Gardener – Harry Potter and John Galt? Isn’t that like apples and apricots?
Writer – The expression is apples and oranges.
Gardener – Whatever.
Writer – Ah, it’s good to be back.
Gardener – Yeah I thought I lost you there. So how can you compare them?
Writer – Compare what?
Gardener – Potter and Galt. You’ve never read Harry Potter!
Writer – But I finished Atlas Shrugged.
Gardener – Maybe you’re not back.
Writer – And I did see a Harry Potter movie.
Gardener – I don’t believe this! The Writer saw the movie but didn’t read the book!
Writer – It happens all the time. Think of all the movies we’ve seen without ever having read the original novels. But that’s not to say I won’t read a Harry Potter book. So many adults were reading J. K Rowling’s children’s books it turned me off. The escalation of the Potter myth through media and merchandise overwhelmed me. I tend to resist popular mercantile movements.
Gardener – Don’t I know it! But our wife, the English teacher and school librarian, says the Harry Potter books are well written.
Writer – And from what I’ve seen – seen, mind you, in a movie – Rowling’s imagination is vivid and without boundaries. She plucks imagery from every corner of mythology – the basilisk and the phoenix were crucial in the film I saw – then adds to her sauce concepts of her own making like muggles. . . although I wonder if she knows the Oxford Dictionary definition of muggle which is an old reference to marijuana? I doubt it since that would make the majority of us muggles potheads!
Gardener – Why anything? This is why. . .
Writer – Do you think we could find a corollary between Rand’s commoners and Rowling’s muggles? That would make the uncommoners magic folk. Dumbledore and Galt!
Gardener – This is why you never get anything written, every word’s a rabbit hole.
Writer – A writer wants to get the most out of a word. A writer of her intelligence wouldn’t forego such a link. I wonder if she drew Potter from Beatrix Potter, the creator of another microcosm.
Gardener – Stop it. We’ll never reach the end if we go on like this.
Writer – As if you don’t try getting the most visual impact out of each planting site!
Gardener – The way Lloyd did and Garret does at Great Dixter.
Writer – What disappointed our wife, the school librarian, was not Rowling’s craftsmanship but the publisher’s book bindings. The hardback books she ordered for the school library lasted two readings, before they unraveled and the kids began loosing the pages. She considered that too costly for a small school!
Gardener – For any school. Is that what you mean by the Harry Potter of Capitalism?
Writer – Isn’t money a kind of broom stick?
Gardener – Forget I asked.
Writer – Unless you work at controlling it you can’t ever get it to work for you. At James Taggert’s wedding party I heard Francisco d’Anconia’s effective sermon in response to the comment, “money is the root of all evil.”
Gardener – Keith Stuart, Keith Stuart, Keith . . .
Writer – I’m perfectly fine. I disliked the intellectuals in Atlas since they’re stupid and vain, preaching love while espousing an existential relativity. D’Anconia, like Dagny Taggart, was born into a wealthy family of industrialists. But unlike many of the industrials portrayed in Atlas he isn’t afraid of hard work. He describes money, and I quote him here from Part II, chapter II of Atlas Shrugged, as “a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them.” In other words one can’t enjoy the things money can buy unless someone is making them.
Gardener – “Them” meaning book bindings.
Writer – In a limited sense. It’s in our self interest to go out and make things to the best of our ability so we can earn the capital to buy the things we want.
Gardener – We’ve been through this before. Adam Smith says same thing in Wealth Of Nations?
Writer – It’s quintessential Adam Smith. In that oft quoted section on the butcher, the brewer and the baker in Chapter II on the Division of Labor, he writes: “We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” Galt incorporates this line into his philosophy almost verbatim. But here’s the difficulty. Since humanity refers to all humans and self-love to a single member of humanity, at what point does self love, the avocation of the individual and the possible by-products of this independence, like creativity, become dangerous to the species. When does accumulation of wealth become more important than product, in other words, counter-productive? Smith addresses this, but not Galt.
Gardener – As when people with capital. . .
Writer – Investors.
Gardener – We’re all investors, we all have 401ks or the equivalent, willingly. . .
Writer – And unwittingly – as in all of us.
Gardener – Invest in combinations far removed from the original investment in a house or a factory. . .
Writer – Derivatives.
Gardener – Not knowing nor caring where our saving are invested, just to make more money.
Writer – Which brings us back to Bertie Scudder, the insipid intellectual, I heard at the party.
Gardener – Please, don’t say you heard him.
Writer – Oh yes, I heard him say, “money is the root of all evil,” by which we can infer, that he believes self-interest is greed. Why are you looking at me like that?
Gardener – You heard him say that?
Writer – Figuratively speaking.
Gardener – You did the same with Adam Smith.
Writer – Yes, I heard him too!
Gardener – Translate self-interest into greed.
Writer – I did?
Gardener – On the first reading of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
Writer –But a second reading set me straight. Smith describes self-interest as beneficial to society. But as we discovered he believes that labor and management must advocate for their own self-interest. A nation thrives on the debate. When the nation gives way to pureline policies, it will eventually fail.
Gardener – But why did you unconsciously edit the text? Why did you replace self-interest or profit with “greed”?
Writer – I don’t know. The Oxford dictionary defines greed as an “intense or inordinate longing, especially for wealth or food, avarice, covetous desire.” In other words greed can lead us in the opposite direction of self-interest.
Gardener – As it did King Midas, who was by the way a rosarian.
Writer – We don’t know he was a rosarian!
Gardener – Herodotus says so.
Writer – Herodotus mentions the Gardens of Midas in The Persian Wars, Book VIII, chapter 38. He doesn’t say Midas was a gardener!
Gardener – You told me there were sweet roses with sixty petals a piece from which I gather that somebody was doing some hybridizing. Perhaps Midas wasn’t simply starving to death for lack of food which he couldn’t eat since food turned to gold on his tongue but was also starving aesthetically when the roses he touched lost their beautiful color and sweet redolence, that is, their value as roses.
Writer – Nicely said, gardener! One of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged is a banker by the name of Midas Mulligan.
Gardener – I suppose you heard him too!
Writer – Just the way you heard voices in the garden. Like many of the super heroes Mulligan openly appropriates the word used disparagingly by people to describe him. Rand is always torquing myths, which I like even if I don’t always agree with the results. King Midas learned from his experience that turning everything into gold had its down side. I think Midas Mulligan misses that point.
Gardener – What about the miller’s daughter?
Writer – The miller’s daughter?
Gardener – In Rumpelstiltskin.
Writer – According to the Grimm’s fairy tale, the miller is poor and needs to petition the king. It’s not enough that his daughter is beautiful. He also lies, says she can spin straw into gold.
Gardener – The king, used to getting what he wants, locks her up in a room with a spinning wheel and a pile of straw and tells her if she doesn’t turn the straw to gold by morning she’ll die.
Writer – So there she sits, sobbing, because her father wants to get in good with a king who wants more gold.
Gardener – That’s when the strange, little man appears.
Writer – And he’s the one who can spin straw into gold, not the miller’s daughter.
Gardener – I know that! That’s Rumpelstiltskin.
Writer – You said, “what about the miller’s daughter,” as if. . .
Gardener – It’s implied she can do what Midas did, make gold out of something common.
Writer – You’re losing me
Gardener – The little man will only help her if she gives him something in return.
Writer – Usually the man with that kind of power simply wants to use the woman. The Grimm brothers had a lot to say about the miller’s daughter in their scholarly work The German Legends.
Gardener – But this is a fairy tale. What can you give me in exchange for spinning gold, he asks her.
Writer – It can hardly be called a deal. She’s desperate. It’s more like leverage.
Gardener – A deal’s a deal. She gives him her necklace and he spins straw into gold thread. Next morning the king sees that the miller was right.
Writer – Yeah, but he’s not satisfied. He wants more.
Gardener – Why not, he has a woman who can spin gold out of straw.
Writer – He assumes she can do that!
Gardener – Nonetheless he locks her in a larger room full of straw for another night.
Writer – And the little man returns.
Gardener – He’s like a child, not someone executing arbitrage. He wants to make another deal. This time she gives him her ring and he goes to work.
Writer – But the king is besotted with desire for more. He locks her in an even larger room full of straw for the third night, promising her he’ll marry her if she spins it all into gold.
Gardener – The problem is she has nothing to offer the little man in return. But he tells her that when she’s queen, she can give him her first born child in exchange for his services.
Writer – In other words she’ll buy his services on time.
Gardener – Precisely. She realizes there is no future without her producing a room full of gold, so she agrees. What does it matter? She’s out on the limb as she can go. It’s life or death.
Writer – The manikin’s betting on her becoming queen and having a child.
Gardener – He may be spinning gold for nothing.
Writer –More likely he’s hedged his chances through clairvoyant means.
Gardener – No, it’s double or nothing. We can’t prove he had inside knowledge. He’s like a child who isn’t afraid of the future.
Writer – Or simply lives in the present. Nevertheless when the king sees the gold he’s made. . .
Gardener – She’s made!
Writer – He’s ecstatic. He marries the golden girl. By all accounts, everyone is happy.
Gardener – Which bring to mind the Stockholm syndrome.
Writer – An interesting point. Anyway the king has his gold and a beautiful wife and the miller is now the king’s father-in-law and his daughter’s the queen.
Gardener – But not through her own connivance! She’s a victim.
Writer – She’s the queen!
Gardener – The day comes when she gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. Now her little man in shinning armor returns.
Writer – He’s not prince charming. This is not that kind of story. After all, she’s married to the king.
Gardener – But the little man is the producer of her wealth and he expects to be paid for his efforts.
Writer – So you agree! Rumpelstiltskin made the gold.
Gardener – No, she produced the gold the same way the CEO of GM produces cars.
Writer – Clever. No doubt she cries piteously.
Gardener – Her tears brought the little man to her aid in the first place.
Writer – She’s discovered that her daughter is more valuable than her own life, is more valuable than all the gold the little man produced for the king.
Gardener – No, he produced it for her! But the little man is not without heart.
Writer – You meaning feeling. A fatal flaw according to John Galt.
Gardener – He was never after gold since he could produce it so easily. He pitied her.
Writer – Maybe he’s a dirty old man who likes children.
Gardener – No, you’re a dirty old man!
Writer – Not me!
Gardener – Nine months ago when her life was on the limb he came through for her. But a deal’s a deal and now she must pay up or continue the game.
Writer – You’re twisting the story the way Ragnar Danneskjold, in Part II, Chapter VII, twisted the tale of Robin Hood that night he met Reardon on Edgewood Road.
Gardener – The little man offers her a way out, not an easy one but at least another opportunity to get something for nothing.
Writer – Now it’s a game of jeopardy.
Gardener – He tells her that she can keep her child if in three days she can guess his name. He gains nothing from this extension on his loan. He doesn’t take out an insurance policy against the possible loss. He could lose everything.
Writer – You’re right, because now she is the queen with all the services of the government at her disposal. By agreeing to this derivative, which has little to do with the original exchange, she buys more time. Using the king’s agents she scours the kingdom for clues. But by the end of the second day she’s not discovered it. The little man is ecstatic.
Gardener – He’s enjoying the contest. He could have blackmailed her. After all she doesn’t have the golden touch. He does! She’s queen because he worked three long nights spinning rooms’ full of straw into gold. For him it was producing what he promised in exchange for something he valued. It has nothing to do with depriving her of her child but of negotiating a settlement to which she had agreed.
Writer – We know the ending. He over played his hand.
Gardener – On the last night before the game is up, a queen’s agent is wandering through the woods and sees a light among the trees. Inside a small cottage where a fire is roaring, the little man is dancing happily around the room singing a song wherein the final lyric reveals his name.
Writer – Next day the queen confidently plays with the little man, pretending to guess his name in vain until at last she says, perhaps it’s Rumpelstiltskin.
Gardener – He’s shocked. In his innocence he handed her the power to steal his identity.
Writer –It was a matter of life and death for her, just a game for him.
Gardener – In his frustration he dances furiously an augur until the ground gives way and he disappears.
Writer – Now what about the miller’s daughter?
Gardener – Did she, like Midas, learn from the little man’s power to turn straw into gold?
Writer – Assuming that she was the unwitting victim of her father’s foolish ambitions and the king’s greed she has learned about survival.
Gardener – So the manikin is the loser.
Writer – He was a fool.
Gardener – He was innocent, offering the miller’s daughter ample opportunity to redeem her debt. He saved her from death. He didn’t rig the system, which he could have, having that kind of power to prevent personal loss.
Writer – Galt would say Rumple, being a producer of wealth is sacrificed to the moochers and the looters. Like King Lear he foolishly gives away his power.
Gardener – King Lear? That’s not a fairy tale.
Writer – Lear gives away his kingdom to his daughters in exchange for avowals of love.
Gardener – King Lear produces nothing; Rumpelstiltskin produces gold.
Writer – Lear, as king, is supposed to secure prosperity for all the people in the nation. Perhaps Lear’s honest daughter, Cordelia, is the real fool, telling the truth rather than telling the old man what he wants to hear.
Gardener – You’re blaming Cordelia?
