On with the book. I found that I have been enjoying it more than I thought I would. It rather reminds me, at least tangentially, of two other science fiction books about a young man's initiation into the military (Ender being exceedingly young, of course, but so also those with whom he is in training), Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein) and The Forever War (Joe Haldeman), although it differs quite a bit from both and they from each other. Both of those I read for a science fiction literature course I took years ago in my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa.
In brief, Ender's Game is about a six year-old boy by the name of Andrew Wiggins, who always goes by the nickname 'Ender' bestowed upon him by his older sister Valentine. Ender is a supremely gifted boy who is being cultivated by the military to be the commanding officer they need to save them from a potentially destructive enemy, a race of insect-like beings referred to throughout the book as 'buggers'. Ender 'saves' humanity in the process of enduring what he believes to be simulated tests, but which are in fact him, and his cohorts, actually commanding or controlling Earth's fleets as they attack and defeat the enemy fleets and destroy the 'bugger' homeworld. Ender then goes off with his sister to colonise a 'bugger' world, and it transpires that the 'buggers' were attempting to communicate with him. Ender eventually becomes what he calls a 'Speaker for the Dead', which inspires a new religion.
I would have to re-read the two books I just mentioned, but, I found that I enjoyed this book more than I remember enjoying them. I might go so far as to say that Ender's Game is a better book than they, but since it has been so long since I read them, it would be best just to say that I enjoyed it.
And yet, should I have enjoyed it? More than Starship Troopers, which has received flack for what critics have perceived as Heinlein's rah-rah mentality, Ender's Game appears to demonstrate a certain insidiousness, at least according to some, whose work can be found here and here. The latter article, that by Kessel, is, I think, better and much less opinionated than Radford's.
But I am now going to have to face the fact that I effectively enjoyed a book in which, it is plausible to say, that the author's intention was to exculpate someone who committed mass murder on a scale unlike any that we can possibly imagine.
I am now reminded, not of The Forever War or Starship Troopers, but of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 'The Survivors', in which a super-being annihilates an entire species. But in 'The Survivors', Kevin Uxbridge never shies away from actually being responsible for the deaths of every single Husnock; whereas Card makes every attempt to demonstrate that Ender really isn't guilty.
Probably, then, I liked Ender's Game, the way everyone, deep down, loves revenge fantasies, because they soothe (but do not really heal) the hurt and suffering which attend to our growing up. I think the logical conclusion to Kessel's essay, which he himself does not come to, is that Orson Scott Card's book is written, in effect, to defend, not Hitler as Radford claims, but the vicious wish for revenge and feelings of wronged innocence which we all feel. To paraphrase Kessel, this is a book with which children in intermediate grades and high school will identify easily.
Well, this is getting away from marginal commentary. But if I am to focus on something, what can it be, if not Card's 'doctrine' (if you like) of the inherent morality of intention? My elucidation of it is as follows: If I am good then I am good, and my actions, however bad they may appear, must in truth be good because my intentions are of necessity good, because I am inherently good.
And, to bring up another book which Ender's Game reminds me of, I am now thinking about the discussion of the Milgram experiments in Why Can't We Be Good?, by philosopher Jacob Needleman. To me, the real horror is not that people felt compelled to obey authority, even beyond all goodness, but that they felt as if they were the victims, even though it was they who acted. Of course, one might say that those who participated in the Milgram experiments without knowing what they were doing were victims, of a sort; we (say) persist in doing wrong, when prompted by authority, because, oddly enough, we are moral enough to know that we are being wronged (and we are), yet because we feel we have been wronged, we somehow believe that it justifies what we are doing.
Well, let's look at one thing: what I consider to be the weak link of the plot, although, as we shall see, it is another means by which Card argues for his theory of the morality of intention. The book would have functioned, from a literary perspective, just as well without Peter's and Valentine's sub-plot, in my view. So I shall look at passages on their sub-plot and try to explain why I have the idea that it is a literary weakness.
