Lost in Bad Translation

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"

Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

Orson Scott Card has been on my list of authors to read for a while. His novel, Ender’s Game, is often hailed as the example of science fiction/fantasy writing.

When previews for a movie based on the book started airing, I decided reading Ender’s Game a priority. At best, I hoped to learn a thing or two about effective story telling especially with such a young protagonist. At the very least I would be entertained.

I wasn’t disappointed on either count.

Ender’s Game has topped my list as best read for 2013. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. I highly recommend it to you if you haven’t yet read it.

It’s the book that reawakened the love of reading fiction in my hubby who spends most his reading time in non-fiction. He’s moved on to the second book in The Ender Quintet. I’ve chosen to bask in the warm fuzzy glow that surrounds you at the end of a good book.

But of course, with the cinematic release I found myself excited. I couldn’t wait to see how filmmakers would translate the story to the big screen.

Unfortunately, here, I was disappointed.

Elements of the story, which I loved, were lost in translation. For example:

  • Ender starts his journey at the ripe old age of 6 but in the movie he’s older maybe 12. Either age is young for having the weight of the world rest on your shoulders but the added years takes away some of the sympathy I had for the character.
  • Ender’s being a third has significant religious implications and points to his parents not following the status quo. The movie version only mentions Ender being a third, which removes layers of complexity from the story.
  • Ender spends most of his life at battle school in isolation. It seems like years pass before he makes true friends. The burden, at 6, of being away from your family and deliberately starved for human connectivity is key in the story. In the movie, alliances are made quickly.

These are just the highlights. I don’t want to spoil either movie or book for anyone but between the two the book is better, as it usually is.

My ~isms for book to movie adaptations:

  • I have to read the book first. Then depending on how good the book is I may opt to keep with the story as it unfolded in my imagination. Like, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I haven’t been able to watch the movie.
  • If I see the movie first I don’t read the book. For example, I won’t read John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief because I saw the movie and the characters and the story shape up the way the director shot it.

There are exceptions of course. I watched the movie, In Her Shoes, starring Toni Collette and loved it. Then I read the book. In this case I like the movie better.

Or, the fact that I loved the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and I loved the movie is surprising to me.

In the case of Ender’s Game, I should have forgone the motion picture and maintained my personal mental movie.

What about you? Any hang ups about literary adaptations?

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