I’ve talked a lot about the Ender’s Game film adaptation. I’ve also compared it often to the book it’s based on. However, I haven’t discussed the novel in detail yet. I’ve decided now is the time for me to do so. Unfortunately, for those who haven’t read it, you should know I’m doing this solely for the benefit of those who have. For anyone who hasn’t, I only feel the need to say this: buy it, read it, if you have any disagreements with the views of the author, don’t worry, I can assure you this story does not preach those things, quite the opposite, in fact.
Okay, now that my spoiler warning’s out of the way…
You already know the story. The buggers attacked us twice (not once, movie, twice), and now it’s time to fight back. To do so, an ideal military leader is needed, a child raised in uniform, educated by his enemies, victorious in every battle he ever fights, not a perfect soldier, a perfect commander. Thus, Ender’s Game.
THE LITTLE TALKS: The book opens with a conversation between two unknowns regarding the fate of humanity. Already, after reading the first few sentences, I understood the gravity of the situation. It didn’t matter if I knew who these people were, only that they were. And see, the best thing about this opening is that it isn’t the only one. Every chapter opens with an exchange between two vague figures who feel as though they’re completely in control of what’s going on, but, internally, they know they aren’t. Eventually it becomes clear who at least one of these two is, but it’s still intriguing each time these brief talks appear. They create the mystery of Ender’s Game, which continues to grow throughout the tale.
From here, we’re introduced to Ender.
ENDER: There are so many different reasons why Ender is as compelling as he is. After talking to as many readers of the novel as I have, it’s clear that there’s no single specific quality, rather a few distinct ones among the sea of attributes. There’s his intelligence, his innocence, his courage, his growth, and his struggle to find a balance between being a loving healer and a ruthless killer.
His intelligence and his innocence alternate and conflict with one another often. We see Ender analyze one situation logically and handle it with tactical precision, and then react to another in a totally different manner, breaking down emotionally under the pressures and stress of Battle School. He’s never really in a safe place, which is pretty tragic. Even in his own home he constantly fears the threat of his older brother, Peter, who never kills him, but always brings him close the edge.
The way Ender’s courage is displayed is rather interesting. Yes, it took guts for him to leave his family in the beginning, but you don’t really see how brave he is until the part on the raft, with Valentine. He doesn’t greet her the way he wants to, and neither does she. They both do their best to push each other away while simultaneously converging, because, even though their love is mutual, they haven’t met in years, and so it’s almost like they’re strangers to one another. Where we see Ender’s bravery is when he chooses to go back. Most characters, when they do something courageous, do so because it is their duty, or because they feel compelled to do it. But Ender isn’t compelled, he doesn’t have to do it, he doesn’t have to do anything. He could just sit on that raft and leave the universe be. He decides to act and, even though it leads to something horrible, the fact that he was willing to make the choice is, to me, admirable.
Because everything in Ender’s Game happens over such a long period of time, Ender’s growth feels natural. Yes, he does go through some sporadic emotion shifts every once in a while because, you know, he’s a kid, but, overall, his transition from boy to “man” is well paced and well developed, especially in the later chapters. When Ender finally arrives at Command School, it definitely feels like years have gone by, and that a turning point is about to be reached in Ender’s life, which of course leads to the balancing act.
If Peter gave Ender something to run from, Valentine gave him something to run to. However, he was born to do the first, while still needing to maintain enough of the second to have strategic empathy. Ender’s ability to understand and love his enemies is what makes him so good at defeating them. The problem is that he hates the victory, because he knows someone has to pay the price. He knows that, even if he wins, they lose, the worst part being that he usually doesn’t feel like he wins in the end. The killer wins, the monster wins, Peter wins.
I’ll come back to Ender soon, but for now…
LOCKE AND DEMOSTHENES: I apparently had that backwards every other time I wrote it, so, there it is, properly arranged, properly sequenced. Okay, naming flubs aside, I’m talking about Peter and Valentine here. These two are my favorite characters in the book, specifically Peter. Both of them are crucial to not only the development of Ender as a character, but of the story as a whole.
Peter’s failure as a hero gave birth to Ender’s success as a killer, since Peter basically took out all his rage on his younger brother after washing out of the Battle School program. This led to Valentine comforting Ender often, which gave him the duality necessary to become the perfect commander. That’s just one, simple example of how vital these two are, but that’s just with Ender. How about the overall story? Well, there’s this little chapter called “Locke and Demosthenes” in the middle of the book. It’s all about Peter and Valentine working together to essentially prevent civil war from ravaging Earth while the International Fleet is focused on the threat of the buggers, via the internet. It’s the single most intelligent section of the book, and I was surprised to find out how many people were okay with it being cut from the movie adaptation because it was “unnecessary for the main story to work.” Okay, I need a separate paragraph for this one, because that is an absolute load.
