I didn’t read Ender’s Game as a child. I love sci-fi now, but I wasn’t into it as a kid. I think I was intimidated by the books my uncle and cousins had on their shelves (all the covers had soft-focus pictures of space on them). But now? Show me a dystopian galaxy I don’t like and I’ll show you someone who’s wearing my skin and pretending to be me but getting all the details wrong.
If child me had read Ender’s Game, she would have been jealous of Ender for sure. Someone chose Ender. Ender’s better than other kids. Ender’s special. I wanted to be special and better than the other kids! Sure, our parents tell us we’re special—but all you need to do is look at the kid next to you whose sweater smells inexplicably like throw-up and you know you’re just a mouth breather like the rest of ’em.
Adult me is also jealous of six-year-old Ender heading off to Battle School. After years of trying to find the career that fits you, wouldn’t it be nice if someone just showed up at your house and was like, “Hey, I know you think you’re ringing up bread bowls at Panera, but we were just kidding about that—you’re actually a wizard. Get thee to wizarding school, you’re gonna save all our asses!” Or go to Battle School or on a hobbit’s quest or whatever. I want someone to tell me what I’m supposed to be doing!
But then I remember how young six actually is. Have you talked to a six-year-old lately? Although I’m sure at the time I thought I was ready to casually date, a six-year-old might still wet the bed. Yes, random six-year-old, I see why you’re not allowed to operate a stove.
So special Ender ships off to Battle School and is basically ridden like Seabiscuit all the way to graduation. No recess. No dodgeball. No overly aggressive games of Red Rover. He’s busy being our genius and our savior.
Kid me who hated all the aforementioned things: Isn’t he a big, lucky winner?!
Adult me: He’s going to have a breakdown.
And that, I think, is the main reason I loved reading Ender’s Game as an adult. As opposed to being caught up in the details of the winning and the losing of the games, I spent the majority of the book feeling very connected to and concerned about Ender’s mental state. I could relate. No, I’m not saving the world. But just the notion of finding a way to feed myself in the stupidly expensive city in which I live is enough to make me look at my reflection in the darkened subway windows and think, “Nope, you’re not making it out of this one alive.” That’s MY game. I like to think of it as a more self-centered and infinitely less important version of Ender’s.
But he’s also a genius and I’m a dancing monkey in a tiny hat, so I’m trying not to beat myself up too much. (He doesn’t even have the “What time is it? It’s showtime!” kids to brighten up his life.)
The emotional journey of our young protagonist is far more relatable and moving to me now than it would have been to my younger, dumber self. Feeling alone? Having a bad week? Exhausted by making your way in the world? Ender, you can come sit by me and all the other grown-ups at the adult table because we’ve all had it. I felt so tired for that poor child! I read this novel and felt tired the whole entire time. I really liked the book, by the way.
Lastly, I’d probably be remiss to discuss this book without at least mentioning how Orson Scott Card’s been in the news lately. Do I need to? Do I want to? No, not really, but I wish I’d known about this business before I’d bought the book. I still would’ve read it, but I would have borrowed it instead.
Should we stop reading authors if we realize we disagree (or in this case, fervently disagree) with their real-life worldviews? I don’t think so. And in all fairness, there are probably thousands of authors whose work I’ve enjoyed who are people I’d absolutely hate in real life. Ranch dressing lovers! People who juggle the loaded guns they’ve purchased out of someone’s weird backpack! Who knows?! The research I’d have to do on this is exhausting and I’m still so tired from living Ender’s life vicariously through him.
The one real conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that I should be volunteering to help my causes and writing my Congressperson and stuff instead of reading books about six-year-old geniuses anyway.
Have you read, or re-read, Ender’s Game as an adult? What was your take?