Thursday, June 25, 2009

Harry Potter vs. Ender's Game

I could probably write a real essay on this, and have it turn out pretty well. Probably better than any literature analysis paper I've written before. But I'm not going to do that.

To start with, I haven't seen these stories compared before. Harry Potter is this phenomenon, and while it's derivitive in the naming of spells and such, I don't think I've ever heard the complaint before that it's just plain derivitive. Granted, I haven't really been looking into it.

That's the reason I felt this topic is worth writing. It's a comparison that I made immediately when I read Ender's Game that I haven't heard made before.

Herien there be spoilers.

The basic plotline of Ender's Game (I'm just going to be discussing Ender's Game for the time being. Not the Speaker for the Dead series that follows it, and the Shadow series only briefly) and Harry Potter are incredibly similar. They both (Harry and Ender) are the prophesized saviors of mankind.

That last sentence is only somewhat true. For one thing, Harry is the prophesized savior of Wizardkind, and by extension mankind, whereas Ender is the savior of mankind outright. More importantly, though, Ender is not prophesized. This is a major difference in the two stories. Harry Potter is Fantasy, and Ender's Game is science fiction. There's a big debate over what constitutes sci-fi and what constitutes fantasy, and where the line is drawn. But I think Orson Scott Card does a pretty good job of making the distinction as simply, and I'm paraphrasing "Sci-fi books have metal and compuuters on the covere, while fantasy books have trees and wizards and swords on the cover." So, because Ender's Game is sci-fi, Ender is not prophesized. He is, I think, genetically manfactured and then found, through science and observation, to be humanity's greatest hope. But, basically, they are both the prophesized saviors of mankind.

Both stories begin with the children in their original circmstances--at home with their "families." These circmstances are not in any way similar, so they aren't worth going into in this context. It's only after they are brought to their respective schools that we begin our examination.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is primarily interested in setting up the basic story, and introducing Harry, and through him the reader, to Hogwarts. Hogwarts is a magical place, and Harry has to learn how to inhabit this strange new environment. The stairs rotate around, and there are headmasters running around casting spells on things, and the pictures move, and the food phases into and ot of existence... Lots of things. Also he has to get sed to dormitory life and the restrictions therein.

Ender goes to battle school out in space. It's a much colder atmosphere than Hogwarts, and the things he has to learn to deal with are different. For one thing, there's lack of gravity. Mostly, he has to learn to deal with being cut off from his sister, and the fact that there is no one in the battle school that is going to help him.There is an adversarial relationship between the teachers and students, and he has no friends.

Which is another similarity. Harry Potter and Ender are both ostracized when they arrive at school. Harry, because everyone knows who he is. And Ender, becase he is the youngest and smallest student in the school. Harry finds Ron, and later Hermoine, but Ron right away. His friendships occur naturally, and grow strong over time. Ender has to manfactor his friendships, and then he loses them because the teachers take them away so that he is always in a state of having to fend for himself. The reationships don't mature the way that they do in Harry Potter.

The school dynamics are set up in a very similar manner. In Harry Potter, we have the different houses. Gryffindor and Slitherin and ... Uhh... The other ones. All of the houses are in constant competition with each other. They're awarded points for everything, and there is a standings board which displays the points. Most notably is the Quidditch game.

Which brings me to one of the two games referenced in the title (Ender's Game. In fact, the fantasy game becomes the more important of the two games, and argably the one that the title is referring to, in the Speaker series. But, when the short story was originally published, the fantasy game wasn't even in it and the Game in question was undobtedly the battles. This information is, for the most part, erroneous) The battle school is divided not into houses the way that Hogwarts is, bt into armies. The primary function of the school is this game. Just like in Hogwarts, the standing of this battle sim game are tracked and posted, and matter a great deal to the students involved.

If Harry is ostracized when he arrives because of the mythology behind who he is, then he finally becomes respected and regarded as somewhat of a hero through his supremacy in the Quidditch game. Likewise, Ender catapulps straight to the top of the standings of the battle sim game, and while that doesn't award him any really good friendships, he is held in reverence and respect by the general populace of the school because of his obvious supremacy in the game.

I know that Quidditch is sort of a sideshow in Harry Potter, and that the war game is an integral focus of Ender's Game, but Quidditch is important in Harry Potter because it is a way to show off how special Harry is in a way that the students can understand and relate to. He's not the best in the classes, for the most part, but on the Qidditch field, Harry is king.

Except in the self defense classes. He's the best in that class, which brings me to another important parallel. At some point in the Harry Potter series, the magical defenses teachers are not teaching the kids for some reason that is not germane to this discussion. So what does Harry do? He arranges for private meetings in a secret room where he becomes the teacher for a group of kids so they can learn the important aspects of magical defense. In this way, he also learns more and better magical defense, and again earns the respect and loyalty of, at least a small but important group of, the Hogwarts students.

Ender has a slightly different problem, with a very similar solution. Because he is so young and so small even for his age, and because he is promoted more quickly than anyone has every been before, when he is first assigned to an army his commanding officer, who is forced to have him on the team against ihis wishes, refuses to train him. But he needs to learn the techniques of the battlea room and the effects of zero gravity and the battle room equipment. So what does he do? He reaches out to the kids that are too young to be placed in armies yet and arranges practice sessions with them where he figues out technique and teaches it to, and practices with, the students who elect to come to his sessions. In this way, just like Harry, he earns the respect and loyalty of, at least some of, the battle school students.

