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Ender's Game is morally repugnant

As I hear friends and acquaintances express eagerness to see the Ender's Game film that will be released this fall, I have a hard time responding. I want to ask, have you read the book? After you were fifteen years old? And you enjoyed it? I can't understand how it won the awards it did. It's not just poorly written, it's repugnant. John Kessel articulates why in his essay Creating the Innocent Killer:
Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality
. An excerpt:
We see the effects of displaced, righteous rage everywhere around us, written in violence and justified as moral action, even compassion. Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario? So we all want to be Ender. As Elaine Radford has said, “We would all like to believe that our suffering has made us special—especially if it gives us a righteous reason to destroy our enemies.”

But that’s a lie. No one is that special; no one is that innocent. If I felt that Card’s fiction truly understood this, then I would not have written this essay.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/38505.html.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 17th, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
I first read Ender's Game in my mid-twenties. I didn't find it exactly repugnant but I did see very clearly that I would have loved it as an early teen and that I was glad I hadn't read it then. But saying that one wouldn't go so far as to call a book "repugnant" is also not to be mistaken for glowing praise: It's a terrible book in all of the ways described and then some.
May. 17th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)

Whether a book is repugnant has no bearing on its literary excellence. The Iliad and the literature surrounding it are thoroughly morally repugnant (look at, for instance, how the child Astyanax is murdered by Neoptolemus, or Achilles' cavalier insistence on capturing, raping and enslaving Briseis), yet it has a deserved place at the cornerstone of the Western Canon. Nabokov's Lolita is a chilling portrayal of narcissism and pedophilia. The Bible, the Koran and the Torah have all deservedly been called "butchers' books," but they have some of the greatest passages ever written. The Epic of Gilgamesh is rooted in a pre-modern sense of morality that never fails to stun us.

Roger Ebert captured this pretty well when reviewing Basic Instinct 2. "I cannot recommend the movie, but ... why the hell can't I? Just because it's godawful? What kind of reason is that for staying away from a movie? Godawful and boring, that would be a reason."

May. 20th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
I can totally see this. I didn't quite have that kind of adolescence myself, but I had a rough one where I felt put-upon by the world. So I wouldn't have had the "yeah!" rage response and self-identification with the hero in that way, but I know so many of my friends did. (It would have been the "so much smarter than everyone else and no one understaaaaands" hubris that would have gotten me.) But between that and Card's upsetting comments on GLBT people, yeah, I don't want to give him any money.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )