by Orson Scott Card
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Many moons ago, I read Gone With the Wind. It was summer, the slow time at my job, and I read it mostly at work. It took about two weeks. My grand idea was then to watch the movie and be able to sound all smart when casually mentioning the differences between the book and movie. For whatever reason, I never got around to watching the movie, but I was left with an attitude of understanding that the movie will always be different, and have a special fondness for movies adapted from books. I generally don’t find them as upsetting as most people for this reason. The one exception is books where I just love the way I’ve imagined the world in my head and don’t want to spoil it with someone else’s view of how that world looks.
Ender’s Game is not one of those books, and I was so excited that they finally made a movie of it! I first read it twelve years ago and it instantly rocketed to the #2 slot on my all-time favorites list. (Expect to see another post when the movie of my #1, The Giver, comes out – slated for this August.) I don’t think I reread Ender’s Game until this week but it was, if it’s possible, even better the second time around. Card’s recent attention on his comments on homosexuality aside, he has some deep and beautiful things to say about the nature and worth of humanity as a whole. That said, this book is deeply rooted in a Cold War mindset, with mention of the Warsaw Pact, scathing rebukes on population control, the realistic bad guys being Russian and the alien bad guys being less overt but cold-hearted killers unable to communicate or think for themselves. In the end, though, Ender loves his enemy and finally is able to understand them and tries to make up for all the damage he’s done.
The one main thing I remembered from the first reading was the surprise twist at the end. Having held onto that, and very few other details, I entered the movie-world, which I heartily recommend. Of course they left out most of the back story, and not developing his older brother Peter’s character took away from what made Ender perfect for his task. But the thing that jolted me out of my blissful enjoyment of the first half was that I started to believe that Ender knew all along what he only finds out at the very end of the book, along with the reader. (I’m trying very hard not to reveal any spoilers, so no details!) But then at the end of the movie, he does find out and it’s clear he didn’t know at all. Much of the beauty of Card’s views on understanding and loving the enemy is lost by the way they tied things up in that department, but it was still a solidly entertaining movie. The other interesting change is that Ender is much older than 6 in the movie. The actor himself was 15 or 16 during filming; while he definitely looks younger than that, he’s clearly much older than 6, and that takes away a little from it. But I think this would be an incredibly demanding role for an actual 6-year-old, and that’s kind of the point Card makes in making Ender so young, so I have made my peace with it.
So the final word is, I love watching movies-from-books to see where they nipped, tucked, and changed, but I know that the book is almost always better. Go forth, watch, enjoy – but always read (or reread) and you won’t be disappointed!
And if you get a chance, find yourself a third edition (1991) with Card’s Introduction. It’s got one of my favorite reflections on reading and writing: “The story of Ender’s Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that you and I made together.”