On we go, then, to the marginal commentary. The edition I am using is a revised hardcover published by Tor in 1991.
To summarise the sub-plot involving Ender's siblings, elder brother Peter and sister Valentine, they are driving forces in Ender's life (as brothers and sisters are in real life). Peter appears to be a vicious maniac, Valentine a peaceful girl. Ender's parents, meanwhile, appear to be uncaring and do not notice Peter's abusive behaviour. Ender, one might say, is driven out from home by Peter and his parents. Later, as he questions his will to go on with his training, his sister Val encourages him to continue, so he does. Meanwhile, while Ender is busy training and then saving the world, Val and Peter come up with false identities and use them to manipulate opinion in order to gain political power; the end result is that Peter effectively becomes world ruler.
Anyway, Peter and Valentine's influence is felt straightaway, as baleful:
Peter won't hate me anymore. Occasionally we hear, as it were, Ender's thoughts directly. I'll come home and show him the monitor's gone, and he'll see that I didn't make it, either. That I'll just be a normal kid now, like him. That won't be so bad then. He'll forgive me that I had my monitor a whole year longer than he had his. We'll be-Peter's pretty bad, all right, but:
Not friends, probably. No, Peter was too dangerous. Peter got so angry. Brothers, though. ... [W]hen he wants to play buggers and astronauts, maybe I won't have to play, maybe I can just go read a book.
But Ender knew, even as he thought it, that Peter wouldn't leave him alone. There was something in Peter's eyes, when he was in his mad mood, and whenever Ender saw that look, that glint, he knew that the one thing Peter would not [italics original] do was leave him alone. ... Oh, is the monitor boy too busy to help his brother? Is he too smart? ... No, no, I don't want [ditto] your help. I can do it on my own, you little bastard, you little Third. [ditto; p. 2] Ender's very first thoughts about his family in the book are about his brother, Peter. Peter, as we can see, is a bully. Peter is jealous of the fact that Ender has his monitor (a device which allows the military officials in charge of training boys while looking for the genius who will save them from the buggers to experience the world through the eyes of children) longer than he. Ender also faces bullying because he is a 'Third', about which more later.
Ender nodded and got up [to go to the bus]. The other kids were gone. They would be waiting though, the bad ones. ... They might even hit him now - no one could see them anymore, and so no one would come to Ender's rescue. ...We are introduced to Ender's siblings:
It was Stilson, of course. ... [H]e had some others with him. He always did.
"Hey Third." ... Stilson and his gang gang up on Ender.
"Oh, gonna fight me, huh? Gonna fight me, Thirdie?"
The people behind Ender grabbed at him, to hold him.
Ender did not feel like laughing, but he laughed. "You mean it takes this many of you to fight one Third?"
"We're people, not Thirds, [italics original] turd face. You're about as strong as a fart!"
But they let go of him. And as soon as they did, Ender kicked out high and hard, catching Stilson square in the breastbone. He dropped. It took Ender by surprise... [i]t didn't occur to him that Stilson didn't take a fight like this seriously, that he wasn't prepared for a truly desperate blow.
For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win now, and for all time, or I'll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse. ...
... Ender looked up at the others coldly. "You might be having some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me. From then on you'd be wondering when I'd get you, and how bad it would be." He kicked Stilson in the face. Blood from his nose spattered the ground nearby. "It wouldn't be this bad," Ender said. "It would be worse."
