Just over a decade ago, my husband and I worked downtown in the city and commuted together. We were young, childless, and had more money than we knew what to do with. As we rode to work together, we listened to books on tape. One that we ended up loving, despite its place in the science fiction genre, was Ender’s Game (1985) by Orson Scott Card. I am not usually drawn to science fiction, although I have read some, and what I’ve read I have usually enjoyed. Dune was also an intriguing book in this genre. Ender’s Game stands out as one of the best science fiction books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, along with its sequels. The tale is typically mythic with hints of the hero cycle throughout. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a young boy, the third in his family (a child unheard of, for most everybody has just two in this futuristic society), and he’s exceptionally gifted at strategy. He is watched and tested by higher military officials and accepted into a space combat program. This is a normal part of life, for the earth had been previously attacked by “buggers,” seeking water and to colonize the planet. Humans had defeated the buggers, but were now preparing to defend themselves again if attacked. They had become obsessed with being prepared. Ender seems to be the answer to a lot of the anxiety humans are feeling over the possibility of another bugger attack. He’s smart, aware, gifted, and able to think about preventing future attacks. The military officials see all of this through his interactions with bullies and his playing of video games mean to test him. The rest of the book plays off of this, and we see Ender become highly trained and also highly successful. However, the military’s definition of success isn’t necessarily Ender’s.
So a decade or so after reading this book, we watched the movie. Our oldest daughter watched it with us, and while it was true to the book, it lacked something. I can’t quite describe what, but it lacked what movies usually lack that books have. Perhaps it is engagement through imagination, descriptive detail, or the feeling of being immersed in the story. Perhaps it is creative language, the inner thoughts of Ender, or the ability to completely understand the world we are expected to suspend our disbelief for in order to become involved in the plot.
As we watched, I kept telling Olivia that she could read the book. I kept reminding her that this was really a book and that the book was better. I’m now determined to go to the library this week and get her a copy. I have no doubt she’ll enjoy it, and I’ll feel better about having exposed her to it. Our rule with Harry Potter has been that she must read the books first and then we’ll watch the movies. I think this might be a rule for all such productions from now on.
What do you think? Are books always better than their movie versions? Are there any exceptions to this?