On “Ender’s Game”

For years now my students have been trying to convince me to read Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel Ender’s Game. I have resisted reading it, not because I have anything against it, but because I am now at the middle of my life and I have to be much more selective about the books I read as time is running out. I have read my fair share of science fiction and fantasy (more fantasy than sci-fi) and I must admit that I find the genres now formulaic and contrived. Moreover, I do not think that Ender’s Game has an interesting premise. Here it is: Aliens have attacked the Earth and now the governments of the world have taken to training military “geniuses.” The top among them is the protagonist, Ender Wiggin. The fate of the Earth rests on his shoulders. Am I missing something? I thought that the Avengers already saved the earth from Loki.

Now a film adaptation of Ender’s Game is in post-production, scheduled for release in the fall. The film is directed by Gavin Hood and is co-produced by Orson Scott Card himself. It stars Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, among others. I really have no desire to see the film either, but a recent controversy surrounding the author, Orson Scott Card, has recently erupted in the media. It seems that Orson Scott Card thinks that marriage should be between a man and a woman only, thus angering Gay rights groups far and wide. As a result of Orson Scott Card’s remarks on marriage, a community of LGBTs has called for a universal boycott to the film. According to the Huffington Post, Geeks OUT has launched a “Skip Ender’s Game.” The call is to skip the film in order to send a clear message to the author for his remarks.

As unsympathetic as I am to the remarks made by Orson Scott Card, I do not think that calling for a boycott to the film will send any message other than intolerance from a group that holds tolerance as a central tenet of its philosophy. Tolerance works both ways. When we begin to boycott artists and writers for what they believe we begin to dismantle the central tenet of any democratic society: free speech. Orson Scott Card’s beliefs about gay marriage are, in my opinion, completely wrong and backward. Life is hard enough, so if two people find someone to love who should stop them? But I’m bothered by what I can think of as only a self-serving grandstanding by Geeks OUT. Boycotting the film on one’s own is fine, and I would encourage that type of stance on an individual level. But for a politically charged group to call for a universal boycott is as wrong as Card’s statements.

History is full of creative people who have turned out to be reprehensible human beings. Should I dislike Picasso on account of how he treated women? Should I stop listening to Miles Davis for the same reasons? Should I burn all of the books I have by Gunter Grass because he was a Nazi as a youth? What about Sade, or Poe? We should judge the work and not the artist. Art by its very nature walks a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not. It cannot be otherwise. If art and artists do not push the envelope, then who will?

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2 thoughts on “On “Ender’s Game”

  1. There are many wonderful books in the world with rather boring premises. With Ender’s Game, it’s aliens attacking Earth (kinda). With Beloved, it’s a ghost haunting a person due to unfinished business. Lot 49? A woman going through a midlife crisis (at least in part). I would be willing to suggest that the majority of books ever written are based on a simple, possibly overdone, idea. It’s what the author does with that idea that makes it interesting.

    I hadn’t heard about Orson Scott Card’s views on marriage, but the knowledge does not change my desire to read his books, or see the film adaptation. If creators are judged based on one statement, everything ever created would be banned. I agree with you- tolerance works both ways. It’s only fair!

    And, if you’re worried about time running out, don’t! I doubt Ender’s Game will be the worst book you’ve ever read, although I will admit, given your usual choice of reading material, it probably won’t be the best. If you do decide to read it, think of it as a short break between the beefier books on your to-read list.

  2. 3 quick points: 1) The premise of Ender’s Game (which you did not spoil for those who did not read it yet), is a bit more complex than you note. 2) Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, so his views on gay marriage are obviously his own, but not fully “optional” if he wants to stay as an active LDS member. 3) Finally, it is just not true that Gunter Grass was ever a nazi…he served in the Hitler Youth and was an short-term army conscript, in both cases involuntarily and under the age of 18. Given the huge invading Russian army on its way into East Prussia where Grass grew up, helping the local German defense in 1945 hardly makes one a “nazi.” Anti-Semites like G.K. Chesterton are much “worse people” if we want to play the “bad person who’s badness is irrelevant to their status as a writer” game.

    Grass’s Diary of a Snail is partly about a leader in the Catholic boyscouts who has his troop hijacked by the Hitler Youth. After resisting, he has to go underground. It does read differently knowing that Grass is perhaps talking about his own experience–although as a scout rather than a scout leader. And yes, the Hitler Youth really were modeled on the scouts…

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