Tomorrow afternoon, I’m planning on seeing Ender’s Game. Like everyone else on Tumblr at this point, I’m well aware of the ongoing calls to boycott this movie. While I can certainly sympathize with the community that is opposed to this film, I feel like I have to take a moment to defend the movie’s story, if not its author.
Today, fans of young adult fiction are spoiled. For whatever reason, the last twenty years have seen an explosion in adventure fiction aimed at teens. From Artemis Fowl to Harry Potter to The Hunger Games, fans of YA fiction have been able to pick from a slew of compelling works and movie adaptations of them.
And, unequivocally, Ender’s Game was a better book than all of the examples I listed above. I say this not just from a storytelling perspective, but also from a progressive one.
In addition to having a cast with numerous people of colour, Ender’s Game’s core moral is one of inclusivity. Ender’s most important character trait is his ability to empathize with others. This is what makes him an effective commander - he knows his enemies as well as is humanly possible and uses this knowledge to control the battlefield. But, this ability is a double-edged sword. To be effective, Ender must spend so much time studying his enemies that he inevitably becomes close to them. As Card puts it in the novel, once Ender is able to love someone, he is able to beat them.
As Ender progresses through the military, he becomes deeply disturbed. Every simulated battle takes an emotional toll and, by the end of the story, he empathizes more with the alien threat he is being trained to defeat than with his teachers.
This progression comes to a climax when Ender faces his final exam. Unable to cope with the stress, he cracks and orders his team to launch a planet destroying device at the enemy homeworld. As the lights come up in the simulator, Ender sees his teachers celebrating. He has been lied to - what he thought were simulator battles were in fact occurring on the other side of the universe. Ender was commanding actual fleets in a major invasion. And, it was an invasion that he concluded by destroying his enemy’s planet. So, while the army officials celebrate the victory of the human race, Ender breaks down.
As I said above, Ender defeated the formics because he was able to empathize with them. So while the rest of the planet sees this as the end of a long and brutal conflict, Ender realizes that he has just committed genocide.
The fundamental theme of the story is about understanding. The formics do not exist the same way that humans do. They have a hive mind and it is their inability to comprehend human thought that sparks the conflict. Humanity’s inability to understand the formics ends it.
I would hope that this is a metaphor that anyone can appreciate. The idea that there are other people of intellect that operate in different ways (sexually, religiously or culturally) and that we must learn to understand each other is simple, but profound. Furthermore, it is highly progressive.
And that is the true tragedy of Ender’s Game. Orson Scott Card has written a book that, by all rights, should be the anti-thesis of his own beliefs. Beyond its emotional weight as a book about a child being burdened by the pressure of success, Ender’s Game is a story about the dangers of exclusion and intolerance. It’s an important message and I think that it’s a shame that people will likely miss the story because of their opposition to its author.