"Ender's Game" - like HP, but good.

Yesterday, I read Shadow of the Giant, the current-last book in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series.

As I've mentioned before, I harbor a general dislike for Harry Potter, stemming from when I worked in a used bookstore with an excellent science fiction / fantasy selection, but found that parents couldn't think of buying anything but HP for their adolescent kids, neglecting a huge corpus of darn good books. Whenever such shoppers could be bothered to listen for two minutes, rather than turning and walking out the door as soon as they found that we didn't have a hundred copies of Rawlings' latest, I tried to make sure they ended up with a copy of Ender's Game.

The parallels are obvious - an exceptional child is taken to an elite academy in order to develop his skills in hopes of, eventually, defending the world from evil. Ender's Game, however, involves no magic, is highly ambivalent about the absoluteness of "evil", and - to judge from the shallowness of HP that its adult readers typically mention whenever they admit to enjoying the series - has a much more complex view of childhood and maturity.

Post-Ender's Game, the Speaker for the Dead branch of the series, following Ender through 3000 years of lightspeed travel, space colonization, and musings on the meaning of humanity, is probably further from the HP experience than the Ender's Shadow branch, which involves his teen and twenty-something classmates, back on Earth, in a more conventional timeline, saving the world while growing and maturing in directions that are probably easier to identify with. (Wow, I can write quite the sentence, can't I?) To some extent, the Shadow branch can be dismissed as the more cheesy, war-gamey branch, but it has its value and is probably the much easier read.

So, should you be suffering from a post-Potter uncertainty as to what to read next, or know somebody whose kids are about to start into the series for the tenth time, do yourself a favor and try Ender instead.

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post-Potter D&D

I'm in the process of working myself up to running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for the first time since undergrad (yeah, laugh it up, fuzzball), and, in considering potential story arcs, had been considering the ways in which Buffy might be expected to have influenced a player's approach to the game - that being a much more immediate reference point for some of the new players I'd consider bringing in than the Lord of the Rings / Star Wars influence that reigned over the earlier days of my gaming career.

Just now, though, typing up this post, I got a sudden chill. Much as Buffy might be the touchstone epic hero for my social circle, HP is probably going to be far more prominent in the mind of a randomly chosen new gamer. Eeesh. Maybe I don't want to start up a new game after all. Maybe I'll just hide, instead.

The idea that another branch

The idea that another branch could be cheesier than the Speaker for the Dead/Xenocide/Children of the Mind branch is chilling.

varietal cheeses

See, there's two different types of cheese involved. Speaker, etc., are much more "Watch OSC muse deeply and shit," cheese, while the middle Shadow books verge deeply into "Watch OSC do his best impression of Tom Clancy" cheese, which is more what I was referring to.

I'll note I haven't read the Speaker branch in about 12 years, though, so I could be misremembering my impressions of it.

My sister says

My sister reports that her brain has apparently been addled enough by the Cult of Potter that she can't manage to figure out commenting. If she could, though, it would look something like this:

i'm attempting to comment on your blog so that i can go on a diatribe about how complex harry potter is, how harry's favorite hero turns out to be not all good and how his most hated enemy is not all bad. also how death and mourning are dealt with in a mature way that children can still handle AND how, while ender's game is appropriate for kids, it's sequels are NOT, with ender's shadow featuring a troubling child-on-child rape scene and the rest full of scientific diatribes which cannot hold a kid's short attention span. HOWEVER, your website foiled me.

Her most trenchant critique of my position, however, is yet to come:

ps, you love buffy.

Well played, sister. Well played.

Potter age

While it's true that HP seems to be written at about a 7-year-old's reading level, I seem to recall JK's stated position being that the first book was meant for ten-year-old readers, with later books (over the next ten years?) meant for readers to age with Harry? Because, when I was between 10 and 20 years old, I think I read about 2/3 of the Heinleinian canon. I think adolescents can handle Card.

But, fine, maybe not everybody wants Ender. For the slightly younger reader who's about to tear through the HP series for the fourth time, might I suggest The Chronicles of Narnia instead? Or, from Salon's eulogy for Madeleine L'Engle:

She wrote for everyone, but L'Engle's books for children were of a different order. They harnessed the full power of her invention, and created a world we could not have imagined independently. She possessed something beyond ordinary human vision; L'Engle had epiphanies. Her creatures and imaginary worlds were both more imagined and more real than most, in part because of the deft way she blended science and religion into fantasy. She managed to define magic in terms that seemed honest, and in doing so made magic more true. To compare L'Engle's universe to the stuff cluttering the post-Harry Potter marketplace is to compare a unicorn to a goat with one horn sawed off: real enchantment standing beside something that approximates felt hat and white rabbit magic. That kind of creation is not a gift many authors possess. We may imagine what an angel might say, as we recognize a cartoon angel in flowing robes and a Hallmark halo. But it's much harder to imagine a new kind of angel and give it a new kind of voice. Or a tear in the space-time continuum, for that matter.

7-year-old reading level? Really?

I think you're mistaking *a* seven-year-old's reading capabilities and *your* seven-year-old reading capabilities. Keep in mind that 7 is about second grade, when kids are just starting chapter books like Nate the Great. Those of us who lagged a little behind you discovered L'Engle around age 14. BUT, you're also debating with a girl who is as-we-speak knitting a Hogwarts scarf in class, which my pediatric nursing prof does not appreciate. She did, however, declare the Harry Potter books "a great service" to school-aged chilren. How many of the HP books have you acctually read?

