Waiter, There’s a Political Screed in My Soup

When I was 12 or so, I got a book at some school event. This was the book:


I found it incredibly compelling. I read it through, and then one night at dinner I casually said, "You know, I think Jesus must have been a pretty good guy."

Note: if you want to freak out your Jewish suburban parents circa 1977, and I mean freak them out absolutely and completely, this is how to do it.

A long lecture followed, about PROPAGANDA and PROSELYTIZING and THE COURAGE OF YOUR CONVICTIONS (though I must say I was altogether lacking in religious conviction).

I did think about what they said: had I been sneakily convinced that Christianity was good because I read a good novel? I wasn't sure.

And that was pretty much the end of it. It didn't end up being a book I reread often, though whether that's because it was "disappeared" or I was interested in other things I don't remember.

And I didn't think much about it until this weekend.

We had to clean up the rooms, which involves moving beds and finding 30 or 40 books wedged against the wall.

We found this:


It ended up inside my bag, and then I ended up on an endless series of subway rides. Who can tell how these things happen?

I thought it might be excellent. I figured, Girl Power! I figured, hey, it was in my house, how bad can it be?

If we can believe Wikipedia, this book was written to put Ayn Rand's Objectivist Philosopy into terms that children could understand. (Wait, isn't that what The Fountainhead is for? Oh snap!)

Conveying Objectivism to children would be a lot easier if Mr. Nelson were more skilled as a writer. The book has many problems, among them a weird emotional disconnect—the set up involves an adult-clearing plague that leaves all the 12 and unders fighting for survival, but they don't seem particularly sad, which is a bit odd. I mean, maybe if I were one of a few billion dead grownups my kids would react with an "Oh well. Now, how can we find soda pop and protect ourselves from marauding gangs?" But I think there would be some emotional pain there.

Even if there weren't any pain, I can't imagine that in a world of children the dialogue would be quite so stilted. "You know, Lisa, if I could choose any kind of life in this mess, I think I would want a farm. Growing things is such great. fun."

And then there's the whole Objectivism thing.

It's tricky for me. Because sure, for some people their joy comes from work and finding solutions and self-reliance and all that sort of thing. But it's an awfully punishing philosophy toward the weak and the less intelligent and really anyone who isn't the achieving sort. And let me say that some of my most beloved humans are the less achieving sort.

That's not to mention the one-note simplistic aspect of things, and the (to me) misguided belief that we have total control over and responsibility for our circumstances. How does this take into account people born into repressive regimes, and devastating poverty?

So are my kids objectivists now? Diana said, "It wasn't very good." Chestnut said, "It was really interesting." Did it make them think differently? Not in any discernible way. Maybe propagandists should focus more on people who are paying attention? Or maybe they should just find better writers.

6 thoughts on “Waiter, There’s a Political Screed in My Soup

  1. I loved this book as a ten year old, but still love dystopia as a genre – from ‘1984’ to ‘The Road’. I do remember thinking it had a pretty harsh ending. I had no idea it was intended to be anything other than a kids story, but I never figured out the christian subtext to The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe until it was pointed out, either….


  2. I actually reread the Bronze Bow just recently I was looking for the Witch of Blackbird Pond, but it wasn’t in, so grabbed this one instead. I’d totally forgotten about it. You know what? It’s really pretty good.


  3. Yes, I remember it as being pretty good too, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond was good so it makes sense, but I only read it the once and remember mostly the scene where the girl doesn’t stint on her own serving the way the main character’s mother does.
    I wonder what Speare’s relationship to religion was/is; it’s a big deal in both books.


  4. I don’t remember The Bronze Bow, but I’m going to check it out for my son. As for the children’s version of Ayn Rand — yikes — I’m not sure that I’d even touch it! I can still remember reading The Fountainhead in college and feeling cold, stone cold, after I was finished.


  5. I am so late to this conversation but had to say, after your first paragraph I was already remembering that time in early high school when I innocently and randomly plucked The Fountainhead off a bookshelf and got completely snowed by it, proclaiming decisively to my mother that the book was GENIUS, which prompted an earful from my mom who was all um, you KNOW what that book is about, right? Right. This is how I have come to believe that Randians are all stuck somewhere between 9th and 10th grade, developmentally speaking.


  6. And yet, a truly decent and smart person I know STILL loves The Fountainhead, and thinks it is brilliant. I think there is a certain earnestness that is necessary, a belief that people and the world they live in are very different from what I have experienced, if that makes any sense.


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