Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Orson Scott Card and Ender's Game

There’s been a fair bit of controversy on-line about Card, in the wake of the Ender’s Game film adaptation, focusing on Card’s “anti-gay” comments and his support of the anti-gay-marriage agenda. I guess one question in here is whether Card is really “anti-gay” because he opposes gay marriage. He has said on more than one occasion that he is not "homophobic" or "anti-gay," and that he has a number of gay friends. But he's strongly against gay marriage, and it seems to me that it really is hard to do the mental gymnastics that say that marriage should be reserved to heterosexual couples without in some way denigrating gays. If there isn’t something “wrong” with their relationship, if it isn’t in some way inferior, then why do we have to defend the “traditional” view of marriage (so-called, of course, since a more traditional view would be that marriage is between one man and multiple women, for instance).

I guess I’m going to dodge the issue a bit, by thinking about Card as an artist. Here’s the thing: I think Ender’s Game is a pretty brilliant book. And I think Speaker for the Dead is even better. This is some of his earliest work, and it’s great. There’s some other good stuff he’s written too, but more and more of his more recent stuff just seems flat by comparison. What I see in his earlier work is more of what Keats thought of as Negative Capability, which in fiction sows up as an ability to present vivid characters with relatively complex viewpoints interacting in what seems like a fairly natural way. More and more in his more recent work, Card seems to have axes to grind, points to score, and to my way of thinking that approach is far from brilliant. I suspect that it has a lot to do with his Mormonism. I don’t know if he was more “liberal” in his beliefs when he was younger, or if he was just a better writer, in the sense I’m thinking of it, but he really seemed more agnostic then, and his writing was better for it. Even if he wasn’t agnostic, I think maybe he was more in touch with people who believed differently than he did.

I remember in his forward to Speaker for the Dead, writing about the way that people have different relationships with and behave differently around different people and groups of people; he pointed to the way that as a college student (I think; maybe high school) he would do summer theater while living at home, and with his theater friends he swore like a sailor, while at home he was perfectly inoffensive in his speech. And I just wonder if in his younger days he wasn’t more in touch with a broader life, while as he’s aged he’s tended to be more around people who agree with him—or even who tacitly enforce certain norms on him—as well as living a more unified life. I can even identify, in a sense: as a youth, I was two people—one and home and one among my peers, but now that I’m an adult, I am more or less myself in all circumstances. Does that, perhaps, limit Card in certain ways?

I suspect the answer is yes. He still spins a pretty good story, but I haven't seen anything from him in quite a long time that I would call brilliant. And, returning to his stance on gay marriage, I suspect this, too, is a case of living in the echo chamber of his own religion and its implicit or explicit enforcement of moral norms. But I don't know Card personally and I recognize what a joke it is to think that I can psychoanalyze him from a distance and have any hope of being "right" about what moves him to say/write/do anything in particular. But part of being human, I think, is that we all have a right to our own opinions, no matter how tenuously based in actual knowledge they may be.

Oh, speaking of opinions and returning to the film: it was good for what it is--a film. It looked good, and it was close enough to the original, but it sorely lacks the depth of the novel (or of Ender's Shadow). It reinforces my belief that any book that's worth anything, if it's going to be translated to the screen it should probably become a television series. A Game of Thrones and its sequels, The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End: they've all been better than any film adaptation could have been (the exception just might be The Hobbit, which should have just been one film, not three; two, tops).

It did make me want to go back and re-read the book, which I suppose is a positive for the film.

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