He turned and walked away. Nobody followed him. ... Ender leaned his head against the wall of the corridor and cried until the bus came. I am just like Peter. Take my monitor away, and I am just like Peter. [pp. 5-6] A lot of the hostility Ender faces, then, comes from his having a monitor while being a 'Third'. As for his beating of Stilson, I should point out that about one hundred and fifty pages later (p. 159), we learn that six year-old Ender killed Stilson. Peter, whose cruelties we shall shortly be introduced to, does not kill anyone in the book (either human or bugger, anyway). Card doesn't seem to have planned it, so far as I can tell, but by making Ender (and later Val) behave so much like Peter, he could have undermined our conventional notions of 'good' versus 'bad'; but, instead he seems earnestly to believe, along with the officers who comment at the beginning of every chapter, and sometimes end, that '"Ender Wiggin isn't a killer. He just wins - thoroughly." [p. 159]'
"I'm sorry, Ender," Valentine whispered. She was looking at the bandaid on his neck.To make matters worse, later that night Ender and Peter are lying in bed, Peter on the top bunk, Ender below:
Ender touched the wall and the door closed behind him. "I don't care. I'm glad it's gone."
"What's gone?" Peter walked into the parlor, chewing on a mouthful of bread and peanut butter.
Ender did not see the beautiful ten-year-old boy that grown-ups saw, with dark, thick tousled hair and a face that could have belonged to Alexander the Great. Ender looked at Peter only to detect anger or boredom, the dangerous moods that almost always led to pain. Now as Peter's eyes discovered the bandaid on his neck, the telltale flicker of anger appeared.
Valentine saw it too. "Now he's like us," she said, trying to soothe him before he had time to strike. ...
Suddenly Peter smiled and clapped his hand together in a mockery of good cheer. "Let's play buggers and astronauts," he said. ...
Peter pressed with his foot [on Ender's groin]. Pain shot through Ender; he doubled up.
"Lie flat, bugger. We're gonna vivisect you, bugger. At long last we've got one of you alive, and we're going to see how you work."
"Peter, stop it," Ender said.
"Peter, stop it. Very good. So you buggers can guess our names? You can make yourselves sound like pathetic, cute little children so we'll love you and be nice to you. But it doesn't work. I can see you for what you really are. They meant you to be human, little Third, but you're really a bugger, and now it shows."
He lifted his foot, took a step, and then knelt on Ender, his knee pressing into Ender's belly just below the breastbone. He put more and more of his weight on Ender. It became hard to breathe.
"I could kill you like this," Peter whispered. "Just press and press until you're dead. And I could say that I didn't know it would hurt you, that we were just playing, and they'd believe me, and everything would be fine. And you'd be dead. Everything would be fine."
Ender could not speak; the breath was being forced from his lungs. Peter might mean it. Probably didn't mean it, but then he might.
"I do mean it," Peter said. "Whatever you think, I mean it. They only authorized you because I was so promising. But I didn't pan out. You did better. They think you're better. But I don't want a better little brother, Ender. I don't want a Third." [pp. 7-9] Peter lets up, obviously, or this would have been a very short book. He is dissuaded by Val, but later threatens that, some day, he is going to do Ender in (and make it look like an accident), and Val is going to remember this argument. Then he pretends he is joking. Ender thinks of him (on p. 11): 'There was no getting to him. Peter was a murderer at heart, and nobody knew it but Valentine and Ender.' Of course, as in all children's fiction, the grown-ups are clueless.
[H]e could hear Peter turning and tossing restlessly. Then Peter slid off the bunk and walked out of the room. ... [T]hen Peter stood silhouetted in the doorway.Now for the significance of Ender being a Third:
He thinks I'm asleep. He's going to kill me.
Peter walked to the bed, and sure enough, he did not lift himself up to his bed. Instead he came and stood by Ender's head.
But he did not reach for a pillow to smother Ender. He did not have a weapon.
He whispered, "Ender, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know how it feels, I'm sorry, I'm your brother, I love you." [p. 11] This is, I believe, typical behaviour of abusive people. After nearly killing Ender, Peter exclaims how sorry he is and states that he loves his brother. Interestingly, I think that Ender never tells either Peter or Valentine that he loves them.
