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26 October 2013 @ 11:23 am
Ender's Game  
I first read Ender's Game in middle school, that time when almost everyone experiences the feeling of being an outcast and unloved, some more than others. I still refer to my middle school years as Hell, if that gives you any idea. So I, like many others, identified with Ender from the very first page. Sure, there's a lot of controversy in taking small, almost kindergarten age children, and training them to be soldiers, but I think for me, that was part of the appeal. The adults in Ender's life didn't treat him like a child. They treated him like an adult, and what kid doesn't yearn for that around the age of 10+?

I was talking to a friend who is going to read it last night. We were playing Xbox with two other friends, and he asked me if it was a good book. "It's a great book," I said. "Probably one of the best military SF books I've ever read."

"I wouldn't say that," said one of our other friends.

"You didn't like it?"

"Well...it's about training kids to be soldiers." The implication being that this subject matter made the book too disturbing, or terrible, to ever be good.

Honestly, while I understand the emotion behind this response, I don't really feel it myself. Maybe because I read it first at the age I did. I mean, if our military suddenly started a training program with first graders, removing them from their families, isolating and training them under often brutal schedules and conditions, I would have a serious problem with it. (Even to save the Earth and humanity from certain destruction.) But as a work of fiction, this aspect added another layer of depth. The same book, written if Ender started at 16, instead of 6, would not have had as large an emotional impact on me. In short, I don't think it would have been as good.

Now, having read it again as an adult, I have all kinds of thoughts on the book that go beyond Ender-as-child-soldier, things my middle school self would never have picked up on, but things I think it is hugely important for kids to read about today. Things like bullying.

Ender is bullied from the first pages of this book. He isn't just bullied, but at six years old, he knows his life and welfare are in jeopardy - from the kids at school who bully him, and from his psychopathic older brother, Peter. Later in the book, this theme is picked up again at Battle School, and escalated as the boys there truly intend to kill Ender. They want to kill him because they're jealous, and afraid, and above all, threatened by his existence. Bullying has become such a prevalent and dangerous thing today. Kids kill themselves and try to kill themselves because of it. To me, this theme has never been more socially relevant. If I was teaching, I would have my class read this book just so we could talk about these issues together, as they relate to the book, and to the real lives kids live today.

I really, really hope the movie does not just gloss past these things.

Now we come to a point where I am going to address some other thoughts I have on this book, thoughts that make me sad. Sad, because of the controversy with the author and his anti-gay marriage views. Honestly, I don't get it. I am a conservative. I am Christian. I DO NOT get why so many people do not seem to understand that being anti-gay is discriminating against other human beings.I wrote a research paper on it, once. I actually researched the reasons why "the other side" is so against gay marriage. Do you know what I found? IDENTICAL arguments to those used by people who opposed black rights only a few decades ago. Seriously, almost word for word. And yet, so many don't recognize it as discrimination. Why shouldn't gay and lesbian people who love each other be able to marry? How does that threaten my relationship with God, or my hetero-sexual marriage? Answer: IT DOESN'T. It is infuriating, frustrating, and saddening to me. I want to scream "how can we have come so far, and yet still be so blind?" How can anyone cling so hard to beliefs that take basic human rights away from someone else? I don't know.

I think it comes down to people feeling afraid and threatened by what they don't understand, and steadfastly refusing to try to understand. It's easier to cling to what they've always been told or taught, than to be open to something new that contradicts that. Even if it means they are hurting someone else.

What does all of this have to do with Ender's Game? Well, as a friend pointed out to me when we were discussing it recently, the book is almost sexless. Other than a few dick jokes the boys make at Battle School, there is no reference to sex. In part, this is because so many of the characters are so young, but I also feel it leaves the book, and Ender's own sexual orientation, open to interpretation. Add to that Ender's feelings of isolation and his constantly being targeted and bullied by other kids, and I feel this book could, and probably does, resonate with kids who are gay or lesbian. I hope that "open to interpretation" feel is something they keep for the movie as well, but from the trailers, I'm guessing not. It looks like they are focusing on Petra from all of the side characters who play the games with Ender, probably because Hollywood wants something to appeal to the female demographic, but whatever.

My end thoughts on this: the book has a lot of modern relevance, and could appeal to a lot of our youth today, while possibly exposing them to new ideas and important concepts. I think "boycotting" or "banning" it because of the author's personal beliefs would be really unfortunate and deny those opportunities to those who would benefit most from reading it.


ETA: I do understand the urge to boycott it, believe me. I still remember the disillusionment I felt when I read that terrible interview with [Big Name Fantasy Author] when he basically called his fans idiots for thinking he was a fantasy author, and all kinds of other nonsense. And I don't condone Card's views, obviously. If you don't want to give him your money, there is always borrowing it from the library to consider. I really feel, strongly, that the themes in the book make it something not to be skipped based solely on the author's asshattery, especially given that I feel in some ways, the book itself represents something exactly opposite of the author's own beliefs in this regard.
patron saint of neglected female characters: bookgirlrose_griffes on October 27th, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's an age-related thing, but as someone who first read Ender's Game as an adult, it wasn't something that had a strong impact on me. I really enjoyed it, found it compelling, but I'm guessing that if I'd been younger, I would have latched onto it in a different way. You're right about the outsider theme in the novel; as a kid who felt like an outsider a lot of the time, I tended to gravitate toward that kind of narrative.

Children of the Mind, though... OSC can say whatever, but there's something to CotM that continues to be deeply meaningful to me. (It's the last of the Ender books--those that actually have Ender as a character, that is. And now that I think about it, of those four books, CotM probably spent the most time away from Ender's POV. Hm.)

No one's ever going to know how much a boycott will or won't hurt the movie, but having seen the trailer, I'm not very interested anyway*. And really, does Ben Kingsley have to play EVERY ethnicity ever? Does he have a checklist? "Hey, I haven't played Maori yet, let's do that next!"

*I'm not ruling out watching it, just... not currently intrigued by the idea. It seems to me that the story itself is very interior, very much inside who Ender is, which makes it almost impossible to film in a way that would please its biggest fans.
rhienellethrhienelleth on November 2nd, 2013 12:24 am (UTC)
Ok, so yes, I laughed my butt off over your Ben Kingsley comment, because it is SO TRUE.

Your concerns about the internal focus of the story are exactly what has always bothered me about turning this into a movie. Without Ender's thoughts and feelings, I'm afraid his actions will come across as cold, without the empathy so necessary to the character.