Ender Wiggen and the Adolescent Mormon Nerd

Ender Wiggen and the Adolescent Mormon Nerd

I had no special plans to see Ender’s Game, let alone write about it, but things have conspired otherwise. I still won’t watch the movie any time soon, for a number of reasons wholly unrelated to anything but my short attention span and family time commitments, but the inspiration to write appeared rather out of the blue.

Before continuing with this post, I highly recommend reading this article from Grantland. For those who don’t know, Grantland is an ESPN spinoff run by noted Boston homer, pro sports addict, and all around funny man Bill Simmons. It is primarily an outlet for long form sports journalism and advanced statistical analysis, but randomly tosses up pieces about pop culture and American society. In this case, the author is a Kansas-raised, Muslim immigrant writing about the lessons in hope and tolerance he learned from an adolescent reading of Ender’s Game. Some day I hope Two Dudes publishes a post this amazing.

Now, I’m not going to address this article directly, but it opens up a discussion that I can bring a very different view to, one that understands in a different way why Card seems unable to stop saying incendiary and intolerant things in public.

Both of the Two Dudes were raised in the Mormon church. My silent partner has since repudiated most of his upbringing, but I maintain a complicated and sometimes adversarial relationship with my religion. (Long time readers may have already known or surmised this, but for those who haven’t, there it is.) Of course, Orson Scott Card is famously Mormon. In fact, he is the only Mormon I know of to win the Hugo or Nebula, and until Brandon Sanderson appeared, the only prominent SFF writing Mormon of whom I was aware. Needless to say, this was a big deal to me twenty five years ago. The thought that another Mormon was out there, involved in SCA, writing space operas, and winning awards was quite intoxicating, especially compared to the people I saw each week at church. (We Mormons are a well meaning, hard working bunch, but awfully bland.)

Ender’s Game itself was also a big deal twenty five years ago, but my experience is so typical as to be almost not worth mentioning. Indeed, how many thousands of geeks found outlets for repressed wish fulfillment in the tale of a young outcast who becomes a military genius? I imagine that a huge proportion of fandom under the age of forty or so had their lives changed in adolescence by Ender’s Game. In my case, I haven’t read it since the early 90s, fearing that the Suck Fairy has visited and somehow robbed the book of its power. (It may hold up, along with Speaker for the Dead, but my anxiety is real.)

To be honest, I have only read one Card book since 1994: Capitol. I found the ideas intriguing, but something about the book seemed so very fervent, enough that I remain wary of picking up another. What I have read in recent years is a column that Card wrote (writes?) weekly for The Mormon Times. The Mormon Times is an insert that came tucked in with The Church News, part of a gift subscription from my mom. I dutifully scanned these as they arrived, including Card’s missives. I honestly don’t know where Card stands in the current pantheon of SF writers, but in the late 80s and early 90s, he was producing bold, challenging, and humanitarian work. In this venue, I expected that he would turn his considerable powers of both prose and characterization to chart out interesting new perspectives in contemporary Mormonism, or perhaps calling into question our unreflected biases and assumptions in the same way his books dug at thorny moral conundrums. No such luck. I was disappointed each week to read a by the numbers, toe the party line style explanation of one vanilla topic or another. Card was, in The Mormon Times, immovably Mormon.

And this, dear readers, is the crux of his problem. Nothing Card says, from the homophobia to the Obama hating, the rabid anti-Muslim writings to the dystopian conspiracy theories, is more than two or three steps off the Mormon mainline. The church hierarchy remains apolitical, but the rank and file, even here in the pinko commie Northwest, flirts with the worst of the Tea Party excesses. And while there have been some steps forward, Mormons are largely defined to the outside world by the bitter, bigoted Proposition 8 battle in California. (For those not from here, Prop 8 was a 2008 initiative banning gay marriage. The church spent heavily and mobilized as many sympathetic members as possible to pass this law, something that, five years on, still alienates the LGBT community and sparks internecine Mormon warfare.)

