Age and Understanding: A Reflection on (or rather, sparked by) Ender’s Game

Urged by my sometimes annoying habit of comparing books with their movie counterparts and the recent(ish) release of the film adaption of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott card, I decided to start re-reading the Ender series. Considering I hadn’t read any of them since sometime between elementary and middle school, I didn’t think I could really do an accurate job of blasting the movie with facts from the book (all the ‘this didn’t happen like it was supposed to’ and ‘they left out that important detail’ and ‘damn you, Hollywood, you destroyed the book!’) until said book was fresh in my mind again.

All in all, actually, I still enjoyed the movie, hurried and lacking much of the immense detail of the book (AND THE ENTIRE THING WITH LOCKE, DEMOSTHENES, AND THE SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, as well as the depth of the fantasy game!) as it was. But I’m a sucker for sci-fi films, anti-war themes, and child protagonists in general, so I liked it.

I can be understanding about it. There is obviously difficulty in cramming a 300+ page book into a 2 hour movie (though I would have been perfectly happy sitting through a 3 hour movie!), but they did manage to include most of the essential conflicts.

But I’m getting off topic. This isn’t a movie review; it’s not even a book review. It’s a reflection.

When I read Ender’s Game as a kid, it was a good book, yes, but in a way, it was also intimidating. It was a trade paperback with small print and a lot of pages, and for me, as a child, it was more about reading what looked like an ‘adult’ book rather than actually absorbing the story itself, along with its lessons, themes, and all of the emotions that my young mind didn’t quite understand. I’m ashamed to admit that, although I did read it and very much enjoyed the plot and action, it didn’t spark anything for me. It didn’t provoke some great response. I didn’t even read the whole series (the thought of which was even more daunting as it totals at, like, sixteen 300+ page books).

But now, re-reading the series years later, I’ve come to find that Orson Scott Card is fighting his way into my list of favorite authors.

Now, I read these books with a greater understanding of the emotion (I am quite angry with my young self for not connecting better to Ender when I read about him around the same age—though, it is true that Ender grew up much quicker than I did and never really had the innocent childhood that people expect children to have). I read them with knowledge of the political significance and a much greater understanding of human beings in general—how we react, why we do what we do, our willingness to sacrifice one (whether it be one person, one species, or even one world) for the greater good of the masses (an idea which is found in so many literary works—Le Guin does a great job of illustrating it in her short story ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ if you’re interested).

I read Ender’s Game as someone who, herself, can’t say that all of her childhood was as innocent and carefree as expected and whose heart bled for Ender, who never got to be a child. And still, older now, I identify with Ender, some of which I credit to his love for his sister, Valentine.

My siblings have always been my best friends, my mentors, my confidants, the people I could cling to in the face of pain or sadness, happiness or excitement. And yet, as we grow older, living our separate lives, we see less of each other—and will see even less as time goes on—just as Ender and Valentine, though their parting was forced. But that love and connection remains, just as the link between Ender and his sister transcends the forced separation and distance between them.

It saddens me to think that I didn’t appreciate the relationship between me and my siblings when I was young—that I didn’t identify with that when I read Ender’s Game the first time.

But with age comes understanding.

And now, a story that, sadly, had no great influence on me as a child has become a precious gift. Such is the mystery and intrigue of books, of writing and storytelling. And such is the cruelty and kindness of time: we yearn, in youth, to never grow old, but only with age can we begin to understand what it means to be young. In a way, I can’t help but envy the fact that Ender grew up quickly, as cruel as that seems to me. He was a child who thought like an adult, who understood things even before the men and women around him. He was a child but had the respect of many adults.

And doesn’t every child want to be treated as an equal to their adult counterparts? And doesn’t every adult wish to be youthful again while still bearing the knowledge they’ve spent long years compiling? Ender has all of these things–all of the makings of immortality.

That is the wonderful thing about fictional characters: they are immortalized in the pages of a book. They are friends that never go away. They grow and change with the reader, take them on an adventure to their own world, and teach them about all the things a real teacher could (except, oftentimes, they’re a bit more interesting). They teach the reader about life, love, pain, death, and every emotion on the spectrum, all the while influencing the reader’s beliefs–right and wrong, good and evil, what it means to be human … And listening to their story, I learn things about both myself and my peers. I discover little ideas of who I want to be and wonder how I would react in their situations, and so often, I envy them for their strength and passion, their willingness to reach their goal no matter what the cost.

In this specific case, Ender Wiggin, is my teacher, and I envy, most of all, the depth of his humanity, which sometimes seems a rare trait outside of a fictional world.

In Speaker for the Dead, Ender says that he does “not belong to them, to the human race,” (Card, page 40) but I have to disagree. The dictionary states that, after the more literal definitions, humanity is the quality of being humane, kind and benevolent.

By that definition, even as a fictional character, Ender Wiggin, in my opinion, is more deserving to be called ‘human’—to be a part of the human race—than many people that actually exist, who live and breathe and feel outside the pages of a book or the screen of a television.

The goal he worked so long and hard for was set, not by him, but by his teachers, his peers, and the world he felt no comfort from. And only after he has fought so hard to complete the goals other had set for him did he truly find what he wanted to do. Only then did he set a goal for himself, and as of yet, he has not given up; and I don’t expect him to.

Even though it may only be a story, even though the world and the characters aren’t real, there is good in the world and humanity may not be so rare a trait after all. There are people who speak the truth of their feelings and actions, and the authors who create them bring those emotions to life within the reader and influence their own thoughts and actions.

This is why I read fiction, why I write and covet it.

To feel such a deep connection to a character or story; to see the emotions you’ve felt written on a page exactly as you would describe them; to realize that somewhere in this world, or one dreamed up by an author, there is someone who has experienced the same feelings, love, and hardship—somewhere in the world, there is a kindred soul …

That is a gift.

Happy New Year.


H.D. Hunter

Speaker for the Dead, © 1986, 1991 by Orson Scott Card


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