Father came home and kept saying it was such a wonderful surprise, they had such fantastic children that the government told them to have three, and now the government didn't want to take any of them after all, so here they were with three, they still had a Third ... until Ender wanted to scream at him. I know I'm a Third, I know it, if you want I'll go away so you don't have to be embarrassed in front of everybody, I'm sorry I lost the monitor and now you have three kids and no obvious explanation, so inconvenient for you, I'm sorry sorry sorry. [p. 11]Speaking of Valentine, her moment of significance occurs as Ender is leaving:
[Ender is talking to an colonel by the name of Graff.] "I know you, Ender. I've been watching the monitor disks for some time. You won't miss your mother and father, not much, not for long. And they won't miss you long, either."
Tears came to Ender's eyes, in spite of himself. He turned his face away, but would not reach up to wipe them. I believe it is Kessel's article which points out how boys crying in front of others is perceived as a sign of weakness.
"They do [italics original] love you, Ender. But you have to understand what your life has cost them. ... Your father turned sixteen and invoked the Noncomplying Families Act to separate himself from his family. He changed his name, renounced his religion [Ender's father is Polish Catholic], and vowed never to have more than the allotted two children. He meant it. All the same and persecution he went through as a child - he vowed no child of his would go through it. [Ender's father, né (?) John Paul, was the seventh of nine children] Do you understand?"
"He didn't want me."
"Well, no one wants [italics original] a Third anymore. You can't expect them to be glad. But your father and mother are a special case. They both renounced their religions - your mother was a Mormon - but in fact their feelings are still ambiguous. ... They're ashamed of having come from noncompliant families. They conceal it. ... So, you see, having a Third, even under the government's direct instructions, undoes everything they've been trying to do."
"I know that."
"But it's more complicated than that. Your father still named you with legitimate saints' names. ... They haven't really given up their religion. They look at you and see you as a badge of pride, because they were able to circumvent the law and have a Third. But you're also a badge of cowardice, because they dare not go further and practice the noncompliance they still feel is right. And you're a badge of public shame, because at every step you interfere with their efforts at assimilation into normal complying society."
... "So my parents love me and don't love me?"
"They love you. The question is whether they want you here. Your presence in this house is a constant disruption. A source of tension. Do you understand?"
"I'm [italics original] not the one who causes tension."
"Not anything you do, [ditto] Ender. Your life itself. Your brother hates you because you are living proof that he wasn't good enough. Your parents resent you because of all the past they are trying to evade." [pp. 16-17] Way to turn the screws, Graff. Imagine telling a child he (say) isn't good enough for who he is. This explains why being a Third is so difficult for Ender, and why it is so easy for Graff to tear him away from his family. Because of Peter's hatred and his parents' ambivalent feelings, Ender is easily convinced to leave home. Up until his departure, Peter and Valentine play important parts in the plot.
Ender nodded.That's the last we hear of Peter and Val for a while. I should mention, briefly, that while at Battle School Ender plays a game on his computer, a kind of fantasy puzzle/challenge game, which becomes increasingly idiosyncratic, personal, and revealing of his character. Indeed I had originally included a couple passages about it; but I omitted them for reasons of space. What they mostly reveal is how much Ender is himself like Peter - and how much everyone else is, too. We return at last to Peter and Valentine seventy pages later:
"All right. Let's tell them." [says Graff]
Mother cried. Father held Ender tight. Peter shook his hand and said, "You lucky little pinheaded fart-eater." Valentine kissed him and left her tears on his cheek. ...
"Good-bye," Ender said to his family. He reached up and took Colonel Graff's hand and walked out the door with him.
"Kill some buggers for me!" Peter shouted.
"I love you, Andrew!" Mother called.
"We'll write to you!" Father said.
And as he got into the car that waited silently in the corridor, he heard Valentine's anguished cry. "Come back to me! I love you forever!" [p. 19] There we have it. After this point, both Peter and Valentine could have faded into obscurity, and the part that Val plays later to encourage Ender might have been taken up by some other person. We shall see that Card has the opportunity, but does not seem to really take it, to explore how much the three siblings are alike.
