Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card

I found Ender in Exile a few months ago when I was with my husband on one of our bookstore dates. Those dates always involve me spending way too much on books I mostly read a few pages of and then decide to take a chance on. I didn’t need to read a few pages of this one to know I wanted it.

You see, Ender is an old, dear friend of mine. Reading Ender in Exile is, for me, what I imagine Facebook must be for people who like Facebook. In reading it, I’m picking up again with old acquaintances, characters I’ve known since I was 13 years old. Sure, they’re fictional, but how real are those people from high school who “friend” us – people we never ate lunch with or called on the phone but who recognize our names from the bowels of memory and seek a connection because of what? Nostalgia, maybe. A desire for shared history, more likely. Ender is as real to me as any of those people whose names I have literally erased from memory, just as their lives are as much fiction to me as any of the books in Ender’s universe.

If you’ve never read Ender’s Game, the first of the books in this collection, you should. (Even if you think you don’t like science fiction, you should still check it out.) Maybe it won’t mean as much to you as it did to me as a teenager, but I have since read all the books in the series, and to varying degrees, I have loved them. Orson Scott Card has a talent for writing characters who are easily taken into the heart to love and despise in equal degree, and his gift for storytelling is worthy of the many awards he’s won.

The books in this series are so much more than genre fiction. They remind me in some ways of opera (I know – I’m making them even more appealing to you now, aren’t I?) in that the emotions are soaring yet intimate, the scenarios both implausible and familiar. In one of my favorite moments in Ender in Exile, Ender’s parents, who we see little of in other books, are discussing the enormous difficulties they face in deciding what’s best for all three of their superlatively brilliant children:

   “Teresa, we have to decide: What’s best for Ender? What’s best for Peter and Valentine? What’s best for the future of the world?”
   “Sitting here on our bed, in the middle of the night, the two of us are deciding the fate of the world?” (pg 5)

Maybe I’m alone in having nights that feel like this, but I don’t think so. I don’t even have to have my own children to know that parents feel the pressure of the world bearing down, worrying at them, even when their children aren’t military geniuses. The fact of the matter is, living in a community puts an impetus on each of us to care about something more than ourselves. It puts us in the way of all sorts of decisions, and that’s what these books are about. What happens when you place people – people too young or smart or ordinary or evil – in the path of decisions that affect, not only the world, but the entire unknown universe?

In light of that, there is one other thing I feel I need to add to this discussion, and while it’s not always a conscious consideration when choosing books to read, this discovery has influenced my perception of Orson Scott Card (and burdened my heart in no small part). He has been, for many years, an outspoken advocate against gay rights. People have attributed this to his Mormon faith – and he does identify that his plots around care for children stem from these beliefs – but I personally know many Mormons who are tolerant and open-minded about issues of orientation, so I prefer not to make the assumption that this is where his opinion stems from. I admit I didn’t know this about him when I first started reading his books; I didn’t learn of it until about two years ago, and since then, I have been trying to put together the novelist who has written characters seeking justice and tolerance, his stories, which embrace hugely different cultures and upbringings, and the man, who has such a conservative social view-point.

I’m not sure whether I would have read his books had I known then that he uses his position as a well-loved author to forward ideas I find abhorrent. This is what my favorite English teacher would have called an existential crisis. On the one hand, I love his books. The characters are so dear to me that I can’t imagine my literary life without them. On the other, I was raised to act with compassion toward all people, even those others denigrate, and especially, most difficultly, those who hold ideas I find repugnant.

The benediction at our wedding was from our favorite passage in Micah: “What does God require of you but to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” To me, this is the end all and be all of my entire faith. I am not asked to judge others, or despise them for their hatred, or force my opinions on them. Certainly people rarely let go of intolerance because others have hated them into it. Even in Card’s books, the worst villains were never truly beaten by violence or superior strength but by others meeting them with love and patience.

Existential crises are hard. If I knew the answer for sure, I would be much happier. If all the people whose writing I liked could be as liberal as I am, it would be so much easier. But I don’t, and they aren’t. Life is sort of like the best book ever written that way. Nothing is as plainly good or evil as you hope it will be. Villains may redeem themselves or not. Conflict that rips you open from gut to gills can end up changing the world into a much better place than it was when you were nice and put together. There are sacrifices worth the heartache and things done for the greater good that are worthless. It’s a story filled with unfair plot twists and too much death with little enough adventure and romance to balance out the cosmic scales.

So we do little things. We complicate other people’s beliefs by giving them as much information as possible then allowing them the freedom to choose. We bite our lashing-out tongues one moment, then stand up and take the punches meant for another in the next. We fail one day and live to fight another.

I love Card’s books. I can’t help it. I hate that buying his books might in some way support propagating hatred though, so in the future, I’ll check them out of the library instead of purchasing them myself. This is the best answer I have right now, and it’s nowhere near satisfying. In five or ten or fifty years I might come up with a more perfect solution, but for now, this is where I stand. These books may hold undercurrents of his ideals, but they are in no way stories of intolerance or prejudice, and I can’t bring myself to throw them on the pyre because I disagree with the author. Down that road, tempted though we may sometimes be, lies chaos, unearned self-righteousness, and the death of free speech.

If you’d care to read more about Orson Scott Card’s work, he has a comprehensive site here.

14 thoughts on “Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card

  1. Nice posts. Amazing how conflicted we can be with someones artistic work and there personal ethics. I remember a musician who’s music I once really liked but found out about something very unethical that this person does. The conflict was too much and I stopped listening and buying his music.

    Things such as this can be hard to express and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else talk about it. Great job in expressing the balance we need in these situations and how much of a conflict it can be on a personal level.

