East of Eden: Essay Q&A

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1. What are other stories in the Ender series?

Speaker for the Dead (1986), the sequel to Ender’s Game was thought by many to be more powerful than the first story. Ender travels as a Speaker for the Dead or a medium to interpret the lives of the recently deceased for their families. He is also looking for a place to revive the Formic queen’s species. The book continues to examine the question of good and evil. In Xenocide (1991) Ender tries to neutralize a deadly virus, and the book is full of philosophic discussion about whether ends justify the means. Children of the Mind (1996) concerns the possible destruction of the planet Lusitania where Ender has been living. Peter and Valentine are copies of Ender’s brother and sister, products of his mind. With them and Jane, an Artificial Intelligence, he searches for a new home for the Lusitanians. A War of Gifts (2007), a Christmas story, backtracks to Ender’s days in Battle School where a pacifist student, Zeck Morgan, is the focus for a discussion on religious tolerance. Ender in Exile (2008) concerns Ender’s travels with Valentine after the war and his governing of a human colony. There he faces negative publicity about his past.

Ender’s Shadow (1999) is about the character Bean from the original Ender book. He is a street child from Holland, a precocious boy who understands human motivation. He gives more details from his point of view about the formation of Ender’s Dragon Army. In Shadow of the Hegemon (2001), Bean goes to Earth after the Third Invasion to be an aide for Peter Wiggin. He has to decide whether to help Peter become Hegemon, or to help a musician named Achilles conquer the planet. This battle continues in Shadow Puppets (2002) and Shadow of the Giant (2005). In Shadow Puppets, Bean knows he will have an early death because of a gene mutation, and his wife Petra is pregnant. He wants an antidote to his malady for his unborn child who will have a similar fate. In Shadow of the Giant, Bean and Petra search for their stolen children before Bean dies. Formic Wars: Burning Earth (2011) is a Marvel Comics story of the first two Formic wars, a prequel to Ender’s Game.

Reviewers find Card’s psychological themes timely for young adults. His child characters are superhuman heroes living tragic lives with epic burdens. The children succeed, so there is hope, but all their moral decisions come with a high price. The author likes working with child characters, he says, because their lives are more direct and less socially conditioned. He does not sentimentalize childhood, but rather, places children in larger-than-life heroic roles, and this has made him a popular Young Adult author.

2. How does Card use character doubling in Ender’s Game?

Character doubling is a technique in fiction where pairs of main characters mirror each other or have parallel traits. The author does this to create comparison and contrast of certain qualities. The Wiggin children, Peter, Valentine, and Andrew (Ender), for instance, are three separate characters with different personal stories and traits, and yet they all function symbolically together as a single moral portrait of humanity. Peter is the selfish brutality in human nature; Valentine is the nurturing heart; and Ender is heroic compassion willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole. While each of them stands for a specific tendency, it is made clear that all the traits are present in each one, just as all humans have latent in them both positive and negative tendencies. Ender is terrified of the Peter in him, and Valentine dislikes herself for being swayed by Peter and taking on the character of Demosthenes, invented by him. Yet even Peter is partly good and keeps the Earth from civil war.

Graff points out to the I. F. that Valentine and Peter are “virtually identical with –the Wiggin. Only their temperaments are different” (Chpt. 13, p. 228). Valentine tells Ender that he and Peter are “Two faces of the same coin. And I am the metal in between” (Chpt. 13, p. 236). Both Peter and Ender are types of Alexander the Great or Caesar, the great conqueror. Ender wins the battle, but Peter rules the Earth. Valentine is the one who allies herself first with one brother, and then with the other, helping them both to win. They share their intelligence and traits between them, so essentially there is one Wiggin in three bodies. Valentine worries that the I. F. has made her good brother, Ender, into a killer: “Two sides of the same coin, but which side is which?” (Chpt. 13, p. 238). Has he become Peter despite his own revulsion?  As Valentine observes the violence growing in Ender, she also sees the good in Peter: “Peter has some of the builder in him” (Chpt. 13, p. 239).

Character doubling is an ancient fictional technique, especially used in allegory, the kind of symbolic story where the characters stand for something, a quality or moral trait. Card has said of his writing, “with the more ancient tools of allegory, romance, and ritual I am able to bring off effects much closer to those I want to achieve.” Pairs of characters may mirror or contrast with each other to make a point. Card is fond of the poetry of Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), for instance. Spenser’s allegory, The Faerie Queene (1590-96) was influential in his own writing. This long poem is a symbolic portrait of the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England, with all the characters standing for real people and illustrating ideal virtues. Queen Elizabeth is pictured as more than one character: her rulership is represented as Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, but her virginity is represented by Belphoebe, the militant huntress. Charles Dickens uses character doubling in Great Expectations (1861) with Mrs. Joe and Miss Havisham as both types of the monstrous mother, and with Compeyson and Magwitch, two criminals, but one is evil, and one is kind. Card’s protagonists confront moral and spiritual questions, and character doubling is a technique that supports the religious subtext or message of his stories.

3. What were Card’s literary influences?

Orson Scott Card was influenced by great English writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and A. E. Housman. He was studying for a Ph.D. in English, hoping to combine an academic career with a writing career. Economic pressure forced him into writing, and he had to discontinue his academic studies, although now Card is a noted critic and college lecturer, particularly in the field of speculative fiction.

As a college student, he rediscovered his childhood love of science fiction and began reading Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, and Roger Zelazny. These authors influenced his ideas and themes in writing his own science fiction. He also acknowledges fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, Patricia McKillip, and C. S. Lewis. Another fundamental influence was the scriptures of the Mormon Church, particularly the writings of Joseph Smith (1805-1844): The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine, the Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. He says the Mormon stories, which he has retold in radio drama, novels, and in his speculative fiction, color all his work. Card enjoys combining entertainment with depth.

