The Moral of the Story

The Reckoners is a young adult trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. A “coming of age” story about a teenager growing up in a world completely transformed by the appearance of superpowers. It is a tale about human nature and the struggles of adolescence, with a little bit of the classic good versus evil thrown in. There are a number of thought-provoking concepts throughout the tale but the most intriguing one revolves around the phrase, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The Story and the Moral

The phrase is the defining factor for books setting, our present day world turned into apocalyptic wasteland studded by pockets of humanity. The drastic transformation of our world begins as people suddenly start developing the ability to do extraordinary things. At first this is celebrated, as I imagine it would be in the real world, as the fiction of superheroes becomes reality. However, it quickly becomes apparent people with these extraordinary abilities, “Epics” as they are called in the book, are steadily corrupted by these powers. Somehow this corruption is not limited to the ambitious or already power hungry. Even ordinary people, the more they use their powers the less they care and the more, for lack of a better word, evil they become. As this corruption takes hold, even family and loved ones become insignificant to those with powers. The Epics begin to ignore all tenants of law and lose the ability to see right and wrong. People who become Epics begin to see themselves as gods with the rest of the world as their potential subjects. As a result, the Epics strive to carve out personal empires, fighting against the various governments and even other Epics in the areas they desire to control. After years of destruction, the world as we know it is changed completely. There are no exceptions. The saying occurs unconditionally, these absolute powers corrupt absolutely.

With this premise established the story presents the question, is the power itself corrupting or are humans inherently evil? Evil defined as; given enough power and opportunity humans will seek to control and dominate others with no regard for the cost or loss of life involved. Both questions have some dark implications for the characters of the story because they are banking on a desperate hope. A hope that one day the “good” Epics will arrive and save the world. But if either of the above questions are true, then this day simply will never arrive. Whether the power is corrupting those who gain it or humans simply cannot possess these abilities without a darker nature arising the end result is the same. Everyone who becomes an Epic eventually becomes corrupted, caring for nothing but their own desires.

Life and the Moral

Most of my childhood was spent dreaming or fantasizing about having special abilities or powers. A tiny part of me still hopes as an adult I might somehow develop or receive the ability to do extraordinary things. All of it revolves around becoming a hero, a superhero. In stark contrast, the entire premise of The Reckoners is a sobering concept to consider. What if the arrival of extraordinary abilities lead only to supervillains and not superheroes? Would humans given access to exceptional power be inevitably drawn to dominate and control others? With these questions echoing in my mind, suddenly the secret desire to be extraordinary is not so strong, the appeal of having such amazing abilities not so alluring. It is certainly hypothetical and the idea of humans being inherently corruptible purely philosophical but it feels like a concept worth taking note of especially in today’s culture.

Today’s movie and TV culture is obsessed with superheroes. Everybody seems mesmerized by the idea of a world with extraordinary beings who are capable of such amazing feats. These stories are full of examples of humans who are able to take up the mantle of hero, to become a protector of those in need. The Reckoners damped this fervor and cautioned me not become too enamored by the idea of superpowers. The tale has taught me to not look at just one side of a captivating fantasy but to think through the other possible angles. The fantasy of superpowers begetting superheroes and superheroes creating a phenomenal world where anyone can become a hero. But would we be able to retain our humanity with such absolute power? What if the power itself originated from a tainted source which would eventually twist those who wielded it into monsters, could we as humans find a way to fight such corruption? I personally don’t believe there is a single answer to these questions and that is perfectly okay because the lesson from The Reckoners is not in the answers to these questions. The moral of the story lies in the ability to not be blinded by a glamorous idea. To see the scenario from different angles, to ask and consider competing questions before deciding what you personally believe to be true.