Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Book for Our Epically-Challenged Times

If you agree with me about the value of epics, and have decided to experience an inspiring epic for yourself, one book to check out is Atlas Shrugged.

Published in 1957, and written by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged is a novel of epic scope. Its style, like epics of the past, is similarly elevated in terms of the language it uses and the symbols it employs.

Should you open the book up, however, you will not read of a world where Dawn’s “rose-red fingers” blaze across the sky; Ayn Rand’s fiction, like the reality we live in, is a world where humans and specifically that which makes them human—their minds—create everything of value.

This role of the mind is actually the theme of the novel, and it’s expressed in part via two of the book's main story lines: the struggle of Dagny Taggart to keep a transcontinental railroad profitable in spite of ever more shackles put on it by the government and of Hank Rearden to discover a new type of metal and then to produce it while the men he pays and the material he owns by right are increasingly controlled by Washington bureaucrats.

The theme is also expressed via the struggle of one man to show the world who relies on whom, and what all the things that keep men alive depend on. He will show it by taking it away, leaving men free to see what happens in a world where those who use their minds are absent. And then he will advise them what to do, saying, in part, to those who want to live:

In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.

Atlas Shrugged is not the only modern epic that offers inspiration to those who need it. Others, such as James Clavell’s Asian Saga, Ken Follett’s The World Without End, or the Korean TV series Dae Jang Geum, do the same--showing virtuous characters facing enormous challenges, over decades, and winning.

But in combining the epic story with the specific message to fight for your values, and the knowledge that this is the right thing to do, Atlas is one book for our epically- (let alone ethically-) challenged times.

Whether you choose to read Atlas, or watch Dae Jang Geum, or dive into the awesomeness of James Clavell's Shogun, however, I highly recommend finding some epic, one that you can enjoy and one that inspires to make your life better. 

No comments:

Post a Comment