You might be interested in this (http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah_chpt7_p2.html) in which the author declares that

Some critics have complained that Rowling's language is not classical True, her sentences are largely unadorned and, except for proper nouns, there is less for the reader stumble over. And that's good. Stumbling over text is a discouragement for young readers, not an incentive. And while classics like Heidi have heavier, more adorned text, when was the last time you saw a kid reading Heidi in the airport? I saw five kids reading the fourth Harry Potter book in airports on July 10, 2000. A classic that is unread is an unheard concert. In order for medicine to do any good, it must be absorbed. To get a lot better at reading, children must read a lot of words

He then mentions that Harry Potter IV has 181,000 words, compared to Goosebumps (I remember those being big in 5th grade) which clocked in at 22,450 words and even The Hobbit, which had a measely 97,470.

"a great service"

If Harry Potter gets *a* 7-year-old interested in reading, that's dandy. If that 7-year-old proceeds to reread the series five times in lieu of branching out, that's no great service. I've read a whopping zero of the books, myself. However, every adult reader of HP I talk to, almost without exception, talks about what quick easy pleasant reads the books are, and I've heard enough kids (or parents) comment on re-reading the books over and over and over that I feel comfortable stating that this is common. At least get your kid some Roald Dahl for a change!

I expect to read the HP books, once, with/to my kids, when I eventually have such. As library books. But I'll buy them Tolkein, Lewis, L'Engle, Card, etc. (Er, buy them those books that I don't own for myself...)

But, really, you can replace everything I ever say about HP with, "*sigh*. Kids these days."

Booo Dahl

I didn't realize that pleasant reading is so terrible. And that you read books only once. Why buy Tolkein if one should be always moving on, never reading just because it's pleasant?

Also, I think there are many arguments for Harry getting kids to read something rather than nothing. Yes, they might never read another series. Yes, they might never challenge themselves beyond Harry. BUT, we're learning now about educating parents of our patients, and we have to assume that they have an education level between 5th and 8th grade. There are constant reports that no one can read anymore. Even if its just up to the level of Harry Potter, if the kid would have read *nothing* otherwise, it may bring them up above our current pathetic national average, making them maybe slightly better at things like helping their kids in school, reading the newspaper, and voting. Maybe Harry isn't "turning kids into readers," but it doesn't benefit me if they're a reader. It does benefit me if they can read the educational tools I give them in a clinic, which they just might be able to because Harry VII brought them up to 8th or 9th grade level.

Also, Dahl scared the crap out of me. I remember those books being easier and shorter than HP, but creepy and sick. Not that I'm trying to shoot down all of your "Harry Alternate" authors. I'm with you on Tolkein and L'Engle.

"Why buy?"

Why buy Tolkein if one should be always moving on, never reading just because it's pleasant?

I have no problem with reading for pleasure - I practice this skill with some regularity.* But I find there's a difference between rereading a book and being to get something new out of it, and rereading a book just because it's familiar and comfortable. The latter is not necessarily a crime, but I prefer the books that grow with you and provide you with a new and different experience over time. Again, of course, I speak from the vantage of not having read HP, but only having been told, over and over, what a quick and mindlessly pleasant read it is.

* I have, in fact, have been rediscovering the skill of reading fiction this year, recovering from grad school sucking up all my reading time. Compare my reading list for last year (or what I could remember of it when I started tracking in August) to my reading list for this year - much more fiction this year, including a good number of re-reads. This is not to say, of course, that non-fiction reading is unpleasureable, by any means.

Agree with Boo Dahl

Roald Dahl is pretty sick. I'm not sure that that's the type of book that's going to convince kids to branch out beyond HP. (Giants coming in the night and eating children...woot. And that's just the BFG, among the tamest of his works.) Go for Gary Paulson instead, or the Heinlein YA fiction. Or, for more of the magical type,
I'll agree with the CS Lewis.

But I find there's a difference between rereading a book and being [able] to get something new out of it, and rereading a book just because it's familiar and comfortable.
First, you're again trying to argue that your reading abilities are representative of the population as a whole. They're not. I, in fact, often read books over and over again, just because they're familiar and comfortable. However, I'm also picking up new books just as often, or reading old books again from a new vantage point.
Second, even if kids are only reading the HP books over and over again, they are developing the habit of reading. If a child spends 5 hours a week reading HP, that's a good habit. Eventually, after 5,6,7 times through the series, that child will get tired of it. Having that habit of reading will drive them to pick up another book, instead of just turning on the TV again. The question is not "are they reading HP instead of new and different books," it's "are they reading instead of watching TV or playing video games." (Not that I don't enjoy a good video game myself.)

For the record, I've read HP 1-5, and just started book 6 this morning. I read book 4 on vacation, in about 4 days during time sitting on trains or at cafes while April wrote in her journal. I started book 5 Saturday night, and finished it last night. (Both of those were re-reads, I was just trying to remember the story, from when I first read them 4-5 years ago, in prep for reading 6 and 7.) I'd recommend them to you, if only for the fact that it would get you off your high horse about "I'm too good for HP." Read the story (which you could probably finish most of on your train to and from Montana), then argue your position being able to compare it to other reading first-hand, rather than just relying on hearsay.


Cara says, "What are you smirking about?"

"My brother *and* my sister trying to convince me to read HP."

Cara, (manages to not spit water while laughing...)

Like I said, dude, I'll read it when I've got kids to read it to.

Not trying to convince you

Not trying to convince you to read HP...just getting sick of the Holier-Than-Thou attitude you're taking about how you're too good to read HP. Either 1) read and then have an opinion, or 2) don't read and shut up about it already....

too good for HP but not D&D?


Double burn...

Double burn...

crack cocaine

And that goes for drugs, DUI, radon, and credit cards with usurious interest rates, too. Either do them or shut up.


Yes, because cocaine and HP are exactly the same. Thousands of people DIE every day from HP-induced starvation, because they are too addicted to take the time to eat. Good thing Mrf is here to warn us of the danger before we all succumb.