Valentine had not forgotten [Ender]. She did not let her parents know, and above all never hinted to Peter how often she thought about Ender... [.] And when Mother and Father had announced to them that they were leaving the city to move to North Carolina, of all places, Valentine knew that they never expected to see Ender again. ... We learn that they have not received answers to their letters to Ender and so they stop writing them; given that in the last sixty pages or so we hear nothing about Ender receiving letters, it is clear that it is not from neglect on his part that he hasn't written back to them.As revealing as these passages are about Val's and Peter's characters (as well as of Ender's), Card goes on to develop a sub-plot for the siblings Ender has left behind:
Valentine knew why they had moved here. It was for Peter... so that nature... might have a softening effect on their strange and frightening son. And, in a way, it had. Peter took to it right away. Long walks out in the open... going sometimes for a whole day, with only a sandwich or two sharing space in the pack on his back, with only a pocket knife in his pocket. Uh-oh.
But Valentine knew. She had seen a squirrel half-skinned, spiked by its little hands and feet with twigs pushed into the dirt. ... I will spare everyone the paragraph in which Card describes this vile scene. Suffice it to say that Peter enjoys vivisection.
At first she was horrified ... . But later she thought about it and realized that perhaps, for Peter, it was a kind of magic, like her little fires; a sacrifice that somehow stilled the dark gods that hunted for his soul. Better to torture squirrels than other children. Peter has always been a husbandman of pain, planting it, nurturing it, devouring it greedily when it was ripe... . [pp. 88-9] Valentine's 'little fires' are fires she lights on Ender's birthday, with the magical wish that the smoke will reach all the way out into space to the Battle School.
A few years ago, Valentine would have been terrified at Peter's threats. Now, though, she was not so afraid. Not that she doubted that he was capable of killing her. Peter has, in fact, just threatened to murder Valentine. She couldn't think of anything so terrible that she didn't believe Peter wouldn't do it. She also knew, though, that Peter was not insane, not in the sense that he wasn't in control of himself. He was in better control of himself than anyone she knew. ... Peter could delay any desire as long as he needed to; he could conceal any emotion. And so Valentine knew that he would never hurt her in a fit of rage. ... In a way, she actually preferred Peter to other people because of this. He always, always acted out of intelligent self-interest. [p. 89] This is like an ironic defense of enlightened self-interest, except that Valentine, and apparently Card, seems incapable of irony.
"For a discussion that began with death threats, Peter, we've strayed from the topic, I think." Still, Valentine found herself getting excited. Peter and Val have started talking politics, and Peter expresses that what is going on is an opportunity for he and she to accomplish something. Writing was something Val did better than Peter. They both knew it. Peter had even named it, once, when he said that he could always see what other people hated most about themselves, and bully them, while Val could always see what other people liked best about themselves, and flatter them. It was a cynical way of putting it, but it was true. Valentine could persuade other people to her point of view - she could convince them that they wanted what she wanted them to want. Peter, on the other hand, could only make them fear what he wanted them to fear. ... She had wanted to believe she was good at persuading people because she was right, not because she was clever. But no matter how much she told herself that she didn't ever want to exploit people the way Peter did, she enjoyed knowing she could, in her way, control other people. And not just control what they did. She could control, in a way, what they wanted to do. She was ashamed that she took pleasure in this power, and yet she found herself using it sometimes. What a way to put it; makes it seem as though Val isn't really responsible. Here, in a way, is the first use of Card's theory of the morality of intention to defend someone's actions. Val isn't like Peter; therefore what she doesn't isn't wrong: she simply 'finds herself' using her power 'sometimes.' While Ender has been defended in this way directly already, he is also here defended by extension. ... Sometimes, she was able to persuade even Peter. That was the most frightening thing of all - that she could understand Peter well enough, could empathize with him well enough to get inside him that way. There was more Peter in her than she could bear to admit, though sometimes she dared to think about it anyway. [p. 91] Again, had Card so chosen, this could have been one of several moments in which the theory of the morality of intention been challenged. Incidentally, Peter reminds me of several bad guys from Terry Pratchett's novels: Cox from Nation; Andy from Unseen Academicals; Carcer from Night Watch. Thinking about it, I am beginning to wonder whether there aren't undercurrents of similarity between the kind of morality Card argues for and the kind Pratchett does (although I don't believe Pratchett's views are nearly as invidious as Card's may be). But that is not to be discussed here.
