Saturday, November 2, 2013

Three Things I Learned From Ender’s Game, Part One

I had an existential crisis after reading Ender’s Game for the first time.

No, really. Immediately after the last page, I sat down and wrote about 3,000 words rambling about Battle School, fear, strategy, paradox, Hamlet, and the German nuclear bomb program. And also cried a little. Because that’s how I deal with intellectual/emotional crises (and it’s usually never just one or the other).

I will not make you suffer through that. Here, in a much more coherent form than that first journal, are three reasons why I found Ender’s Game to be beautiful and depressing at the same time.

The Loneliness of Genius

“Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf.”

Whenever I read a book or watch a movie where there is a character who is a genius, whether it’s Cobb in Inception or Josh in Searching for Bobbie Fischer or Catherine in Proof, I want to be that person.

I want to be a hero. To be an extraordinary person in extraordinary times.

But then I realize that almost all geniuses are incredibly lonely. Cobb created a world, and it destroyed the person he loved most. Josh had his childhood taken away by others’ expectations for his chess performance. Catherine felt separated from those around her by the pressure of her ability to solve math problems. Their stories, at least the parts that focus on their extraordinary gifts, are not happy ones.

And then there’s Ender, the saddest of all. Ender’s Game is supposedly built around the concept of a team competition, but I have never read a character in all of literature who is more alone.

We were made for relationships with others. Battle School may have turned Ender into the perfect commander, but at what cost?

And would I really want that for myself? Would I really want to be exceptional when that also meant I would be longing for something I couldn’t name, crying at night for people who didn’t love me, understanding more than I could possibly feel?

No. No, I would not.

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