The notable EPIC FAIL!!! of the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is probably due to audience indifference to a film which is sorely lacking in the "WHIZ! BANG! BOOM!" special effects which wow today's moviegoer. While the premise of Atlas Shrugged is rooted in fantasy elements such as "Magic Pony Power Machine" running on static electricity and invisibililty machines, these fantastic elements don't lend themselves to spectacular special effects and box-office gold. Rather than attempting to film Atlas Shrugged as a mass-market film, the producers should have started off with a crowd pleasing adaptation of Ayn Rand's beloved children's classic The Hobbit, subtitled There and Never Going to Come Back.
Ayn Rand's "Hobbit" starts off with the famous initial sentence, "In a gulch in the mountains, there lived a superman". In the first chapter, we are introduced to Bagby Taggins, a comfort loving moocher who is approached by the wizard Randalf to work on behalf of a coterie of dwafish industrialists who are trying to discover the whereabouts of the obscenely wealthy dragon Smayn. The dwarfs are led by the great Threarden, son of Throark, son of Thrand, better known as Threarden Steelshield, because he has developed an impenetrable metal which promises to undermine all the other armories in the world. Threarden is thwarted by various functionaries and bureaucrats, and is facing bankruptcy... his search for the dragon's hoard is a last-ditch gambit to save his finances. Threarden has received a clue regarding the dragon's whereabouts from his father Throark. Throark was a renowned delver who designed a fabulous underground city- finding a vein of unstable rock in the mountain in which he was building his masterpiece, the safety inspectors insisted that he change the plans, leading Throark to collapse the entire tunnel complex.
After a series of misadventures on the road, Bagby Taggins becomes separated from his companions, in perhaps the best-known sequence of the book. Alone in the dark, he confronts an isolated creature named Galtum, who challenges him to a riddle contest- if Bagby were to lose the contest, his life would be forfeit to Galtum, if he were to win, Galtum would consider leading Bagby to safety, though he would not genuinely consider himself beholden to such a weakling. The tension mounts as Rand describes the contest of wits:
Bagby considered his prospects in a riddle contest with this creature. He had spent many idle, mooching days sitting by the fire with friends, matching wits with his parasitical friends. He sadly considered his now-empty tobacco pouch, and began:
"Spark of Prometheus, Fire of Rand,
Yet it can be held in hand!"
Galtum rocked back and forth on his stony perch, and considered the hours when he sat alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. He considered the great things that came from such hours. When he thought there was a spot of fire alive in his mind--and it was proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression. After his pleasant reminiscences, he shouted, "Cigarette!"
Now it was his turn. He considered the weak moocher before him, and intoned in a scathing voice:
"Foe of all Reason, weakening the mind,
Aiding the parasites, helping the blind."
Bagby only had to consider a moment, because he owed much of his looting, idle existence to the unfortunate tendency of his neighbors to demonstrate... "Altruism!"
Pressed for time in thinking of a suitable riddle, Bagby quickly extemporized:
"I sleep all day, I dance all night.
I'm a lousy parasite."
Galtum's contempt was palpable as he acidly intoned, "Moocher." The game was going on too long, this moocher was taking up too much of his time while producing nothing of benefit to him. Galtum now thought it was time to ask something hard and horrible, a riddle that could only be solved with pure reason, a conundrum that would forever escape the addled, sentimental head of the silly creature before him:
"WHAT... IS... A?
Bagby sat in the dark thinking of all the possible values for A, but not one of them could have adequately answered this question. He had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he ought to know, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened, and that is bad for thinking! His tongue seemed to stick in his mouth. In order to buy time, he decided to begin phrasing his answer, "A is..." He stumbled over his tongue, and began again, "A..."
Bagby was saved by pure luck, for "A is A" was the answer. No matter what anyone tells you, it is axiomatic that A is, indeed, A. It would be an abhorrent rejection of reason and rationality to characterize A as anything other than A. Bagby's fortuitous answer enraged Galtum, it was just this sort of "Moocher's Luck" which led him to sequester himself away from lesser beings.
Bagby now had to think of a question quickly, in order to forestall Galtum's rage. His hand slipped into his pocket and closed on the 1,200 page manifesto he had found in the passageway leading to Galtum's inner sanctum. His inferior brain unable to formulate a better riddle, he asked, "What have I got in my pocket?"
Galtum hissed, "Wretched louse, you must give us three answers to your sub-standard question!" Bagby quickly assented, not having the rational self interest to drive a harder bargain.
"MONEY!" was Galtum's first answer.
Bagby chortled, "Wrong! Guess!"
Galtum considered other possibilities, "GOLD!"
Of course, this was a wrong answer- a moocher could hardly have the foresight to invest in gold, and would, at any rate, be hopelessly wed to the notion of fiat currency.