"I've been studying history," Peter said. "I've been learning things about patterns in human behavior. There are times when the world is rearranging itself, and at times like that, the right words can change the world. ... Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, for instance. Bismarck. Lenin."To summarise Peter's and Val's sub-plot, they start off small, by joining the nets (here Card does a good job of presaging the kind of discussion and debate which occurs today on the Internet) and, under pseudonyms, advancing arguments and debating them, pretending to be on opposing sides. Eventually they make permanent false identities, Val as 'Demosthenes', Peter as 'Locke'. Val's role is to galvanise extremist opinion against Russia and the 'Second Warsaw Pact' (Card's book being written when the Soviet Union appeared to be powerful); Peter's to oppose her. Although the plot is interesting in its own way, it, and the consequences it entails (Peter averts worldwide disaster and becomes, in effect, the leader of Earth), are a sideshow. Of interest about it is how Val finds herself identifying with her fictive creation (the way people identify with their pseudonyms on the Web, or behave abominably when they know that they cannot be identified and censured, or 'become' their characters in an MMORPG [about which I suggest one reads World of Warcraft and Philosophy]) and the disappointment she feels when her father agrees with the aggressive policy espoused by 'Demosthenes'. For all this, see, in Ender's Game, pp. 95-9; 160-4; 211-2; 217-8.
"Not exactly parallel cases, Peter." Now she was disagreeing with him out of habit; she saw what he was getting at, and she thought it might just be possible. ...
"So you see yourself as Bismarck?"
"I see myself as knowing how to insert ideas into the public mind. ... Val, we [italics original] can say the words that everyone else will be saying two weeks later. We can do that. ..."
"Peter, you're twelve [ditto]."
"Not on the nets I'm not. On the nets I can name myself anything I want, and so can you." ...
"So you get [Father] to authorize us to share his citizen's access. To adopt our own identities there, to conceal who we are so people will give us the intellectual respect we deserve." [says Peter.]
Valentine could challenge him on ideas, but never on things like this. She could not say, What makes you think you deserve respect? She had read about Adolf Hitler. She wondered what he was like at the age of twelve. ... It's statements like this and others on p. 93 that probably helped Radford come to the conclusion that Card was writing an apology for Hitler by extension to Ender; but it is, after all, Peter with whom Hitler is compared.
"You're just what the world needs. A twelve-year-old to solve all our problems."
"It's not my fault... that right now is when the opportunity is open. ... The world is always a democracy in times of flux, and the man with the best voice will win. ... [M]ostly he [Hitler; now Peter is referring to him] got to power on words, on the right words at the right time." And, quelle surprise, Peter aims to do the same thing. ... "I want the world to hold together. Is that so bad?" ...
"Peter, we're children, don't you understand that? We're going to school, we're growing up-" But even as she resisted, she wanted him to persuade her. She had wanted him to persuade her from the beginning. ...
"Val, listen to me. I know how you feel about me, you always have. I was a vicious, nasty brother. I was cruel to you and crueler [sic] to Ender before they took him. But I didn't hate you. I loved you both, I just had to be - had to have control [italics original], do you understand that? It's the most important thing to me, it's my greatest gift... [.] I'm going to rule, Val, I'm going to have control of something. But I want it to be something worth ruling. I want to accomplish something worthwhile. ... So that when somebody else comes, after we beat the buggers, when somebody else comes here to defeat us, they'll find... [us] impossible to destroy. Do you understand? I want to save mankind from self-destruction."
She had never seen him speak with such sincerity. ... He was getting better at this. Or maybe he was actually touching on the truth. ...
