So there’s this nasty rumor going around that I’m a libertarian, supporter of Ron Paul, devotee of Ayn Rand, and all-around neo-conservative firebrand.

How could that happen?

Granted, I did write a fantasy re-telling of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, so there’s that. But . . . what?

One of my favorite things is to see somewhere online where a Forgotten Realms fan “outs” me, positively or negatively, for having based the Watercourse Trilogy on The Fountainhead, as though that’s some kind of startling revelation, uncovered only after months of exhaustive detective work by lit-pol CSI agents.

Yeah. It’s in the acknowledgements.

But that would make me a card-carrying objectivist, right? Surely it must.

No, I’m afraid, it does not.

So here are the two things behind the Watercourse Trilogy:

Book I: Whisper of Waves

Let’s start with the canal.

I spent about fifteen years, first at TSR then at Wizards of the Coast, with a map of the Forgotten Realms (spanning three editions) on my office wall. As the FR line editor for years the continent of Faerûn became my home away from home. Time and again I stared at this map, trying to figure out some various bit of continuity or the other for one of the books I was editing. I’m not 100% sure which book it was, but an author needed to know how to get from Kara-Tur in the far east to some realm or another on the coast of the Sea of Fallen Stars—via ship.

Turns out you can’t. The big ocean to the west is not connected to the Sea of Fallen Stars (aka the Inner Sea) by any navigable waterway. Hmm. That got me thinking. When travel by sea was hindered by having to go the long way around continents, crafty people built canals. The Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, for instance, are two of the most significant in our real world. And people have been building canals for a very long time—millennia, even. The people of the Realms, especially when you add in magic, are perfectly capable of building a serviceable canal. I thought they should. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a story worth telling. Not becuase the construction of a canal is terribly compelling in its own right, but becuase anything that threatens to tip the fragile balance of trade in Faerûn tends to bring out conflict, and conflict equals story. The Zhentarim made more than a few gold pieces a year running goods across Anauroch, for instance. If all of a sudden ships from Waterdeep can sail to friendly ports in Cormyr and Sembia, that’s going to hurt the Zhentarim. So clearly there would be powerful forces at work to both help the canal be built, or stop it from being built.

Okay, that’s the first part. Still no hint of Ms. Rand.

Book II: Lies of Light

The second part  I could title:

“How I Brought a Neutral Neutral Hero to the Realms”

From the second I first played Dungeons & Dragons, in the summer of 1978, I’ve been fascinated with the (pre-4th edition) alignment system. I can not tell you the number of hours spent with friends, pontificating on the true nature of each alignment. What historical figure best represents each alignment? Easy, right? Hitler was Lawful Evil, Charles Manson was Chaotic Evil. Gandhi was Neutral Good . . . or was he Lawful Good? And so on and so on, ad infinitum.

For me, though, the hardest was Neutral Neutral. This is someone who isn’t particularly chaotic or lawful, nor particularly good or evil, just sort of right in the middle there somewhere. Who is this guy? Is that even possible? Oh, how I would rack my brain.

Then it hit me: Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Hero. That is true neutral.

This is a guy who has his own agenda, which is crafted neither for the benefit nor detriment of anyone else, and applied entirely as the individual sees fit, neither blindly cleaving to a set of laws imposed from outside, nor allowed to run rampant with the baser instincts of the mob (chaotic).

Book III: Scream of Stone

What Ayn Rand was writing about was a guy who didn’t give a shit either way.

To my knowledge, the Realms had never seen a “hero” like that, and as a devotee not of Objectivism, but of the D&D alignment system, I made this my mission.

And what better way to do it than to go to the source.

So I started reading The Fountainhead, and what a massive undertaking that was. Trust me this is hardly a bit of “light reading.” And I made notes—extensive notes. Page after page after page after page of notes, mostly under the heading of “what is this chapter trying to do?”

I did re-order stuff, by the way, and once you make one of Rand’s characters a dragon, and set the whole thing in a world of gods and magic, it ends up veering off into directions that I feel quite confident Ms. Rand would not have seen coming.

But does this mean I’m an Objectivist? Sorry, everybody, but no, it doesn’t. It means that my Neutral Neutral “hero” of the Watercourse Trilogy, Ivar Devorast, is, though the words “Objectivist” and “Objectivism” do not appear in any of the three books. I worked very hard not to make this trilogy any kind of a statement on objectivism as a philosophy, Ayn Rand as a philosopher, and (believe it or not) at the time I was writing it I don’t even remember being particularly aware of the influence Ayn Rand’s writing was having on certain elements of the neo-conservative “movement.”

I didn’t try to say Ivar Devorast is wrong because . . . or right becuase . . . I just told the story and let him be who he was. And precisely as with your reading of The Fountainhead, or any other book, you get to decide for yourself if he’s someone you love or hate.

I’m not a political author, by trade, and for me the exercise was much more philosophical than political. I’ll leave it to you to decide if Ivar Devorast (nee Howard Roark) is a hero, a villain, or as his alignment would dictate, something smack dab in the middle.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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