What It’s Like to Read ENDER’S GAME as an Adult

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?

  • Colin

    yes! I read it during the summer before 8th grade and I absolutely loved the book. the way he strategically conquered, and then made an ally out of, the GJDWUX was incredible. (didn’t want to spoil it, although that was only a third of the way through the book). Ender was the ultimate sci-fi genius. (and the soap!)
    nevertheless, I was shocked and disappointed when I found out that Orson Scott Card was on the board of NOM. (for those who don’t know, the National Organization for Marriage “fights to preserve the sanctity of marriage”. among other things) ultimately, I still am not ashamed to love the book, although that love does come with an asterisk.
    I don’t know if I can see the movie because of this. maybe if I do it after watching a different movie, so that I won’t have to pay for another ticket?

    • Curt Jones

      Well Colin, Mr. Card is a Mormon so his personal religious beliefs are
      to be expected. If I had read this book in Jr. High I might have liked
      it more. The story and the dialog are not adult oriented in nature.

    • Jill Oliver

      Card is committed to his personal beliefs and that passion comes out in most of his books. Loads of authors, artists, and musicians have beliefs that are inconsistent with my own and some are really just awful people. You have to follow what seems right to you. I think we have to determine what seems hypocritical in “support” we give to stories, music, etc. if we think we don’t want to support the creator of the material.

    • Matthew Parker

      I like how you’re morally against people who oppose gay marriage to the point that you would propose stealing (since that’s what it is to buy a ticket for one movie and then see two) as a means of not supporting the movie.

  • Karla Traxel

    I read it both as an adult and child and have enjoyed it thoroughly every time I read it. Try Ender’s Shadow.

  • Jill Oliver

    I have always been a science fiction and fantasy fan, beginning with fairy tales and moving on to comic books as soon as I could read sentences. So, this essay is difficult to relate to. Two thoughts hit me immediately after reading this piece. First, it has not always been easy to be a fan of this literature. Seems like everyone is crazy about the movies, but people still hold stereotypes about fans of this genre. Being a nerd seems to have some popularity now but devotees still may find there is a cost to loving all things space or magic. Having just attended a comicon, I was dismayed but heartened that all the girls I drove back and forth to events reported feeling so empowered by the safe environment and finding others who shared their obsessions. We are moving in the right direction but it is important for adults to remember the bulling kids may experience.

    Next, I never think of my younger self as being dumber. I understand what this author was trying to say but smart is not the issue. We are not as experienced and we are less wise because of it. Kids connect with this literature and particularly, Ender, because he feels what they feel. While the environment and the situation are wildly different on another level, everything is so familiar. Vicious bullies, competition, trying to understand adult decision making, isolation, despair, and fear are all so real to kids. This book is a classic because Card got it all so right. Most of us make it out of the meat grinder that is adolescence to turn into kind and wonderfully thoughtful adults. When we are in the middle of it, childhood and adolescence feel quite different. Not dumb. Simply not finished.

  • Margaret Sullivan Brannon

    Ender’s Game was not marketed as a ya novel until the mid 90’s when the publisher essentially cleaned up the language and published a version specifically targeted to the teen crowd. I’m not surprised that some people couldn’t get into the book as youngsters.

    Just because a book has child protagonists doesn’t make it a good children’s book. Look at To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s a fine book for young adults, but that was not the primary audience. In fact, if you last read the book in junior high or middle school, you should read it again. There’s more to the story that will pop out at you when you read it from an adult perspective. The same goes for Ender’s Game. If your last experience of it was as a teen, you need to read it again.

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  • Annie Kiesewetter

    I didn’t read Enders Game as a child, but I am sure I would have loved it. That said, I don’t think I would have gotten out of it as a child what I got out of it as an adult. I couldn’t help feeling bad for Ender through out much of the book. It did exhaust me think about how adults in Enders life used him, and I was very upset how society blamed Ender at the end of the book, and not the adults responsible for him! I definitely enjoyed the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, because I got to see how Ender grew up and how he adapted into adulthood.

    As for Orson Scott Cards personal views, I have to agree with Chrissie’s statement ” there are probably thousands of authors whose work I’ve enjoyed who are people I’d absolutely hate in real life.” I think you can enjoy a persons work, without agreeing with their personal views. I don’t agree with his views, but I don’t have time to research all the authors, actors, ect. to make sure their view mesh with my own. He did write a pretty awesome book!

  • Jakob

    Well i’m only 11 and I read the book and I only read it because I loved the movie so I read it for action and fun but at the end I really realized its full of fun and action. The movie did a horrible job of ending it. Ender there in his early twenty’s with his brother dead who was only about thirdy years old just I cant put it into words I have this feeling and its killing me I just cant believe it. I need to know about the next books and really get a true meaning of it even though i’m young and others reading this i’m not weird I just really see life in a different way after reading this. I knowestly wish I waited till I was older and under stood more of life because I wasn’t prepared to read Enders Game. Now I know what to really think when I read the next books. Enders Game really made me see thing in a different way

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