"I don't believe what you did to those squirrels was part of an act. I think you did it because you love to do it."
Suddenly Peter wept into his hands. Val assumed that he was pretending, but then she wondered. It was possible, wasn't it, that he loved her... . He's manipulating me, she thought, but that doesn't mean he isn't sincere. ... "I know," he said. "It's what I'm most afraid of. That I really am a monster. I don't want to be a killer but I just can't help it."
She had never seen him show such weakness. You're so clever, Peter. You saved your weakness so you could use it to move me now.
And yet it did move her. Because if it were true, even partly true, then Peter was not a monster, and so she could satisfy her Peter-like love of power without fear of becoming monstrous herself. She knew that Peter was calculating eeven now, but she believed that under the calculations he was telling the truth. ...
"Val, if you don't help me, I don't know what I'll become. But if you're there... you can keep me from becoming - like that. Like the bad ones." ...
"I will. I'll help you." [pp. 91-5] In many ways this passage is much more important than everything Peter and Val do to carry out their plot (which I will only summarise, as things are getting long enough). Even wicked Peter is being 'rescued' by the morality of intent. He wants the best for the world, and if Val is there to help him, he won't be a 'bad one'. Ok. Val, meanwhile, justifies her own 'Peter-like love of power' by means of Peter's sincerity of intent. If Peter's depth of feeling is true, then he is not a monster, despite his love of power; therefore, neither is she, despite her love of power (nor is Ender, despite his actions). Here Card is most explicit in putting forward his theory of the morality of intention. But what about Acton's maxim, that 'All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely'? And contrast Peter's and Val's attitude (we might say, the attitude of every character in the book) about the exercise of power with Tolkien's approach to it in The Lord of the Rings, crystallised in the object of the One Ring.
At one point Val goes to visit Ender. He has left Battle School and is vacationing for three months. He has lost his motivation to continue. One reason he has left Battle School is because he kills an older boy who has been tormenting him (see pp. 146-50), just as he did to Stilson way back at the start of the book. Ender does not, as I have said, learn that he has killed anyone until later in the book. Incidentally, this is not the first time Val is used to restore Ender's motivation. Anyway, Val and Ender go for a swim:
"Want to swim?"There is a lot more I could say about the relationship between Ender, Peter, and Val. Obviously it is the most significant in the book. I want to end by exploring, as a coda, what might be called the summing up of the book. Val has come to the asteroid base on which Ender is staying, and talks to him about leaving, to get away from Peter:
In answer she dropped herself over the side of the raft. The water was clear and clean... . She swam for a while, then returned to the raft and lay on it in the hazy sunlight. A wasp circled her, then landed on the raft beside her head. She knew it was there, and ordinarily would have been afraid of it. But not today. Let it walk on this raft, let it bake in the sun as I'm doing.
Then the raft rocked, and she turned to see Ender calmly crushing the life out of the wasp with one finger. "These are a nasty breed," Ender said. "They sting you without waiting to be insulted first." He smiled. "I've been learning about preemptive strategies. I'm very good. No one ever beat me. ..." [pp. 165-6] Now Ender resembles no one so much as Peter.
"... In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love [italics original] them-"
"You beat them." For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.
"No, you don't understand. I destroy [ditto] them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them... until they don't exist [ditto]."
"Of course you don't." And now the fear came again, worse than before. Peter has mellowed, but you, they've made you into a killer. Two sides of the same coin, but which side is which? [pp. 167-8] I would argue that this passage is an outright lie, except for Val's justified fear. Once again it seems to me that Card is unwittingly undermining his own argument. At what point does Ender ever feel love for those whom he crushes? Stilson? We have seen that he coldly breaks the 'unwritten' rule not to kick someone when he's down in order to prove his point. Ender shows no love for the other boy whom he kills at Battle School (instead he has an outburst, weeping and declaring that he would have never have hurt the boy if he had left him, Ender, alone). The wasp he crushes unfeelingly. And at the end, as he fights the buggers (without his knowing it), he annihilates their planet and their entire race, believing that he is playing a game and wrathfully trying to beat his 'enemy', the man he believes is training him. There is no love. This also puts a lie to a statement Card makes about Ender earlier in the book, when a friend of his at Battle School warns him that the teachers are the real enemy: 'It made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise. [p. 80]' In fact, no such thing has happened.
