In Defence of the “Children” in Ender’s Game

Enders Game Cover

I have once again committed reader blasphemy: I bought Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game without a clue what it was about.

And I loved it.

I didn’t even know they were making a movie about it, but when I found out I was excited (and still am excited) to see it. The movie premiered yesterday, but I have yet to make a trip to the theatre.

The one thing in the movie that usually irks me with movie adaptations is that they often get the ages wrong. In Ender’s Game for example, Ender is six when he first enters Battle School and is eleven by the end of the book.

And while I wish that all directors were like Chris Columbus with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (that is to say, NOT Chris Columbus with Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) and age their cast appropriately, I think that the casting directors really didn’t have a choice.

(You know, besides the fact that Asa Butterfield seems to be perfect for the role despite being 15.)

In the introduction of the edition I have (the author’s definitive edition), Card discusses the criticism he’s received, where people claim that this is not how children talk and act. And really, it’s easy to agree with them. It’s probably why Enders is significantly older in the movie.

In addition to the extremely low age group of the Battle School students, you have Ender’s elder siblings, Valentine and Peter, who are eleven and thirteen respectively when Peter decides he’s going to rule the world, and the two of them successfully integrate themselves into political online discussions at that age.

I think Peter sums it all up when he says,

But we don’t think like other children, do we, Val? We don’t talk like other children. And above all, we don’t write like other children.

And yeah, in the book it it is children who are being trained at a very young age to analyze, strategize, and, ultimately, kill. It is children who make death threats and skin squirrels alive and use the power of words to manipulate people who claim to be their superiors, and I imagine that this would be a major turn off to the novel as a whole.

But I still like it and think it’s brilliant. Why? Because this book has made me realize that children are no different than adults other than age.

Okay, before parents starts coming at me with pitchforks and torches, I need to explain myself. There is a misconception that what separates children from adults is ignorance and innocence. And yes, quite often, ignorance and innocence degrade as we age and learn new things, and in fact we are born ignorant which therefore makes us naive, but there are still adults who are ignorant and/or naïve.

And it just so happens that these children aren’t ignorant or naïve. They are smart—geniuses in fact, whether it be military, politically, or socially.

The kids themselves are aware that what they are doing isn’t normal. At least five times in the book, they remark on how training and political manipulation are not what kids should do–they should be running around scraping their knees and playing video games.

My favourite quote on this realization is Bean’s:

He was a soldier, and if anyone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wouldn’t have known what they meant.

Bean, as with most of the children in Battle School, know that they are experiencing what adults experience, and under those circumstances, it makes them grown-ups mentally, while not physically. And the greatest sign of this is that even though the children know what they are doing is somehow ethically wrong, they continue on their paths because they know it is the smartest decision, and will benefit mankind.

Ender’s Game really got me thinking about the difference between “child” and “childish”. Maybe there should be a new word, “adultish”, to express the opposite of ignorance and naiveté. Or better yet, a spectrum of the two, because these children are certainly not childish.

But I begin to wonder, is the reversion possible? These kids may be unethically placed as soldiers, but would they be happy are regular kids? Even though they long for it, wouldn’t they get bored?

I’m not really sure what the answers to these questions are, but if you think you have one, don’t be afraid to share in the comments below.

“He could not imagine what “just living” might actually be. He had never done it in his life. But he wanted to do it anyway.” -Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game


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