The Change I’d Be Tempted to Make …

mystery man

… if I were rewriting Atlas Shrugged, or adapting it to movie form.

Sacrilege, I know. But here’s the idea: “John Galt” is just a pseudonym for Francisco d’Anconia.


  • It switches out a character that readers find hard to relate to and switches in a character that most readers love.
  • It doesn’t require us to suddenly transfer so much of our emotional investment to a character that isn’t introduced until the third act.
  • It simplifies the love quadrangle to a love triangle.
  • It gives added tension to Francisco’s friendship with Rearden.
  • By having Dagny end up with Francisco, it makes Francisco’s story less sad.

A disadvantage, from a left-libertarian standpoint, is that now the revolution is being run by two aristocrats (Francisco and Ragnar) rather than by the proletarian Galt. But maybe that problem could be ameliorated by boosting the role of the Brakeman, making him one of the triumvirate, and giving him some minor bits of Galt’s role. Who better to help stop the motor of the world than a brakeman, anyway?

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12 Responses to The Change I’d Be Tempted to Make …

  1. christopher December 15, 2009 at 7:34 pm #

    Oh and cut down that pretentious and pedantic speech at the end to maybe 10 pages!

  2. Kevin Carson December 15, 2009 at 11:15 pm #

    Face slapping. The brakeman doesn’t get enough face slapping. You can’t be a Randian hero without slapping faces.

    • John December 16, 2009 at 12:52 am #

      Who is John Galt? would have a different answer.

      • John December 16, 2009 at 12:54 am #

        Oops. That wasn’t intended as a reply to that comment.

  3. Aster December 16, 2009 at 6:27 am #

    Some ideas:

    (1) reinstate the priest striker character. Rand’s early concepts show an utterly fascinating personality. I think that by excluding him she did the right thing philosophically and the wrong thing aesthetically.

    (2) give Ragnar Danneskjöld as big a part as Francisco and ?John Galt. Use his mobility to show something of the ‘Peoples State” world outside America and present what rotting collectivist Hell looks like.

    (3) make the heroic characters more expressively alive. Stress by contrast the ‘Pleasantville’ conventional nature of the looters and moochers.

    (4) get some diversity in the cast. She really didn’t need to emphasise Francisco’s pure European ancestry as a feature. If individualism has nothing to do with being a rich white guy then show it. ‘Men of the mind’ are precisely those who think by looking at reality instead of looking at those around and before them. Human excellence is essentially acultural or even anticultural. If we must all escape our own caves of origin, then we should expect thinking people to be refugees from all the caves of the world.

    • Roderick December 17, 2009 at 1:31 am #

      I think that by excluding him she did the right thing philosophically and the wrong thing aesthetically.

      On the same note — there are no villains in Atlas as interesting as Toohey in Fountainhead. (Stadler comes closest, but has a small role.) I think this was for philosophical reasons, to show the banality of evil, but on aesthetic grounds Toohey’s dialogue is a lot more enjoyable to read than James Taggart’s.

      • Aster December 18, 2009 at 7:35 pm #

        I also wish she hadn’t cut Vesta Dunning. I get the idea that on essentials she was a variant of Peter Keating, but the difference in inessentials would have made for interesting reading, and would have humanised Roark.

        I almost always found Rand’s compromised, “mixed premise” or secondary characters to be more interesting than her demigods. Kira, Andrei, Leo, Dominique, Wynand, Mallory, Stadler, Cherryl, even Dagny and Rearden, have proven useful in life. I’ve never met anyone who could pull off a Roark or Galt who wasn’t massively propped up by privilege and trying not to be aware of it at the price of cruelty and cognitive distortion.

        There do exist magnificent bastards who are seriously willing to try and pull off Roark or Galt in conscious awareness of these prices (such as Milton’s Satan, Rand’s Bjorn Faulkner, or Joss Whedon’s Lilah Morgan). I suspect that Rand was always more true to her Nietzschean origins than she admitted to herself or to her audience, and that Promethean egoism transcribes onto morality with as much violence as justice. Camille Paglia tells it more like it is.

        By rights Toohey should be impossible in real life, but sadly I’ve met all too many self-aware intellectuals devoted to a systematic culling of all passion, ambition, ecstasy, and excellence; never mind the contradiction that this itself involves no small cultivation of excellence. You can hurt such people by flaying bare the consuming misery at the centre of their being, but I’ve never found a way to defeat them.

        Rand was right that the real Tooheys are not as a rule Tartuffish hypocrites. Or rather, while they are willing to violate their principles in order engage in Machiavellian realpolitik, the serious ones are not willing to violate these same principles in order to benefit themselves for any reason which doesn’t ultimately reduce to unenjoyed social status.

        The Tartuffes can be destroyed by exposure. Good Christians (of all religions) are far more difficult cases. What do you do against someone who really hates human exaltation, penitently slaves to destroy it, and who is consistent enough to sincerely apologise for the pride in integrity with which they defer their own wanting? Sometimes the followers are just hurting and oppressed people who have honestly never known what happiness, compersion, or success taste like; the best of these will jump the altruist ship in a second if offered a real chance and genuine mutual aid. The leaders (Sayyid Qutb, for example) have known these things, and have responded with a personal-metaphysical revulsion against self and world.

        The possibility of examined devotion to unhappiness, like the possibility of examined happy injustice, is dangerously subversive to the ‘benevolent universe’ premise. The human condition is in serious trouble if that conviction can’t be justified.

  4. Grant Gould December 16, 2009 at 8:42 am #

    Let Galt die in the torture chamber at the end.

    + Gives some semblance of relevance to Galt’s enormo-speech (what was the point of the speech if we still have Galt around afterward?).

    + Removes the mood-breaking shoot-lots-of-confused-guards-but-it-isn’t-really-initiation-of-force fight scene.

    + Makes Galt’s total lack of characterization less egregious.

    + Puts someone other than Galt — someone with discernable motivations — in the Heroic Tableux of the last paragraph.

    + If a book is going to have a torture-porn climax, “the political class murders the proletariat, but the revolution proceeds nonetheless” is a much less muddy message for it.

  5. Anna Morgenstern December 17, 2009 at 10:40 am #

    The “Galt as proletarian” thing might be more of an issue than you imply here. One of the subtexts that I always got from the story was that the reason why it took someone like John Galt to start the shrugging is that in the early days of the novel, to people like Dagny or Hank, things don’t seem *that bad* yet… they’re running into annoyances but they haven’t seen how crushing these interventions are for the (honest) working class.
    If you get rid of that it changes the whole story almost, at least for me. I’m not sure how you could move that to the brakeman, unless he’s the guy who inspires D’Anconia/Galt to start the movement.

    As for the speech, I definitely think it could be done well in a movie, if you make it sort of a montage shot, maybe showing society breaking down all over the place, while the speech is being played from loudspeakers everywhere… it still might need to be cut though… 10 minutes of speech would be ok maybe, 30 minutes would be too much…

  6. Thomas L. Knapp December 17, 2009 at 6:30 pm #

    Getting rid of Galt might be an interesting proposition, especially if they could write the whole perpetual motion machine thing out of it with him.

  7. Natailya Petrova December 18, 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    You have a mission now, Roderick

    Rewriting Atlas Shrugged! Suspect a lawsuit is headed your way….

    • Roderick December 18, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

      I’ll call it Batlas Shrugged. Millionaire Bruce Wayne stops the motor of the world ….

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