One of the major sticking points I've always had with the Harry Potter series is that if Harry's father had just chosen to make himself his own secret keeper, Voldemort wouldn't have killed him and his wife, and Harry wouldn't have been orphaned or given that scar, and then he wouldn't have been the chosen one. Basically, the story wouldn't be. I think the reason for this oversight is that when the idea was originally concocted, Rowling was working under the assumption that a person couldn't be their own secret keeper. The oversight, on her part, was probably when she later allowed other characters to be their own secret keepers, rather than it being with not having Harry's father be his secret keeper.

In Ender's Game, they should have just sent Mazer Rackhem flying around at near light speed for a longer amount of time so that he was still young enough to command the army during the human invasion of the Buggers. This would aleviate the necesity for Ender, and again there would be no story (that's not really true... There would be be the short story still, which is just about being at the battle school and not about the surrounding war. Bt we're going to go with Ender's Game the novel, not the novella) I think the idea here is that they needed a child to make the decision to destroy the Buggers' homeworld by tricking him into thinking that it was just a game, ths committing xenocide. But, that's just kind of silly.

The last parallel I feel compelled to make (I've made a decent case at this point, right) is the boy who would be savior. In both stories, there is a backup savior. In Harry Potter, there were two childrehn who could have possibly fulfilled the propphecy based on... I don't know what. Astrology from what I understand. It turns out that it really is Harry, for a number of circumstantial reasons, but the other kid is there too, and he ends up playing an important role in the end as well. I don't remember his name.

Ender also has a backup. His backup is another kid who is unnaturally genius. His name is Bean, and he is the subject of tche Shadow series. He also plays an important role in the resolution of Ender's Game, though his role isn't quite as explicit unless you read Ender's Shadow.

Now, here's where the parallels end. Harry Potter is very much a coming of age story. It takes place in a fantastical world where the protagonist is risking his life and saving humanity etc etc, but it is really just as much about the relationships and about Harry and his friends growing up. We follow their lives and we get to know them as they mature. That is not true of Ender.

The second book, Speaker for the Dead, takes place 20 something years into Ender's life, and 3000 years into the future (it just does. It makes some amount of sense. Just go with it.) Ender isn't the same person he was when he was just a little kid whiping out entire races. We don't see him grow up. We're just told that he did, and this is the person he has become. We're told that people have fallen in love with each other, and it just sort of happens all of a sudden. We don't see the relationships bud and grow. The next book takes place 30 years later. There is little to no focus on watching these characters grow and develop. Their work is more important to them, and that is what the books focus on.

I'm not sure why I haven't seen or heard this link made by other people before. Like I said, it's entirely possible that it's just because I haven't been paying attention. But another reason could be that the audiences are somewhat different for these incredibly similar stories. Ender's Game is widely considered to be just the intro for the Speaker of the Dead series, which is supposed to be "better." I suppose in that it deals with more mature themes and issues. When I broght up the similarity withi Lior, he couldn't ospeak to it becauese he knows nothing about the Harry Potter series. He, like many, hold Harry Potter in a place of derision. Because, well, it's not really that good. The story is fn and fantastical, and the wrriting isn't bad, as such... It just does its job. And it's written, very explicitly, in a style for an audience of kids. I think this position is a silly one to hold. I have a number of problems with the way thew series is written, but for the most part it's still fun. I think it's interesting that Harry Potter is held in this place of derision while Ender's Game is held in this place of esteem.

Hm... I think if I cleaned this up a bit and made some actual textual referrences and such, I could probably get this essay published. I have no idea where I would submit it though. So I probably won't.

Cherry did a quick google search or something, which is more research on this than I did, and apparently this is a widely made comparison. Apparently there was even some sort of lawsuit, though, interestingly, it seems that Rowling brought the suit against Card rather than vice versa. I'll probably look that up to understand what grounds she possibly thought she had. Anyway, I guess this isn't worthy of publishing after all. Oh well.

Okay... Real quick, life update. Today I started working on my new second job thing. I'm working for Stuart again, but only a few hours a week this time. And this time I'm doing all of the work from home by using remote software to trobleshoot and update his clients' computers. Basketball season is also starting up. Other than that, life is crappy and boring as usual. End real life update.


Anonymous said...

just a small criticism, the problem you pointed out with mazer rackhem in enders game was actually addressed in the book.

while mazer was the best general humanity had at the time, he wasn't actually all that great. as he himself points out in the book, he basically just got lucky. it was a fluke that he was able to defend humanity and it was unlikely to happen a second time, which is why they needed the battle school and such.

Anonymous said...

From a Marketing and Seller point of view, Harry Potter has already beaten Enders Game. It has sold far more copies. And most people know what Harry Potter is, mainly only sci fi people really know about Enders game.

Also, I have never seen so many people wait until midnight to buy a book. Every time J.K Rowling released a new Harry Potter book, many around the globe would wait in line until Midnight just to buy it. Did that happen with Ender Game? No.

Personally, I tried giving Enders game a chance, I forced myself to read the whole book. I found it boring. It could have been a lot shorter. Also, I like the characters far better in Harry Potter. Harry and Ender are different. Harry is brave and will win a fight honorable, Ender isn't. He fights like a coward. Also, it's hard to believe two child geniuses would be able to take over the world.