Anthem: The Graphic Novel. By Ayn Rand. Adapted by Charles Santino. Art by Joe Staton. New American Library. $15.
The Faerie Path, Book Five: The Enchanted Quest. By Frewin Jones. HarperTeen. $16.99.
The Faerie Path, Book Six: The Charmed Return. By Frewin Jones. HarperTeen. $16.99.
It was a bold stroke indeed to transform Ayn Rand’s 1938 novella, Anthem, into a graphic novel, thus making it possible to bring Rand’s vision of a dystopia where collectivism rules thought and even language to a new, wider and presumably younger (teenage) audience. And the adaptation is mostly successful, thanks in particular to Charles Santino’s firm grasp of the work’s basic themes (which Rand had previously worked through two years earlier, in her semi-autobiographical We the Living, and to which she would return frequently in later, longer and denser novels). The notion of a stultifying collectivism, whether fascistic or communistic, was a particularly vital one during the 1930s, a decade in which many Americans became enamored of the supposed successes of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and came to regard the collectivist model as an attainable ideal. Predating George Orwell’s 1984 by a decade, Rand’s Anthem strongly proclaimed the weaknesses of think-alike, act-alike societies, and in fact drew on her own experiences under Soviet rule. But while Orwell’s later novel is unremittingly bleak, Rand’s offers hope that if anyone, even a single person, is able to resist collectivism, then the suppression of individuality must ultimately fail. The novel’s hero is called “Equality 7-2521” – in this world, there are no names – and is assigned to be a street sweeper, for the good of the community, because he has committed the “transgression of preference” rather than realizing that all people, all duties, all interests are exactly equal in value. The hero is also the narrator, and it takes some time – even in the graphic novel – to get used to his use of the pronoun “we” for references to himself, and analogous plural pronouns when speaking of others. For the pronoun “I” has been rendered obsolete, and in fact has been condemned and wiped out, in a society in which there are no individuals, merely units of brotherhood serving their brothers. There are sisters here, too, with reproduction controlled and conducted in the Palace of Mating – and Equality 7-2521 eventually meets one of them, Liberty 5-3000, and conducts illegal communication with her through sign language and, eventually, a few words. Rand’s work shows the narrator stumbling upon a place left over from olden times, in which he rediscovers electricity and offers it for the greater good – only to be condemned for working outside his assigned area and having individualistic thoughts. Eventually imprisoned and later self-banished, Equality 7-2521 gradually rediscovers what it means to be a separate, single person; and after Liberty 5-3000 joins him, the two together (in the work’s most arresting scenes) try to express their feelings using “we” and “they” but eventually work their way toward the ability to say “I” and the singular of “you.” The arc of the story is a fairly standard heroic one, with some interesting futuristic and linguistic twists – and the illustrations by Joe Staton pick up the basics well enough. They are not, however, particularly compelling or even very interesting in themselves. They are line drawings rather than fully developed panels, and they come across as fairly thin for the seriousness of the subject matter. They are also less dramatically appealing than the illustrations in many other graphic novels – a fact that may limit this book’s attraction for its intended audience. Nevertheless, they help the story move smartly along, and help concretize concepts that can be difficult to grasp, such as the core of the entire book: “Only three [words] are holy – ‘I will it.’” As an introduction to Rand’s work and an effective bit of dystopic writing in its own right, Anthem works well – and as a graphic novel, it proves surprisingly effective.
The Faerie Path is also about someone caught between two worlds and trying to figure out where to fit in, but Frewin Jones’ series follows a more conventional teen-adventure path. Its focus is 16-year-old Anita Palmer (human name)/Tania Aurealis (faerie name) – seventh daughter of King Oberon and Queen Titania – who has the ability to move freely between the mortal and faery worlds, but who, according to prophecy, must choose one or the other. In works of this type, quests and heroic adventures are the norm, and great issues ultimately depend on the central character’s individual decisions; and so it is in Jones’ books. The Enchanted Quest involves the possible loss of the faeries’ immortality, and Tania’s wide-ranging journey to prevent that disaster from occurring. She is aided by a mortal boy named Connor Estabrook, among others, and later gains the help of her faerie beloved, Edric; but it turns out that his aid may not be what it seems, for he may be under the sway of the Dark Arts – and perhaps is using them himself. “It all clicked into place. The dizziness, the euphoria, the sense of peace: they had all been a trick, a mind game that Edric had played on her. …‘The worst thing you could have done… Absolutely the very worst thing you could ever do to me is to try and control my mind like that.’” Eventually locating the Dream Weaver and freeing Edric from the grasp of the Green Lady, Tania repeatedly is taken to the edge of her abilities: “In the torture of her mind a clear point of reason and purpose managed to survive,” writes Jones at one point, but the words apply equally well to many of the events here. And they apply as well in The Charmed Return, the conclusion of the series, in which Tania – who has lost all memory of her faerie identity – must rediscover who she is, find her way back to the faerie realm, and be reunited once and for all with Edric, whom she has also forgotten (because of the bargain she had to strike to preserve the faeries’ immortality). In this book, Tania must come face to face not only with external circumstances but also with her own internal uncertainties, learning that she cannot trust even her own memories, but must discover, or rediscover, who she truly is and where she belongs. There are further threats to the faeries here, and Tania’s return to them is needed to save everyone, so there is never really any doubt that she will find her way back, determine her true identity as a princess of the realm, and be united with her beloved Edric (and even Connor will come out all right). But if there is never much of a question about the series’ eventual outcome, there are enough twists, turns and byways along the way to keep Jones’ readers engaged, if not necessarily entranced. Unlike Rand’s Anthem, Jones’ The Faerie Path is intended as pure escapism, without any real-world connection except the clichéd one of needing to decide who you really are and where you really fit in. Within its limited scope, Jones’ series works well; and if it often slips into formulaic plotting and characterization, that will scarcely dismay teen readers attracted to the way Jones handles the whole between-two-worlds concept.