he cheats at cards even though the amounts involved are trivial to a man of his wealth. To him, the amounts are immaterial beside the fact that he just plain hates to be beaten. TO show how evil he is, he casually rams a passing Alfa Romeo off the road when it passes his car, with Bond watching in horror as the driver met a grisly end. Even worse, the driver was a 19-year-old RAF pilot who was just taking his customized car out for a ride.
  • Evil Plan: Nuke London.
  • Exact Words:
    • When Drax asks Bond if he's read the files on his staff yet, Bond's response is "Didn't have the key to the filing cabinet" - technically correct, but neglecting to mention that he broke into the cabinet without needing the key.
    • Drax's speech before the launch is a masterpiece of double entendre. It's full of completely sincere patriotic sentiment, but the British listeners never twig that Drax's references to "my country" actually mean Germany.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Gala does the internal monologue version of this trope as she does the math and figures out the new coordinates for the Moonraker will drop it in the middle of London.
  • Fan Disservice: There is a scene in which both Bond and Gala are naked. However, it's because their clothes have been ripped off in a cliff explosion that was set by the bad guys in an attempt to kill them, and the first thing that they do when they come around is puke from the shock. They spend the next few minutes washing off the blood and chalk dust, and then get dressed without any sexual contact whatever.
  • Fixing the Game: Drax cheats at bridge by using the reflection on his cigarette case to sneak a look at the cards he deals to the other players. With the assent of the club's management, who want Drax put on notice without the embarrassment of a public accusation, Bond beats him with a stacked deck, carefully arranged so that the cards Drax will be able to see will mislead him as to their respective chances.
  • Food Porn: Bond and M's dinner at Blades is one of the most mouthwatering meals in all the Bond books. For the record, M has caviar, followed by devilled kidneys and bacon with spring vegetables, and strawberries in kirsch; Bond has smoked salmon, followed by lamb cutlets, asparagus with Béarnaise sauce, and a slice of pineapple.
  • Freudian Excuse: Drax is an ex-Nazi saboteur who wants to destroy England for the wartime defeat of his fatherland and the social slights he suffered as a youth growing up in an English boarding school before the war. Due to this, he developed an inferiority complex that drives him to dominate others even in unnecessary situations, but Bond points out that it has made him a mental case due to his delusions.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Bond gives a recount of Drax's life, specifically noting how being bullied because he sucked his thumb as a child, on top of the Nazi fanaticism he still adheres to, drove him to develop delusions of jealousy and revenge. Bond concludes with how it made him a paranoid monster.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Half of Drax's face is badly scarred from a German attack during WWII. Plastic surgery has rectified it somewhat, but the scar is still noticeable.
  • Gratuitous German: A lot of dubious German is (naturally) used, as ex-Nazi villains play a prominent part. Most memorably, Krebs and Drax's other henchmen will frequently address their boss as "Herr Kapitän," or "Captain." The problem is that Drax was an infantry captain in the Heer (army), and later Waffen-SS in his glory days, while Kapitän specifically denotes a naval captain in German. Better researched Nazis would have addressed Drax either as Herr Hauptmann (an army captain) or Hauptsturmführer (an SS captain).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Defied. Bond's initial plan to stop the Moonraker from nuking London is to manually sabotage and blow it up at the launch site, but with Gala's help, he's able to alter its launch coordinates instead.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Drax cheats at bridge using a shiny cigarette case as a mirror, so he can see who gets which cards when he deals. Bond turns the tables on him by sneaking in a stacked deck, causing him to lose 15,000 pounds in the final game.
    • Big time, as the rocket he planned to destroy London with is reprogrammed to strike the area that his escorting submarine is going through.
    • This is how he ended up where he is in the first place. After sending his Werwolf unit to bomb an Allied base, he ended up getting strafed by a German plane (due to wearing a British uniform), and while unconscious he was found by British soldiers who, thinking he was one of their own, took him to the hospital wing of the very base his men were just about to bomb.
  • Hope Crusher: Drax made himself into a national hero and Britain's most popular philanthropist so he could destroy the collective spirit of England when his nuke lands on London.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: Hugo Drax is actually a Nazi saboteur whose real name is Graf Hugo von der Drache and masqueraded as a war hero for the past several years after he was "rescued" in his British military disguise, stole the identity of a missing soldier, and faked amnesia to justify not remembering his pre-WWII life. By sheer coincidence, the "Drax" surname he adopted happens to be surprisingly close to his real one. The only thing known about the real Hugo Drax was that he was an orphan who was MIA during the war.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Bond does this to Hugo Drax in a desperate attempt to make him forget about a cigarette lighter and blowtorch on his desk (the latter intended to be used in torturing Bond and Gala). It works, and Bond uses the items to free himself and Gala.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique:
    • Bond inflicts this on Krebs with a mineral-water bottle, but Krebs manages to escape before Bond can extract anything useful.
