Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Adolescent Military Genius versus the Friendly Neighborhood Vampires: An Analysis of Orson Scott Card and his Influence on Twilight. (Part I)

Stephenie Meyer, the bestselling author of the Twilight series, has a lot in common with the legendary science fiction author, Orson Scott Card. They are both active members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). More importantly, while neither of them is known for religious novels per se, they both write from a background of faith and bring a strongly religious, though not particularly Mormon, vision to their work. Beyond this, I would suggest that the Twilight series contains certain Cardian elements. This should not be surprising as Stephenie Meyer has publicly stated that she is a fan of Card’s work.

I read Card as a running meditation as to the question of how one builds and maintains a society? What causes people to join together as a society? How does the individual relate to the surrounding society? What brings an individual to make sacrifices, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, for the sake of his society? These issues underline almost all of Card’s work. For the purposes of this post I will focus on Card’s most famous work, Ender’s Game, and it various sequels.

On the surface Ender’s Game is about a war between humans and an alien race known as the Buggers. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin attends a school for brilliant children. The purpose of this school is to create the next brilliant military commander, another Napoleon Bonaparte or Alexander the Great. The children at this school are being trained for one thing only, war. As such their primary education revolves around military strategy games, either computer games or the mock combat of the battle room.

The war against the Buggers is only an incidental part of the story. What Card is interested in is this Battle school as a group of competing societies. While the main character, Ender Wiggin, is a genius, his real talent is his ability to handle people. Ender is someone whom other people are willing to follow. People admire him and desire to learn from him and emulate him. Ender in turn is someone who honestly desires to help people. The narrative arch of the novel revolves around Ender building societies. Through the various stations that Ender finds himself, whether as a Launchie, as an unvalued member of Salamander army, as a valued member of Rat army, as a Toon leader in Phoenix army or as the head of Dragon army, Ender connects to various people and gets them to forge bounds with each other. Many of these people, such as Petra Arkanian and Bean, eventually become his subordinate commanders in the coming war against the Buggers.

What is interesting about Ender’s character is that, even though he is this great leader, he is a reluctant leader and does not seek power or recognition. Ender does not put himself at the center of the societies he builds. He is always remains off to the side and alone.

The foil for Ender is his older brother, Peter Wiggin. Peter possesses similar gifts as Ender. The difference, though, between Peter and Ender, and the reason why the Battle school never took Peter, is that Peter lacks a firm moral base; Peter manipulates people for his own ends and is completely untrustworthy. While Ender is away from home at the Battle school playing his war games, Peter plays his own game, attempting, under the pseudo-name of Locke, to become a world leader. What is so interesting, though, about how Card deals with this character is that, while Peter may be immoral, he is not evil nor is he the villain of the story. Over the course of the novel and its sequels Peter manages to do a tremendous amount of good even if the things that he does always seem to incidentally help him.

Ender and Peter can be seen as models of two different kinds of leaders, who come to be the center of two different kinds of societies. Peter is a political leader, who desires power over other people. He accomplishes his goals by making it in people’s interest to put him power. He eventually becomes the Hegemon of the entire earth and leads mankind in its expansion to the stars. Ender is a spiritual leader. Even though he leads the first human colony to a foreign planet and becomes its governor, he gives up his post for a life of exile. His legacy is a book that he writes called the Hive Queen and the Hegemon. This book becomes a bible for those humans who go off to settle the galaxy and it spawns a religious movement known as the Speakers for the Dead. In the end, while Peter may have been a great political leader, nothing survives him. While Ender does not build any physical empires, he creates a society, beyond any physical boundaries, that lasts for thousands of years.

(To be continued ...)

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