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?


  1. Agreed on The Hunger Games. That was a great translation to film and I can’t wait to see Catching Fire.

    Another awesome one for me was Atonement. In this case, I saw the movie first as I didn’t realize it was a novel. Once I read the book, I realized how the film did such a lovely job capturing the original story.

    • Thanks Britt … I will have to add Atonement to my long list of “to read”. I keep buying and downloading great sounding books but I can only read so fast … Sigh. Just finished watching Catching Fire. It was AWESOME. You’ll love it.

  2. Thanks for this post. I’m going to check the book out.

  3. Not my cup of tea but Card must be good if your husband has taken to him! Certainly avid book readers will back most books above the film version any time. I often wonder why film companies pay an author mega bucks only to make a film hardly recognisable from the book version.
    I rarely watch TV or go to the cinema so I’m no judge. A rare exception last Christmas was when I watched the old b/w film of ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’. It captured the atmosphere of the rather dreary Buchan book read at school but really brought the story to life.

    • Roy, I hadn’t consider it but why pay an author for their story? My guess: what they’re truly paying for is their audience not their story. I’ll have to check out ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’. Have to say I’ve not heard of it before. Thanks for reading.

  4. Like you, if I see the movie first, I tend not to want to read the book. But if I’ve read the book and enjoyed it, I always want to see the movie. I thought part of the reason that Hunger Games translated so well to the screen must have been because Suzanne Collins wrote for the screen before writing that novel and seemed to have the screen in mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: