A Note on Ayn Rand’s Use of a Threshold Guardian
By SigfredRegarding chapter 10 of Atlas Shrugged, described in episode 10 of Fraggle Shrugged
Let’s give some credit where credit is due, because Ayn Rand actually made proper use of a storytelling device.
At the end of part 1 of the book, in chapter 10, Dagny goes on a quest to find the man behind the magic motor. She ends up talking to the cook in a diner in the mountains, who is supposed to know the motor’s inventor. The cook turns out to be Hugh Akston, a famous philosopher who disappeared years ago, named Hugh Akston.
Akston tells Dagny to stop searching: “It is a hopeless quest, the more hopeless because you have no inkling of what an impossible task you have chosen to undertake.” – “Give it up. The secret you are trying to solve involves something greater—much greater—than the invention of a motor run by atmospheric electricity.”
Here we get a very clear Threshold Guardian. In the classic Hero’s Journey, as described by Joesph Campbell, the hero encounters the Threshold Guardian as he is about to embark on his quest. The hero has received a Call To Adventure, and is now about to leave his known world behind to go on a quest to find something that will, so to speak, lift the curse on the world. When crossing the threshold between the world he knows and the great unknown, with all its dangers, rewards, trials, and temptations, he often encounters a Threshold Guardian, whom he must overcome. The guardian will often urge him not go on and to give up, and the hero must then show his resolve to keep going ahead on the adventure.
Hugh Akston is a clear Threshold Guardian here. He directly tells Dagny that her quest to get the magic motor, which in mythical terms is the elixir that will heal the world, is part of something much bigger and that she would be better off giving up. This warning comes from a figure that she holds in high regard, and it will take all her resolve to defy it and to continue on her road of trials to find the “treasure”.
In classic storytelling structure, this happens at the end of Act 1, and lo and behold, it happens at the end of Part 1 of the book.
We shit a lot on Ayn Rand here, but I will give her credit for this – this is a beautiful drop of pure Campbellian storytelling. It makes me somewhat more hopeful that this book will have a right proper arc to it. At the time of writing this, we haven’t begun reading Part 2 yet, so I’m just crossing my fingers and making myself vulnerable to disappointment.