(I do not claim full responsibility for the title; I was just thinking about genii while in the shower. My husband added Faust and the hobbits.)
Maybe part of the problem with our society is that we have stopped reading all the old fairy tales, or anything that sounds the least bit like them.
You know, the ones that contained not-so-veiled warnings about going into dark woods, making deals with witches and other powerful strangers, and the worth of goodness over beauty.
The genie in the bottle stories come to mind right now.
You get this mysterious lamp, rub it, and out pops the genie. You get three wishes. Most people do so-so on the first two, often creating a considerable mess that they can’t quite extricate themselves from. So, on the third (and final) wish, they overreach. Trying to get infinite wishes to sort out their messy situation, they wish for tremendous power. The genie gives them his power… which is, yes, tremendous. However, it also means the grasping wisher is now enslaved to the lamp and at the beck and call of the next idiot who tries to use it. The new genie gets to do what the last one did: try to trick someone into wishing for unimaginable amounts of power.
The traditional wise ending is to free the genie, walking away from incredible power.
The moral is something about absolute power not being particularly good for us. It always comes with strings attached… or chains.
My DH pointed out that that is also one of the morals in Lord of the Rings. The Hobbits are simple enough to understand that, no, you can not use an instrument of evil to do good. It will taint everything it touches; the only solution is to destroy it. Many of the more nuanced, intelligent characters are tempted by it, some severely. (And no, contrary to the movie, Faramir is not sucked in by the thought of using it to rescue his city with the power of the Ring. He has contemplated the temptation before he ever laid eyes on it and has come to the very wise conclusion that it would be impossible to use it for good.) In spite of the temporary good that could possibly be done with it, the Ring has to go back into the volcano it was forged in to be destroyed.
To use the Ring is to be enslaved more and more to the Dark Lord; it can’t be used against him. Chains again.
Faust goes through something of the same temptation, but takes it, betting that he will be able to trick or overpower the devil by the time he actually has to pay his end of the bargain. Needless to say, he isn’t. All those morons out there with the bumperstickers claiming “I’m going to live forever because Heaven won’t take me and the devil is afraid of me” are in for a very rude awakening. Would’ve helped to have read Faust, or at least know the story.
Faust thinks his newly acquired power and wisdom will save him, but the play ends with him being chained and dragged down into hell.
So, the next time someone insists that the government, out of the goodness of its heart, is going to give us everything we ever wanted for free, no strings attached, honest! They’ll make someone else pay for it… suggest a nice summer reading assignment.