“Lock and Demosthenes” isn’t just a setup for the sequels of Ender’s Game. In fact, I would argue that it is the single most important chapter in the entire book. Yes, the ending is beautiful, and my favorite part, but it actually would’ve been far less effective without “Lock and Demosthenes.” You see, the whole point of this chapter isn’t actually the whole “government takeover” thing. Yeah, that’s a big deal, but it isn’t why the chapter is there. The chapter is there so that we understand Peter. It’s true that it focuses a lot on establishing Valentine for the raft scene and, later, the ending, but if we can understand Peter, then we can understand Ender. Why? Because Ender can love anyone, that’s the point. That’s why he cares about the buggers so much. If we get Peter, if we really know who he is, that he isn’t just some evil, monstrous bully who cuts up squirrels for fun, then we can know who the buggers are as well.
And it all builds up to just one line, the line that sums up Ender’s Game entirely: “If he can speak for the buggers, surely he can speak for me.” Without “Lock and Demosthenes,” the message the novel is going for just doesn’t feel satisfactory. Without this chapter, everything else is just sort of “cool,” or “good,” even “great,” but not “magnificent.”
AN ARMY OF FRIENDS, AN ARMY OF ENEMIES: I figured I’d briefly talk about the supporting characters of Ender’s Game. I won’t go too into detail, only because this is becoming a bit of a wall of text, but I definitely don’t want these guys to totally get the shaft. First off, Bean as a reflection of Ender is done very well. Though I’m aware that Ender’s Shadow gets far more in depth with the character (I have not read it as of yet), Bean is still, like the two siblings, an important part of Ender’s growth. Without seeing what he once was (a more intelligent version of what he once was, but still similar), his transition wouldn’t seem as, well, “transition-y.” There always has to be some point where a character looks back on their journey, and it’s nice to see it done in a way that isn’t just a flashback or the like. Also, the way Bean challenges Ender as a leader is great, because, again, it’s sort of like Ender challenging himself, and thus learning from himself.
Other characters, like Bernard, Rose, Alai and Petra, aren’t shoved in for cliché reasons (no love interests, stupid movie). They, either as friends or foes, teach Ender the skills he needs, not only to lead, but to survive. Bonzo is definitely a notable one, being the thing that pushes Ender over the edge, an edge he has to climb back onto later, with help from Valentine.
Graff, Mazer and Anderson left me with mixed feelings by the end. I didn’t hate any of them, but I disagreed with all of them. All three of them probably should’ve told Ender the truth, but, with the information they had, what other choice did they have? Annihilation? I wouldn’t have risked it either, in their shoes. But to lie to Ender, allowing him to commit genocide unwittingly, that’s too far.
SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD: The first twist of Ender’s Game was something I saw coming, not because it was predictable, but because, unfortunately, it was spoiled for me at a young age. So, after reading it, I was sort of like, “Well, that’s that.” And then, of course, it kept going, and going, and going, and the skeleton was there, and the castle, and the mirror, and the egg, and I just started crying, because I knew the truth already.
“They just wanted to talk,” I kept saying, over and over. “They just wanted to talk.”
And then it kept going, with Ender’s founding of a new grass roots movement, a beautiful way of making the world a more honest, loving place. As I’ve stated before, Peter’s reconciliation with Ender is what makes the story. It ties everything together. And the fact that Ender accepts the buggers and goes out to find a new home for them shows that he really does know them, and that they, in turn, know him. I haven’t read the sequels, so I don’t know what happens afterward, but I can honestly say that this is a conclusion beyond what I expected, and I’m glad I went on the journey to find it.
IN SUMMARY: This book is really valuable to me. It’s not just some action-packed science fiction story, although there is much action to be found in it. It’s not Flash Gordon meets The Hunger Games. It’s not a children’s book (even though anyone of any age can relate to Ender). It’s a novel about understanding. I know I said that before, but I can’t stress it enough. This is a character study, an analysis of humanity, and a window into what is possible when people look past what’s wrong with someone to find out what’s right.
That’s a quote directly from my “COUNTDOWN” piece I wrote before the film adaptation came out. It still holds true. To me, this isn’t about the author, it’s about his work, and it’s beautiful. I hope you agree, and if you don’t, that’s okay. Because that’s the thing about art: we all think whatever we want about it.
This is Dylan Alexander wishing you a happy…
…eh, just have a nice day.
…yeah, that’s all. No excuse here.)
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