Galtum was stumped- while his intellect was incredible, his interests were rather one-dimensional, I am afraid. He considered the hedonistic, immoral figure in front of him and guessed, "Cupcakes, or nothing!"
"Both wrong" Bagby chortled. He had, against all odds, beaten a Superman using his underhanded tactics. The thrill of debasing his moral superior filled him with elation. In a rage, Galtum left his odious presence, moving deeper into his isolated lair. In a spot where he kept the few trivial oddments he kept for his amusement, he sought the manuscript he had written, so he could read from it and reassert his feeling of superiority. Upon discovering that his manifesto was missing from his abode, a horrible realization dawned upon him, "Louse! LOOTER!! PARASITE!!! We curses it! We hates it and curses it forever!!!"
With that, Galtum withrew permanently from the world, letting the criminal leeches fend for themselves.
This sequence is perhaps the best known one from Ayn Rand's Hobbit, though Bagby's encounter with a bunch of giant spiders building a trans-sylvan network of webs across the great Mirkwood forest is also a well-known one. After the forest interlude, the encounter with the dragon kicks the tale into narrative overdrive. The approach to the lair of the dragon is lovingly described by Rand:
The land about them grew bleak and barren, though once, as Threarden told them, it had been green and fair, kept untouched, unused and not even as property, but everybody was kept out so that they would live practically like animals. There was little grass, and before long there was neither bush nor tree, and only broken and blackened stumps to speak of ones long vanished. They were come to the Desolation of the Dragon, which was beautiful to Threarden, because from the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man, and this gift was echoed by the fortunate gift of the dragon
In his initial foray into the dragon's den, Bagby steals a golden goblet. The theft of the goblet enrages the dragon. On seeing that the goblet has been stolen, Threarden, son of Throark, son of Thrand, has an epiphany, and renounces his association with the looting Bagby:
"There is more in you of evil than you know, child of the 'kindly' West." Threarden sneered, "Some parasitism and some looterism, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a more morally corrupt world. But, moral or corrupt, I must leave it now, and leave the parasites and lice to their own devices."
With that, Threarden left the despondent Bagby shaking with grief and envy.
After reconciling with Smayn, Threarden tells her of Bagby's guilt, and informs her that he will probably hide in a nearby village, whereupon the dragon metes out her justice on this hotbed of moochers. Upon entering the town, the dragon meets with token resistance, a "grim-voiced" man named Branden seeks to thwart the desire of the dragon. While some critics characterized as "ludicrous and laughable" the idea that the population of a town would sit tight and listen patiently to a sixty-page speech by the town's attacker, it is not inconceivable that the overwhelming personality of a dragon would hold the town's residents enthralled. While the dragon has harsh criticism for all of the lice, looters, and moochers of the town, she has an especially virulent scorn for Branden:
The dragon roared, "I am permanently breaking all personal, professional and business association with you, I hereby withdraw my endorsement of you and your future works and activities. I repudiate you, totally and permanently. Your attitude... can best be described as authority flaunting, unserious and, at times, undignified.
"I am shocked to discover that you are consistently failing to apply to your own personal life and conduct, not only the fundamental philosophical principles of Objectivism, but also the psychological principles you yourself have enunciated and have written and lectured about... you admitted that in many respects you are acting on the basis of unidentified feelings!
"The realization that you are exploiting me intellectually and professionally has been bad enough; that you should also attempt to exploit me financially is grotesquely shocking!"
Branden hung his head in grief and shame, withering under the scrutiny of the dragon. Meekly, he let slip the bow and arrow from his hands. The dragon surveyed the town, and pronounced her judgement:
"I consign you to the flame, like the flame wrested from the corrupt, venal gods by Prometheus, brought as the spark to fire the imagination of Man. I cannot suffer such parasites as yourselves to impinge on my existence."
With that, she brought the Promethean gift to the unworthy people of the town, who meekly accepted her judgement and repudiation.
The book ends with the chastened Bagby sitting in the ruins of the town, to wallow in despondency and guilt, having led the profligate life of a parasitical moocher, and idler, unfit to participate in the coming rebirth of civilization under the principles of enlightened self-interest as embodied in the dragon.
Notes: Any phrases "yoinked" from either the good professor or the Queen of the Objectivists have been yoinked for satirical purposes, so my looting constitutes fair use. In finding Rand quotes to paste into the passage regarding the Desolation of the Dragon, I found this quote, which increased the already great disdain and disgust with which I view Ayn Rand.
Also, while this quote was certainly in my mind as I wrote this, the inspiration for the post was a re-reading of The Hobbit, and the realization that, if Ayn Rand had written it, that Samug would probably have been the hero. At any rate, Bilbo would have been condemned for his (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!) appropriation of the Arkenstone to forestall an unjust battle for purely material gain, and Thorin's greed and mulishness would have been portrayed as virtue and Reason, so called.