"... I'll tell you something. If you try and lose then it isn't your fault. But if you don't try and we lose, then it's all your fault. You killed us all."
"I'm a killer no matter what."
"What else should you be? Human beings didn't evolve brains in order to lie around on lakes. Killing's the first thing we learned. And a good thing we did, or we'd be dead, and the tigers would own the earth." For an incredibly intelligent girl, Val really is amoral. And a sophist.
"I could never beat Peter. No matter what I said or did. I never could."
So it came back to Peter. "He was years older than you. And stronger."
"So are the buggers."
She could see his reasoning. Or rather, his unreasoning. He could win all he wanted, but he knew in his heart that there was always someone who could destroy him. He always knew that he had not really won, because there was Peter, undefeated champion.
"You want to beat Peter?" she asked.
"No," he answered. ... "... I don't want to beat Peter."
"Then what do you want?"
"I want him to love me."
She had no answer. As far as she knew, Peter didn't love anybody. ...
Finally Valentine... began to push the raft in to shore. ... When they got to the shore, she climbed onto the dock and said, "I [italics original] love you, Ender. More than ever. No matter what you decide." [p. 170] This somehow feels like a moment of truth. Ender wants Peter to love him (which in its own way would be a form of defeating Peter, because Peter would then have to give up control over Ender). Ender is never, ever loved for who he is. Graff, Reckham, and others love him only for what he can do for them; Peter 'loves' him for the joy his torment provides; he is convinced by Graff that his parents don't really love him at all (in a way). And even Val's love is tainted; on the same page as this passage she departs angrily berating herself and Colonel Graff for convincing Ender to go on. Card seems to be trying to reach out to an understanding of love, but can't quite seem to grasp it. Significantly, Ender never sees Peter in person again after having left him early in the book. Ender, I say, never displays courage on his own initiative. Either he is pushed into bravery (by Graff and other military men), or he avoids it. Instead of returning to Earth to face Peter on his own initiative, Ender departs to colonise a bugger world.
"I know what you're thinking, Ender. You're thinking that I'm trying to control you just as much as Peter or Graff or any of the others."So ends my marginal commentary on Ender's Game. It must be said that, for all of the criticism of the book I have made here, I did enjoy it, and, based on its success, it possesses aesthetic features which are genuinely enjoyable.
"It crossed my mind."
"Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given you by good people, by people who love you. I didn't come here because I wanted to be a colonist. I came because I've spent my whole life in the company of the brother that I hated. Now I want a chance to know the brother that I love[.]" [pp. 218-9] This last statement is true, so far as it goes. But from what we have seen, coming from Val it is unintentionally ironic. First, if you can choose which roles you are going to fill, then you have some measure of control over your life. Second, all of Val's interactions since Ender's departure for Battle School until her coming at the end of the book have been at the behest of Graff, and in a way she does control Ender, as she achieves what Graff wants her to achieve. Third, despite Card's frequent differentiation between 'good people' and 'bad ones', he has, perhaps against his conscious support for the morality of intention (because in order for it to be true, there really have to be 'good people' whose intentions, because they are good, lead to actions whose goodness is unquestionable, whatever in fact happens), undercut that distinction. Val claims to hate Peter, but we have seen her feel love for him. And Card's discussion of how Ender loves those whom he destroys really makes one question whether it is in fact wise to try to fill the roles given you by people who love you (it also makes it just as well that, so far as I am able to tell, Ender never himself says that he loves Peter, or Val, or his parents). If only Card had made all of this ironic.