    1. Thank you! It’s surprising how painful it is to acknowledge that an artist we feel a connection with holds radically different values than we do, and it’s even harder to act on that information in a way that lives up to our own ethical standards.

  2. One other possible solution is to write the author a letter via the publisher laying out your feelings and asking why he holds his. If nothing else, it will provide an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and feelings. It both positions are heartfelt, neither of you will agree (or change), but the point is not always change or agreement. Sometimes it is just expression.

    By the way, I think using the library is a terrific way “around” this conflict. But then again, I believe any reason to use the library is a terrific idea!!

    1. I often feel like I’m part of a generation that’s jaded about our influence on the wider community, so the idea of letter writing probably would not have occurred to me; however, after seeing, over the course of a year, a social platform like Twitter wielding the power to induce the Komen foundation to reverse a multi-million dollar decision, as well as aid in toppling regimes in the Middle East, I’m starting to have more faith in the possibilities of one voice!

  3. Interestingly, I have had a love/hate, back-and-forth relationship with an author before (somewhat with Card, but for different reasons). This author was/is Ursula K. Le Guin. Now, you and I are almost on opposite spectrums, but our problem was the same. I am conservative, Le Guin is liberal, and I let myself get smug about her and her works. However, thank goodness, over the years I have opened up; not agreed with, but learned to love Le Guin, to love her and know her in that vague, cosmic reader-writer relationship.
    I know the pain of having authors we come to connect with, whose characters we allow into our hearts and minds, to not hold up to our own standards. But, I think it’s a wide step to take from learning that Card does not support gay relations to assuming that he hates gay people. As a Christian, I can only applaud him for sticking to his convictions in a world that is increasingly turning towards politically correct language (regardless of what people really believe). I don’t say this to wound you, as it seems that Card has already done in voicing his opinions. However, I am reminded of the compassionate example of Christ and the Adulteress. After saving her from being stoned,”
    “Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
    ‘No one, sir,’ she said.
    ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of sin.'” (NIV; John 8:10-11)

    1. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective. It occurred to me that in bringing up a sensitive political issue, I might be treading on dangerous ground with some of my readers, but I believe it’s more important to debate and share with others than to keep silent. Our opinions and the rights we have to speak them are not freedoms to be taken lightly; furthermore, the willingness to disagree with respect for opinions other than our own is a quality I greatly admire. It can be a very difficult thing, even when we have the best of intentions, to allow ourselves to leave room in the world for diversity of thought.

      It’s so easy to become self-righteous and to feel hatred toward people who don’t express tolerance for everyone…which is hypocritical, and, I think, inherently part of our flawed human nature. I don’t think all the prophets in history would have had any influence if they weren’t able to uphold a virtue of patience and kindness that feels beyond our capacity.

      I’m so happy to know that readers with a diverse perspective are interested in reading and discussing what I have to say. Thank you for giving me some new ideas to consider when I think about Card as a writer and as a person.

  4. Ender has been my favorite character from the moment I read enders game. In fact it is one of the first books I reccomend to anyone who is getting into reading. Amazing style, great story and a fantastic psychological impact. In fact Enders game was one of the first books I have ever read – the others were all by Alistair MacLean :)
    Didn’t know about O.S.Card and his rabidly anti-gay views. Many a times we attribute beauty of soul to someone who shows beauty of the muses. It’s probably because of our instincts that we feel that we only like good people and that since we like this artist, he must be good at heart. Sadly these perceptions are easily shattered :(
    loved the post
    –aNti

    1. I really agree with this:

      “Many a times we attribute beauty of soul to someone who shows beauty of the muses. It’s probably because of our instincts that we feel that we only like good people and that since we like this artist, he must be good at heart.”

      Thanks for saying it so well!

  5. Just finished reading this book. It was actually the last book in the series that I had to read. And I enjoyed it very much.

    Loved the paragraph on Micah. Last summer, actually, my church and other nearby churches did some volunteer work in Philly, and that was our theme verse. And I love the connection you made to the book.

    Also, existential crisis is a term I’ve never heard before. Thanks for sharing!

    1. They really are great books. When I was doing some research, I was pleased to see that he has two more planned for the next few years. I always look forward to going back to that world – glad to hear I’m not alone in that!

  6. I haven’t read yet. But because of your and Joe’s glowing reviews, I have put it on request at the library. I will not purchase it, though. I will not follow his blog. I will not support him in any other public way and I will always include that he’s a complete asshole in any conversation that comes up regarding him or his works.

    Great post. :)

    1. Hear hear!

      (Also, did you like how I snuck that link onto Joe’s Facebook page ;) I’ve been reading your blog vigilantly and slowly trying to put into place many of your recommendations…some more successfully than others!)

  7. Orson Scott Card was an author who had a huge influence on me as a young aspiring writer. As with many other kids, I’m sure, who were raised Mormon, Card showed me that it was not only possible but also acceptable to pursue science fiction writing as a career&151;something that many of the adults in my life actively discouraged. Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead were two of my favorite novels ever. I’ve read both multiple times over the years.

    Even before I left Mormonism, I learned of Card’s extreme homophobia (in a 1990 essay called “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality,” he called for gays to be “selectively” jailed) and struggled to square that with the compassion so evident in many of his books. I still don’t have a good answer to that.

    And I still love Ender’s Game, though John Kessel pointed out its troubling moral implications in his essay “Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender’s Game, Intention, and Morality.” Kessel helped me identify some of the issues that bother me about Ender’s Game, which I now put down to the deep parallels between Ender and Nephi from the Book of Mormon.

    It makes me sad that I will probably never read Card again, but I can confidently say that Ender’s Game gives thoughtful readers a whole lot to chew on, and that’s not a bad thing.

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