Reading Milton helped Card develop his epic vision and power of language. The poet Spenser gave him a love of sensuous language, alternate worlds, and allegory. He also acknowledges modern writers such as Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, Gore Vidal, Saul Bellow, Thomas Williams, John Hersey, and James Clavell. He thinks Stephen King is a definitive observer of contemporary American culture.

Card has argued as a critic that classics like Lord of the Rings, Asimov’s Foundation, and Clarke’s 2001 create new universes for readers as well as achieve a transcendent purpose, to show that there is something good worth saving or being passed on in the world. Card keeps this purpose in his fiction too, a quest for values that surpass human understanding. Often his stories investigate community and the Christ figure, the one who is willing to sacrifice for others, like Ender Wiggin.

4.  What does Ender’s Game reveal about leadership and human values?

The only way Ender can be a successful commander in the bugger wars is to become both military strategist and leader. Peter and Valentine have the intelligence but not the idealistic personalities to win and gather followers. Peter is too brutal, and Valentine too easily swayed. Ender’s developing leadership goes along with his military skills, and at every turn he is compared to bad or weaker leaders.

Peter uses people’s weaknesses against them. Bernard is sadistic and divisive as he tries to form an exclusive group among the Launchies. Ender beats him behind the scenes by making Bernard’s lieutenant, Alai, look so good that he becomes the new leader who can unify the group. This shows that Ender does not prize personal power as much as group coherence. Bonzo is a bad leader because he is easily insulted and takes things personally. He is rigid in how he runs his army, and he goes by his preconceptions. He is too proud to take ideas from Ender. Bonzo slaps Petra and tries to shame her in front of the group. Ender knows he can do better: “I know to bring a group together” (Chpt. 7, p. 81).

Soldiers are willing to follow Ender because he tries to develop everyone to their full potential and respects their hard work. As soon as he learns something in Bonzo’s army, he teaches it to the Launchies. When he is given all green recruits, he teaches them to be independent creative thinkers and rewards the young Bean, who becomes a turning point for him as a commander. Bean challenges Ender’s methods, and Ender first treats him as a nonentity the way he had been handled. He realizes he does not want to be the sort of despotic leader he has had to deal with and comes to appreciate and foster Bean’s talent: “I need you to be clever, Bean. I need you to think of solutions to problems we haven’t seen yet” (Chpt. 11, p. 198).

Ender owns up to mistakes and does not think he is perfect. He is guilt-ridden when he hurts someone else, even though he is being trained as a soldier. His honesty and vulnerability actually make him a better leader, because he does not privilege himself above others. After he insults Bonzo, he admits he is afraid and takes Bean into his confidence: “Ender was human and Bean had been allowed to see” (Chpt. 11, p. 197). Ender understands that a leader leads by example and sacrifices the most. Mazer Rackham tells him, for instance, that he gave up his whole personal life just to be alive to teach the next commander: “I was cut off from all the people that I loved, everything that I knew” (Chpt. 14, p. 276). After every breakdown or withdrawal Ender goes through, he gets back up and goes on, sacrificing his own happiness for what he believes is the greater good. Whatever faults he may have, he attracts both adults and children to help him because of his courage and moral vision.

5. What is Card’s theory of writing speculative fiction?

Card teaches workshops and classes on how to write science fiction and fantasy, now lumped in the larger category of speculative fiction. He points out in his book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, one advantage of having speculative fiction set off from other types of literature is that “having once confined us within our cage, the keepers of the zoo of literature don’t much care what we do . . . the categories of science fiction and fantasy [are] larger, freer, and more inclusive than any other genre.”  Speculative fiction is an adventure between writer and reader, he continues, and is segregated from mainstream literature because there is no professor or critic telling one what the official meaning is. The great literary movement after modernism is not postmodernism, Card says in an interview; it is speculative fiction, the attempt to imagine where civilization should go.

A speculative story must take the reader into an unknown world. Publishers may make a distinction between science fiction and fantasy, but Card does not mind blurring the boundaries of the two in his work. Science fiction needs as much mythical underpinning as fantasy, he notes. Ender’s Game contains qualities of both genres, although it is usually classified as science fiction, because it has space travel and gadgets. It talks about philotic physics and the ansible, a time-dilation device he picked up from Ursula Le Guin’s writing. Yet the mythic characters and surreal scenes in the computer mind game are fantastic.

Card began thinking of Ender’s Game when a teenager. His brother had returned from war in Korea, and Card began wondering how they would train soldiers for space in a null gravity environment. He began to imagine the soldiers as children playing games in three dimensions. Card also likes to doodle maps to help him create place. He points out how made-up languages can also create the imaginary world. In Ender’s Game, “giria” is the sarcastic slang spoken by the students to sound like pidgin English: “Bonzo, he pre-cise. He so careful” (Chpt. 7, p. 79).

Though Card lays out an orderly way to write speculative fiction, he admits that the Ender books had no overall plan. They just developed around the interesting characters. Card is a fast writer and can turn out a whole book of 100,000 words in six weeks. He feels a successful book must embody strong characters, amazing new worlds, and a sense of transcendence. He injects his religious vision into his books but not consciously or dogmatically, as Tolkien and C. S. Lewis also used their religions as the background of their writing. In “Fantasy and the Believing Reader” Card insists on three kinds of reader belief: “epick, mythick, and critick.”  The critical reader analyzes the story as having an intellectual or detached meaning. Epick reading is received as true meaning for a group; mythick reading is participatory, since it is truth that applies to all people. Card, like Tolkien, is described as a mythopoeic writer, who includes the reader in the myth-making process.



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