    • Later, Drax plans a much nastier version for Bond and Gala, but Bond actually defies it by telling Drax everything he wants to know (this causes Drax to become overconfident and leave them alive for an elaborate Death Trap, instead of just shooting them).
  • Jerkass: Bond describes Drax as a "bullying, boorish, and loud-mouthed vulgarian" who makes an ostentatious display of wealth and is lacking in refinement.
    • His attempts to cheat at the card game at the Blades Club is one blatant example, though Bond one-ups him by switching in a stacked deck.
    • To prove how evil he is, he casually rams a passing car off the road, with Bond watching in horror as the driver gets killed. Even worse, the other driver was a young pilot who was only taking his customized car out for a ride.
  • Kerbstomp Battle: Bond's bridge game against Drax, thanks to slipping in a loaded deck. The chairman of Blades, upon seeing Bond's hand, declares the only possibility to be "sheer murder".
  • Literal Asskicking: When Bond finds Krebs rummaging through his stuff, he gives a swift kick to the arse.
  • Mad Eye: The surgery around Drax's left eye was a disaster, as the missing skin make it seem larger in appearance and perpetually bloodshot. Bond wonders if he can properly close it, and in an official audiobook, read by Bill Nighy, there's a constant stress to his voice even when he seems to be having a good time.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Bond suspects the landslide he narrowly survives with Gala of being this trope. He spots a puff of smoke from an explosive detonation at the scene, and he later finds that Drax has "forgotten" to set places for him and Gala at dinner.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Two such crimes - Drax's cheating at Blades, and the murder of security chief Major Tallon - are the only reasons Bond gets involved with the Moonraker project at all.
  • Motive Rant: Drax gives Bond an epic one when he has him tied up and defenceless. Bond responds by taunting Drax into a Villainous Breakdown, which gives him the opportunity he needs to free himself and Gala.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Because Bond sees Gala's personnel file during his preparatory briefing, we have a unique clinical description of a Bond Girl's physical appearance. She has auburn hair, blue eyes, is 5'7" tall, weighs 9 stone (126 lb) and her measurements are 38-26-38. Plus, she has a mole on the upper curvature of her right breast. Alas for him, she's engaged to someone else.
  • New Era Speech: Drax gives one near the end before leaving the confused audience.
    "Your majesty, men and women of England", the voice was a velvet snarl. "I am about to change the course of England's history." A pause. "In a few minutes' time the lives of all of you will be altered, in some cases, ahem, drastically, by the, er, impact of the Moonraker. I am very proud and pleased that fate has singled me out, from amongst all my fellow countrymen, to fire this great arrow of vengeance into the skies and thus to proclaim for all time, and for all the world to witness, the might of my fatherland. I hope this occasion will be forever a warning that the fate of my country's enemies will be written in dust, in ashes, in tears and", a pause, "in blood. And now thank you all for listening and I sincerely hope that those of you who are able will repeat my words to your children, if you have any, tonight".
  • Non Violent Initial Confrontation: Bond and Drax first meet over a rigged game of bridge.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Unsurprisingly for a Nazi, Drax harbors anti-Semitic beliefs, as seen by how he fondly recalls beating a Jewish banker to death after the war and in his bullying of his partner, Meyer, during the poker game with Bond. He also throws a huge tirade against England to Bond and Gala when they've been captured.
    I loathe and despise you all. You swine! Useless, idle, decadent, fools, hiding behind your bloody white cliffs while other people fight your battles. Too weak to defend your colonies, toadying to America with your hats in your hands. Stinking snobs who'll do anything for money. Hah!
  • Ransacked Room: Both Bond and Gala are victims of Krebs' ransacking during their stay at the Moonraker base, with Gala noting that her mail has been tampered with.
  • Red Right Hand: Aside from the singled out ones, Drax also has unnaturally long thumbs and badly splayed front teeth, the latter believed to be due to childhood thumb-sucking.
  • Relocating the Explosion: Bond and Gala end up programming new co-ordinates into the Moonraker, so it misses its intended target of London and instead detonates over the point in the sea where Drax is rendezvousing with SMERSH.
  • The Reveal: Drax is revealed to be a Nazi working for the Communists, with plans to nuke London.
  • Self-Made Man: Drax managed to go from a discharged soldier with no possessions or social connections to a multi-millionaire in the space of five years after the end of the war (quite impressive, considering even Blofeld was "only" making 50,000 quid per year as head of SPECTRE prior to Operation Thunderball). He accomplished this by using the business knowledge from his secret Nazi Nobleman past, along with some seed money he got from secretly robbing and murdering a Jewish banker in London.
