When people ask about my favorite book, I always say it’s “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I love “Ender’s Game” because it’s intriguing and original, and Ender’s thoughts always surprise me no matter how many times I read them. It’s the type of book that makes my heart ache so bad I have to remind myself it’s not real — “Ender’s Game” is sharp and unforgettable, and I’ll never grow out of it.
So, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read “Ender’s Shadow.”
I’ve always heard that “Ender’s Game” was a one-hit-wonder, that every other book Card has written is more inaccessible political philosophy than good fiction. Clearly, these people have never read “Ender’s Shadow.” It’s a parallel novel to “Ender’s Game” that generally covers the same timeline, but is told from the perspective of Bean (a friend Ender meets at Battle School). I originally downloaded the audiobook version for some light entertainment during my daily 30-minute commute to and from Central Campus. (Yes, I live on North Campus, and yes, it is a tragedy.) However, I soon became so entranced in the story that I literally spent three hours sitting in the East Quad dining hall, listening to the audiobook and playing solitaire, before I finally gave in and checked out the hard copy from the Hatcher Graduate Library. I then devoured the book within 24 hours and have been shaking and crying and reeling ever since.
(Just kidding, but it really was sorta life-changing!)
First off, it’s incredibly impressive that Card was able to create such a full character that (though also a child genius) is so distinctive from Ender. Bean is very much a different narrator, and his story, while adhering to the same events as “Ender’s Game,” is unique. In the foreword to the novel, Card comments on the difficulty he encountered while trying to “tell the same story twice, but differently.” He writes, “I was hindered by the fact that even though the viewpoint characters were different, the author was the same, with the same core beliefs about the world.” Nonetheless, Card pulls it off beautifully. Where Ender is preoccupied with his morality (with his siblings Valentine and Peter as an angel-devil duo on his shoulders), Bean is obsessively seeking all knowledge and truth, a defense mechanism from his violent upbringing in Rotterdam. Ender is a perceptive strategist with an empathetic, tortured soul; Bean is an analytical genius with a mind full of probing investigations about everything.
The true treasure of “Ender’s Shadow” is one that goes unsaid — and it stems from its proximity to “Ender’s Game.” Bean’s story is riddled with these slight differences from the first novel. It’s a simple matter of perspective, and yet this one layer of variation paints a beautifully complex, nuanced world. The story becomes exponentially richer and fuller, like watching a black-and-white film burst into vibrant color. “Ender’s Shadow” understands that nothing in the world is ever a single, linear narrative — there’s always so much that we don’t know from our limited perspective of life and other people.
Bean also provides a distinct view of Ender as a person, as this is the first time we see Ender from an outside perspective. Bean tries to figure out what Ender is like from his friend Shen, who explains, “Ender’s good, man … he doesn’t hate anybody. If you’re a good person, you’re going to like him. You want him to like you … he tries to wake up the good part of you.” When I read this, I was surprised by how Shen perfectly articulates the intangible quality that makes me love Ender. It also reveals how Ender is quite unaware of his impact on other people, capturing the reality of our inherent ignorance of other people’s thoughts and experiences. Even parts of the story that were previously unclear due to Ender’s overwhelming exhaustion are suddenly described in stark clarity by Bean.
“Ender’s Game” presents Ender’s time in Command School as exhausting and heavy, full of unnamed torment and burden. But Bean is able to see right through to the heart of what Ender is carrying. He explains to Colonel Graff, “even when Ender doesn’t consciously know that he’s killed somebody, he knows it deep down, and it burns in his heart.” Bean understands Ender more than Ender understands himself. This alternate perspective on the titular character completely transformed my view of the story.
At the end of the day, I truly admire and appreciate Bean. Apart from being a genius and an outsider, Bean struggles with his own identity and massively underappreciated role in the war. Ender himself never quite realizes how much Bean is capable of, nor the critical role Bean has played in Ender’s success. Colonel Graff alone is the only one who actually sees all that Bean has done. For a time, Bean struggles with his desire for glory, and it threatens to make him resentful toward Ender, who gets all the fame and admiration. But eventually, Bean decides that he doesn’t need to be Ender, because Ender is right there. Bean solemnly honors Ender for his sacrifice and the immense burden he carries. Ultimately, he’s somehow content to be a pivotal factor in winning the war without receiving any public recognition. In a way, Bean is like the unsung soldiers who he must command to their deaths — a noble, humble sacrifice that won’t be celebrated, but always honored by the few who know.
Daily Arts Writer Pauline Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.