Writer – The result of her honesty is civil war. Innocent people are killed!
Gardener – She’s a victim of the king’s pride.
Writer – Her honesty is detrimental to her self-interest. Only a fool would tell the king, her father, what he obviously doesn’t want to hear.
Gardener – Then everyone’s a fool! The king’s a fool because he gives away the kingdom to those who obviously lie. Cordelia’s a fool because she tells the king what he obviously doesn’t want to hear, and her two sisters, Goneril and Regan are fools because, at the height of their power, they fall in love with an obvious conniver, Edmond.
Writer- You have to admit it would make a great soap opera on day time TV. Shakespeare for the masses.
Gardener – Only at first Goneril and Regan are no more conniving than the miller’s daughter. They simply tell their father, the king, what he wants to hear.
Writer – You can’t compare the king’s two daughters with the miller’s daughter.
Gardener – Absolutely not, because one is Shakespeare and the other a fairy tale.
Writer – It would seem Goneril and Regan at first act according to their self interest, then foolishly against it. Which proves your point that we’re all fools.
Gardener – No, no, I didn’t mean it in that universal way. I don’t believe everyone’s a fool, not in real life. There are those who pretend to be fools to survive in a world of fools.
Writer – Ah like the professional Fool, who accompanies the king, and Edgar, the legal son of the king’s advisor, Earl of Gloucester.
Gardener – And some of us who are just gullible.
Writer – Gulliver?
Gardener – Gullible, like Edgar, the legal son of the King’s advisor. Gullible Ed believes his half brother Edmond’s stories and flees the imagined wrath of his father, the Earl of Gloucester.
Writer – Then it seems everybody’s gullible from the king who believes his two lying daughters right down through the governing body. The Earl believes the stories his bastard son, Edmond tells him of his legal son, Edgar.
Gardener – Not everybody. Cordelia, the king’s Fool and the bastard, Edmond are not gullible.
Writer – Then how can Edgar, who pretends to be a fool, be gullible? Pretense would indicate craft which seems to me to require intelligence, something I wouldn’t expect from a gullible nature.
Gardener – Anyone can be blind to the truth. Take the gardener who wants to grow plants culturally unsuitable to his garden environment. He wants roses even though he lives in shade. Or he wants a lawn although he lives in the desert. It happens all the time.
Writer – Adam Smith, in Book IV, Chapter II of Wealth of Nations, describes a good wine made from grapes grown in hot houses in Scotland “at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries;” but he states emphatically it wouldn’t justify a tariff preventing the import of those wines. In other words, it would be foolish.
Gardener – True, but if someone with a keen idea of what he or she wants was to promote the idea, through advertisements, to those of us who don’t have a vested interest, it’s possible to convince anyone that such wine is worth every penny.
Writer – Not if you have to pay for it with half your wages.
Gardener – Isn’t that why we have credit? During the Dutch Golden Age, a single tulip bulb could be bought on a fortune of promissory notes.
Writer – The blindfold that shimmers like a billfold.
Gardener – We are willingly duped.
Writer – I assume our leaders in government, who don’t believe in taxing the wealthy, expect the wealthy will buy expensive wines to sustain the economy.
Gardener – Or tulip bulbs!
Writer – So blind Edgar was the willing if unwitting victim of brother Edmond’s plot to get rid of him. . .
Gardener – As was Gloucester, his father, who is blinded by Regan, one of the King’s evil daughters.
Writer – Yes, but Cordelia who can see the value of words, knowingly steps into her father’s unwitting trap since he had no design to get rid of her. As I said before it wasn’t in Cordelia’s self interest to tell the truth.
Gardener – But is it to Edmond’s advantage to lie since he too dies in the end when Edgar the Vindicated returns?
Writer – Which way to turn! We’ve come to a conundrum.
Gardener – And we’ve lost sight of the butcher, the baker and the brewer?
Writer – I don’t recall a butcher, much less a baker and a brewer in King Lear?
The Writer and the Gardener find common threads linking Atlas Shrugged, vis-à-vis the effects of self-love on the human race, to the Harry Potter books, the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale and King Lear, the play.
Keith Stuart, Trustee of the Toolroom
We’ve been this way before.
I:1 WHERE THE GARDENER FAILS TO MOLLIFY THE WRITER WHO DECRIES THE NOTORIOUS PURE LINE DISCOVERED BY THE YOUTH IN HIS BALLAD OF THE BANKBOOK
Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations, Division of Labor, Chap II