  • Serious Business: M gets Bond to beat Drax at cards as a way of deterring him from further cheating, because Drax is a national hero and such a scandal over petty fraud could ruin him.
  • Shown Their Work: Fleming asked his fellow correspondent on The Sunday Times, Anthony Terry, for information on the Second World War German resistance force—the Werewolves—and German V-2 rockets. The latter was a subject on which he wrote to Arthur C. Clarke and the British Interplanetary Society. Fleming also visited the Wimpole Street psychiatrist Eric Strauss to discuss the traits of megalomaniacs; Strauss lent him the book Men of Genius, which provided the link between megalomania and childhood thumb-sucking. Fleming used this information to give Drax diastema, a common result of thumb-sucking.
  • Signs of Disrepair: Bond sees a neon sign from a viewpoint that partially obscures it: SUMMER SHELL IS HERE.
  • Smart People Play Chess: M describes a character at Blades who's an absolute killer at the cards — playing against other members of the club — and "used to play chess for England".
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: It gets several pages' worth of backstory, lots more Scenery Porn descriptions, and according to M, there are so many varieties of food available that only people who have no imagination bother looking at the menus.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: While in Blades, Bond ponders whether his job as a Professional Killer makes him somehow different from his fellow countrymen, and feels that the people in the club can somehow sense this about him
  • Technology Porn: The natural conclusion of Fleming's love for detail, combined with fifties Britain's anxiety about maintaining power (especially nuclear power) on the international stage. The Moonraker gets page after page dedicated to explaining how it works, even though The Professor explaining it to Bond promises he'll keep it short because Bond isn't a scientist.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Bond and Willy Krebs are compared to Hoagy Carmichael and Peter Lorre, respectively.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Drax served in one of the Werwolf sabotage and infiltration units established by the Nazis during WWII to slow down the Allied forces in Germany.
  • Torture Technician: Krebs and possibly Dr. Walter, as described by Drax. Fortunately, we never get to see them exercising their talents.
  • Treachery Cover Up: Bond's unofficial "mission" at Blades, as mentioned, is a small-scale version of this. A full-sized one is later initiated with Hugo Drax's whole identity and plot to nuke London kept out of the press, so to not panic the public.
  • Tuckerization: Fleming named Drax after his acquaintance Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.
  • Two-Faced: The left side of Drax's face burned during the war. Plastic surgery managed to fix it somewhat, but it still has some noticeable puckering. Also a metaphorical reference to his true status as a Nazi who sought revenge against Britain for the destruction of his country by masquerading himself as an English gentleman.
  • Unfortunate Names: Gala's father named her after a ship he had served on in the Royal Navy, leading to no end of teasing as she grew up. She was only too glad to shorten it once she started taking undercover assignments in the Special Branch.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: The first chapter has Bond in a quick-drawing training. He puts the other "guy" (a cardboard target) in hospital, but is "killed". The whole thing is designed to put the shooter at as much of a disadvantage as possible, using poor lighting and a target that pops up for only a few seconds before "shooting" back.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Drax's rags-to-riches story and generous philanthropy has earned him the acclaim of the British populace. Even Bond admires him before learning that he's a Nazi saboteur seeking revenge against England for the destruction of his people.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The Blades sequence has no impact on the main rocket missile plot, although it does serve as an extended intro for Sir Hugo Drax, as well as giving M some much-needed characterisation.
  • You're Insane!: Drax has Bond tied up at the base of his rocket to be incinerated during its launch. Bond takes the opportunity to recount Drax's life as he's gathered the info, in all its ugly, humiliating detail, to conclude how it's made him such a mental case. Bond's intent is to enrage Drax enough to overlook what Bond needs to escape (a blowtorch and cigarette lighter). It works.
    Bond: It's a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge. Curiously enough, it may have something to do with your teeth. Diastema, they call it. Comes from sucking your thumb when you're a child. Yes. I expect that's what the psychologists will say when they get you into the lunatic asylum. "Ogre's teeth." Being bullied at school and so on. Extraordinary the effect it has on a child. Then Nazism helped to fan the flames and then came the crack on your ugly head. The crack you engineered yourself. I expect that settled it. From then on you were really mad. Same sort of thing as people who think they're God. Extraordinary what tenacity they have. Absolute fanatics. You're almost a genius. Lombroso would have been delighted with you. As it is you're just a mad dog that'll have to be shot. Or else you'll commit suicide. Paranoiacs generally do. Too bad. Sad business. And now let's get on with this farce, you great hairy-faced lunatic.
  • You Monster!: Bond concludes his "Reason You Suck" Speech to Drax by calling him a "great hairy-faced lunatic" when Drax ranted about his Freudian Excuse.