The Heroic Hero of Heroism: Learning From Ender Wiggin

Hello again everyone! Last week I harped on a pet peeve of mine: the Heroic Hero of Heroism and his incredible, jaw-dropping ability to break a story with far too much awesome in one person. I kind of ranted a bit, focusing on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series’ Richard as a negative example of what not to do. This week, I’m going to show you a hero that I believe is actually done well: Ender Wiggin of Orson Scot Card’s Ender’s Game series.

Ender’s Game: I Dare You Not to Like This Kid

Before we start, a few disclaimers:

I’ll be straight from the beginning and admit that while I own nearly all of the Ender’s GameEnder's Game cover series, I have only read the first book. This gives me a disadvantage in that I cannot judge how Card handles his main character through the series, but this is less important because unlike Goodkind, Card actually writes about his other characters. Card’s books actually split off into two series, one following characters left behind at the end of the first book, and the other following Ender as a much older man. Card’s later books are very different in focus and his characters change a lot between stories, so there isn’t much to compare as far as how his hero develops and how Goodkind (mis)handles his.

Secondly, I am aware that I am comparing fantasy hero with a science fiction hero in this post. There are differences of context and convention at work here, but rest assured I plan to account for this and that overall these elements do not make up much of the differences between these characters.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what makes Ender Wiggin edge into HHH territory for ranks in Awesome:

  • Ender is a genius. He is six years old at the beginning of the book, and he’s talking, writing, and thinking like a particularly bright MIT graduate. Granted, he’s still a kid, but it’s clear from the story that his physical body is merely a container for brilliance.
  • Ender is a tremendous leader. The poor kid can’t help it, but he knows exactly how to instill confidence, competence, and unity in people he works with and over. Throughout his tenure in Battle School, met with impossible, unheard of challenges, he and his “men” get through every one under his leadership. Not bad for a kid.
  • Ender is hand-picked to be the savior of the human race. They’re apprehensive, no doubt, but the power-players of the world are desperate for a hero, and they’ve picked Ender. From the very beginning, it’s known by everyone, including Ender at least in the abstract sense, that it’s all riding on his shoulders.

While he’s not wielding super powerful ancient weapons of doom, nor is he the last War Wizard or anything, Ender’s got a lot going on here. If this was a fanatsy story, you’d better believe Ender would have a secret, ancient power or weapon that he has to learn to use to defeat the doom that is coming for humankind, and the weight of his importance is no less than Richard’s to his world, in a sense. However, there are several considerations that Card made when creating Ender that temper his awesomeness with humanity and realistic problems:

  • Ender is a big fish in a big pond. Not only are there other geniuses in Battle School, but they’re all kids like him. Bean, a character that later becomes the star of the secondary series, is arguably smarter than Ender, but his time as hero hasn’t come yet. Not only that, but most of the adults in the Battle School are actively working against Ender, throwing up new challenges as they try to mold him into the person they want him to be. No matter how smart Ender is, he is always, always running into people as smart or smarter than him. But each time, Ender finds a way to beat them, and thanks to Card’s characterizations, we’re all rooting for him every time he does.
  • Ender is very, very lonely. Being the third child in a society with strict limitations on births, Ender is more than just an odd-man-out, he’s a complete anomaly. There are no other Thirds like him, and the isolation he feels from other human beings, then from his loving sister when he’s forced to leave home, is sharp and clear. This is something that Ender struggles with for most of the story, even as he is learning to be a leader and growing past many of his other weaknesses, and it is a very realistic struggle, especially because Ender is a child. Card does a brilliant job of making Ender’s thoughts both child-like and reflective of his intelligence, all of which makes his problems very sympathetic, not annoying and petty like many HHH’s.
  • Ender completely lacks ego. This may sound like it should be in the Awesome column  but when you think about it, this is exactly where HHH’s fail: ego management. Many writers try to temper their character with Reluctant Hero Syndrome thinking this is how you make sure your readers aren’t annoyed with his inflated ego. But Ender is different. It isn’t that he doesn’t have pride, but he is completely lacking in the impulse to preserve his pride or dignity at the expense of someone else, even during the intense politics of the Battle School. This plays directly into Ender’s effectiveness as a leader, and makes him all kinds of endearing. While other characters, like his main antagonist Bonzo Madrid, are vying for political power at others’ expense, Ender is quietly shattering their power over him and undermining every petty thing they do with his wits and humility.

I could go on, but this gives you an idea of how you have to take care of a pesky Heroic

enders game xkcd guide to battleroom

There’s no handy TV miniseries screencaps for pictures on this post, so instead here’s something from

Hero of Heroism in your story. No matter how cool your character is, he has to have balance. If you’re worried he’s standing too tall, don’t cut him off at the knees, make others stand up next to him. He can still be exceptional while other people are out there being exceptional too, it’s all a matter of what he does with his power. The difference between a hero and a non-hero, after all, is not the hand of fate, or the magic of his sword, or the genius he’s born with. It’s what he decides to do when his time to stand up comes: whether he’s going to go on doing the same thing as anyone else, or if he’s going to cut his own path. “Hero” is not a title, after all. It’s a job description.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little two-parter. Next week I’ll do something different, but until then, Has anyone else read much of the Ender’s Game series? Let me know in the comments below!


About erikthereddest

I'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.

Posted on December 19, 2012, in Authors, Books, Characters, Characters, Ender Wiggin, Ender's Game, Erik Marsh, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Orson Scott Card, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I really liked Ender in Ender’s Game…but just listened to Speaker for the Dead on a road trip last month and liked it even better. The story is a lot more complicated and Ender is an adult, but he’s still an amazing, empathetic character who does not judge, but has the ability to really SEE each life for what it is. The ironic part in that book is that the story takes place 3000 years after Ender’s game (Ender is only in his 30’s due to space travel), and humanity thinks he is long dead and despises his memory–calls him the Xenocide because he destroyed the race of buggers (his name is loathed like Stalin or Hitler). You’ll have to read it and see what you think.

    • Ooh that does sound really interesting. I wonder if Peter had something to do with that characterization? It does seem strange that he would be hated unless someone went out of his way to craft public opinion of him. Poor Ender! At least he has Valentine.

      • Peter could have had something to do with that image. I read Peter the Hegemon years ago, but sadly have forgotten most of it. The only reason I remember Speaker of the Dead is that we just listened to it last month and it revived my memories of that story.

  2. I disagree. I’ve read the whole series, but Ender is a bit of a whiner as he progresses as an adult…why does no one ever sing ballads about BEAN? Bean shows that not only does he think far beyond Ender and many other characters, he also does more in the long run to protect it and even Ender out in space…Read Ender’s Shadow and then tell me that doesn’t kick Ender’s Game’s butt….I followed the Shadow series with much more anticipation than Ender, which got to be waaaay too much in Ender’s head by the end.

    • I always liked bean a lot, so I’ll have to take that as a further exhortation to finally get through that stack of books on my shelf. Like I said in the post, I haven’t seen how Ender grows as a character in later books, so my examination of him as a hero were bases soley on Ender’s Game. I guess I’ll just have to see if I end up agreeing with you or not!

  1. Pingback: Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card « Excursions Into Imagination

  2. Pingback: Speaker for the Dead: The Story Card Actually Wanted to Tell | Lantern Hollow Press

  3. Pingback: Speaker for the Dead: Card’s Creatures | Lantern Hollow Press

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