Readers look at books like Ender’s Game (and even moreso Speaker for the Dead) , with its message of tolerance and understanding, and are justifiably baffled by Card’s vitriol. I suspect that many of these people would look at the less publicized Mormon charity work, public service, and exhortations to love and respect each other (that are both sincerely given and followed) and be unable to reconcile these with stern leaders who stand in front of the whole of the church and basically say, “God hates gays.” On LGBT issues, Card merely follows lockstep with the leadership of the religion he remains devoted to. If the politics get a little crazy, well, nobody from on high has shut down any of the other crazy political garbage spewing out of the Mormon heartland either.

I’m sure there’s much more to it all, but maybe this is a start to unpacking all of the baggage that Ender’s Game has brought with it. It doesn’t simplify my feelings towards the book and its author any, but I have no way of untangling them from bigger issues in my life. Every Sunday that I spend in church makes Orson Scott Card a bit easier to understand.


4 thoughts on “Ender Wiggen and the Adolescent Mormon Nerd

  1. From my own personal perspective, I read Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead for the first time in 07/08 and neither came close to sucking. They rank among the most engaging science fiction books I’ve ever read. And that is saying something as the genre is by far my favorite.

    I was given a copy of Speaker for the Dead as a Christmas gift by a homosexual friend of mine (who knew I owned but had not read Ender’s Game). That friend has often spoke of his own sadness over Card’s outspoken views but has maintained that his love for Card’s fiction is something he will not abandon and he is always right there to buy and read the next Card book. One of the nice things about pre-internet days is that we knew less about the creators of our entertainment. And what we did know was often so third hand that it was easy to brush it off as the possibility of being overblown by the person reporting it. Nowadays we hear everything right from the person…and I must admit that I have no desire to hear social or political statements from authors or any other kind of celebrity. I respect their right to have an opinion and also respect their rights for free speech…I just wish they wouldn’t always feel so compelled to use their celebrity to be yet another voice in a series of arguments that have always been and will always be. There are ways to promote ones beliefs (and there are certainly many more tenets to Mormonism than the hot button issues) that will draw people to that religion that would be a better use of one’s status and would ultimately be better for people as a whole.

    Enough soap boxing. I love those two books and really enjoyed the film. And I don’t feel at all bad about doing so. I respect Card’s right to have an opinion and to voice it. Though again I wish he would expend his energy on something that lifts up rather than tears down.

    (Oh, and Sanderson did finally snag a Hugo this year!)

    • Two! Two Mormons with Hugos! A ha ha ha

      If I refused to read every author out there with views I disagree with, my reading list would be short indeed. I think people are just taken aback by Card’s divisive rhetoric when his books are so empathetic. I guess my big take away from this post is that what Card does makes perfect sense to me, as long as we understand him as a Mormon who writes SF, rather than an author who happens to be Mormon. I wish he shared my opinions, but then I wish everyone shared my opinions.

      Glad to hear that the books really are good though. I’m sure my kids will read them, even if I never make it to a reread.

    • “One of the nice things about pre-internet days is that we knew less about the creators of our entertainment.”

      Well there’s a statement right there. Yes, and, as you probably guessed, no. I tend to be of the ‘Eat the Apple’ school, in that more information leads to better choices (or at least leads to a better probability of better choices). I think the fact we’re generally more aware of who produces our art/food/consumer goods give us a better chance of affecting the world, however small that effect might be. Vote with your wallets, etc etc.

      That said, I completely see where you’re coming from on the ‘artistic appreciation’ side of things. The work is what it is, and people should take what they want and need from it regardless of the authors’ views (or indeed intent). The internet does not always lead to sane and considered discussion about stuff (*shock*), and can make it tougher to see the wood for the trees.

      Not read any Card myself, but I remember reading a line somewhere to the effect of, “Great books, but buy them secondhand.”

      • I agree, I’d rather be better informed in most cases, however I see no value whatsoever to the TMZ, National Enquirer style celeb gossip garbage that one is inundated with online even when you aren’t looking for it. I don’t want to know nor care who is cheating on whom, who is “secretly gay”, etc, etc. I like reading their books or watching their movies in ignorant bliss of their personal lives.

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