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.