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Candide: A Fable Reading Guide

Candide by Voltaire
The Sean Astin Book Club has switched to a classic novel. In his opening post, the Lord of the Rings actor announced his new pick:

"For the next six weeks, we’ll be reading “Candide” by Voltaire, a satire that tests the limits of a very, very optimistic young man who travels through our dangerous and unfair world. This has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in college."

Join the Sean Astin Book Club to start reading Candide for free!

What is the main point of Candide?

Candide is a satire (basically, a comical critique) of our blind optimism and the belief that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.” Even though it was published in 1759, the book can still shock modern readers with its Monty Python-esque streak of dark humor used to expose the flaws and hypocrisies of various aspects of society and culture. The main character, Candide, is relentlessly optimistic despite the numerous tragedies and hardships he experiences. His optimism leads him into danger and suffering, ultimately challenging the idea that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Centuries later, the book still challenges readers to think critically about the world around them and to question the status quo.

Why is Sean Astin reading Candide?

Fable is designed for people to share the joy of reading. We are a social platform for book clubs that can be either private (closed and available by invitation only) or public (open and available for anyone to join).The iconic actor shared his Sean Astin book recommendations with a “Journeys of Adventure” theme. Sean’s Folio introduced us to stories that will speak to your soul, open your mind, and show you extraordinary things. Sean Astin discovered the book in college, but he’s always felt a connection to the tortured (but ever-optimistic) main character. He explained in his book club:

"My whole life, I’ve tried to share my heart with the world through movies. I played Mikey Walsh in 'The Goonies': 'Goonies Never Say Die!' I also played the title character in 'Rudy': “Sometimes a winner is a dreamer who just won’t quit.' Finally, one of the many roles I’ve played based on a literary character is Samwise Gamgee in the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy: 'There is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!'” Notice anything about all those characters? They are all optimists who refuse to give up, no matter how hard things get.

Great Quotes from Candide

Throughout the book, Candide experiences terrible hardships that highlight the absurdity of the philosophy that we live in the best of all possible worlds. He asks his famous quote:

“We are going into another world,” said Candide; “and surely it must be there that all is for the best. For I must confess there is reason to complain a little of what passeth in our world in regard to both natural and moral philosophy.”

Over and over again, Candide encounters the hypocrisy of people in power, illustrated by this controversial and famous quote:

"Gentlemen, you reckon you are today going to feast upon a Jesuit. It is all very well, nothing is more unjust than thus to treat your enemies. Indeed, the law of nature teaches us to kill our neighbour, and such is the practice all over the world. If we do not accustom ourselves to eating them, it is because we have better fare.

Candide and his philosophy teacher keep defending the philosophy of Leibniz (a philosopher who believed we live in the best of all possible worlds). Despite the overwhelming evidence against it, they think everything happens for a reason and serves a divine purpose.

"things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.”

Finally, at the end of the book, Candide finds new meaning in life as he embraces practical work and cultivation.

“All that is very well, but let us cultivate our garden.”

Candide the Opera!

The great conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein wrote an opera version of “Candide” with Lillian Hellman. That’s the song “Make Our Garden Grow,” sung by the entire cast at the end of the show. One YouTube viewer summed up the emotional experience:

"This ALWAYS makes me BURST out in tears.... every hair on my body stands on end and the tears just roll. What exquisite writing....and this an earth shattering performance."

The Kennedy Center has more about the opera:

“Hellman felt the overblown optimism, cruel abuses of power, and tremendous hypocrisy displayed in Candide would serve as an ideal metaphor for the American Red Scare (the fear of communist beliefs and practices) and its unjust sanctions and interrogations spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy.”

Keep reading on Fable!

When you finish reading “Candide,” don’t forget to post a review on Fable. You can also add the book to a list.You can sample our ever-growing collection of Folios and exceptional book recommendations from some of the world’s great tastemakers. Each Folio covers a critical theme, and some of our Folio curators include LeVar Burton, Paulo Coelho, Wolfgang Puck, and Jasmine Guillory. Discover great book recommendations!And don’t forget. Fable has plenty of free books in every genre!

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