Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card


Orson Scott Card is the author of an extensive collection of novels, short stories, plays, and comics. To date I have read 8 of his novels, and while this barely dents his entire bibliography, I have developed a strong appreciation for his ability to develop characters, engage readers in a story, and to explore deep social, cultural, and political concepts in an engaging manner. Ender’s Game, probably his best known novel, is a great representation of his talents and was a natural choice for being adapted to film.

In general, the 2013 film version of Ender’s Game follows the plot points of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel fairly closely. The time span of both versions is drastically different considering the film’s events seems to take less than a year while the novel spans almost 6 years, but otherwise the film hits on the majority of the novel’s major plot points. There are a few plot points that are omitted but they are primarily ones that are more important to the series as a whole rather than to this single novel (there are currently 8 novels and several short stories published in the Ender Saga as well as 5 novels in a related series). For example, there are sections of the novel that focus on the actions and beliefs of Ender’s siblings, Valentine and Peter, who drastically shape future novels. It would be my guess based on my reading of the next three novels in the Ender’s Saga that they will not be making a film sequel, so it is understandable that this film minimized the characters of Peter and Valentine.

1985 first edition

1985 first edition

Besides Peter and Valentine, the change in the secondary characters in the film version of Ender’s Game represents the biggest departure from the novel version. It is not that the characters are omitted in the film version; they are simply not developed the way they are in the novel. It seems that the writers of the film’s script made it a point to include the major characters of the novel in some manner, even if only by having someone mention their name, but for some of them that was the extent of their inclusion. Even characters that were more present than being simply a name were greatly diminished and Bean is a great example of this. In the novel, Ender meets Bean after he has been at Battle School for some time and is first given an army to command. Bean is much younger than Ender and something in him reminds Ender of himself. It is probably for this reason that Ender finds himself putting Bean through some of the training tactics that he had been subjected to (i.e. being isolated from the very beginning).  The Bean of the novel goes through stages of development from being young and resentful to being one of Ender’s most reliable toon leaders. Despite what it would seem in the film, all of the characters in the novel are complex and beautifully developed, which explains why there is a spinoff series that follows characters other than Ender (i.e. Bean and Petra).

Finally, one of the most crucial differences between the film and novel versions of Ender’s Game is the varying amount of information that is clearly stated for its audience and readers respectively.



The best example of this can be found in the end of the respective versions. In the novel, it is clearly explained that as soon as Ender meets Mazer Rackham, his ‘practice’ battles become real – it is not only the final battle that annihilates the Buggers (aka Formics) that is real. If you are observant, you are able to figure this out for yourself while watching the film since it says on the computer display behind Graff that the fleet will be arriving at the Bugger’s world in 28 days and Ender mentions that he spends month after month fighting battles after this scene. Still, this is easily missed, especially when one is paying attention more attention to Harrison Ford (Graff) than to the computer screen behind him. Essentially, between the characters and the level of information presented, the film is an eclipsed version of the novel but it is still true to the novel as really can be hoped for in condensed film form. 

Book Vs. Film Facts

  • In the film, Ender meets Bean on the initial flight to Battle School, but in the novel, he meets him after he has been in Battle School for a while and is given command of his first army.
  • In the novel, Ender is picked on by Bernard during the flight to Battle School and he responds by breaking his arm (unintentionally since he underestimated movement in zero gravity).
  • Ender starts Battle School at the age of 6 and fights the final battle that annihilates the Buggers (known as ‘Formics’ in the film and later novels) when he is 11 in the novel.
  • In the novel, Ender kills both the bully seen at the beginning of the movie (Stilson) and Bonzo (pronounced ‘bone-zo’ in the novel), but he is unaware of this until after the final battle.
  • A Bugger does not appear in Ender’s mind game in the novel.
  • Graff has Ender spend a few months at the cabin by the lake and arranges a meeting with Valentine in order to reacquaint him with what he is fighting for – the Earth and the connections between the people living on it.
  • The characters of Peter and Valentine are covered far more in depth in the novel. While Ender is training, they become world renowned political theorists on the ‘nets’ where it is unknown that they are still children.
  • In the novel, Ender is able to connect mentally to the Bugger queen that he comes into contact with and it becomes clear that the Buggers had never intended to kill another sentient species. To them, humans were not like them because they could not “dream each other’s dreams.” They had no intention of returning to attack the humans once they understood that they were wrong.


“I have to win this now, and for all time, or I’ll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.” – Ender (during battle with school bully, Stilson)


“We don’t have time to rush too fast with a kid who has as much chance of being a monster as a military genius.” – Major Anderson (?)


“This is what historians usually do, quibble about cause and effect when the point is, there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world.” – Peter Wiggin


“The world is always a democracy in times of flux, and the man with the best voice will win. Everybody thinks Hitler got to power because of his armies, because they were willing to kill, and that’s partly true, because in the real world power is always built on the threat of death and dishonor. But mostly he got to power on words, on the right words at the right time.” – Peter Wiggin


“the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.” – Ender (after fight with Bonzo)


“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.” – Valentine Wiggin


“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” – Ender


“If the other fellow can’t tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn’t trying to kill you.” – Graff


Rating (match to book) – 8

Although there are many differences between the novel and film versions of Ender’s Game, in general, the film does a good job at portraying the major plot points of the novel. It is fairly obvious that many of the changes that were made were for practical reasons. For example, in the novel Ender spends four years in Battle School and then more than a year at the base on Eros. Obviously, it would be difficult to capture this much time in the film considering the actor will appear to be the same age throughout. Another example is the omission of Ender’s extra training sessions that he holds daily for any other students who wish to practice during their free time. This is a great part of the novel and it helps to elaborate on how and why Ender is as good as he is, but I am sure it was cut for time purposes. While the film does follow the novel fairly closely in general, it definitely lacks a lot of the depth and moments of insight into warfare and humanity that is found in the novel, which is why the book is superior to the film in my opinion.

 Which was Better?


I’ve Seen the Movie – Should I Read the Book?

Without a doubt! While I have not read his entire collection of works, Orson Scott Card has quickly become one of my favorite authors for his incredible storytelling ability. Few authors are able to connect their readers to their characters as well as Card does. Additionally, he is able to consistently delve deep into a wide range of social, cultural, and political topics in a manner that is engaging and enlightening. That being said, there is so much insight to be gained by reading Ender’s Game. Also, if you admire the character Ender from watching the film, you will love him after reading the novel. Ender emerges in the novel as a wonderfully insightful and talented, yet humble, character who really understands and loathes his proclivity towards destroying his enemies. Finally, so much more is explained in the novel and more of the moral dilemmas involved with the war on the Formics (aka Buggers) are presented. The film highlights the moral dilemma of training children and then lying to them in order to use them as tools in warfare, but so much more is touched upon in the novel, which really leaves readers with so much to ponder. 

I’ve Read the Book – Should I See the Movie?

Yes. Enough of the novel is presented in the film that fans of the novel will be able to enjoy the film’s visual beauty as well as the impressive acting of Asa Butterfield. The visuals of space, especially of the battle room, are incredible and it really brings the story to life. Also, if you have read the novel, then you know how much maturity and intelligence Ender truly possesses and Butterfield does a great job at capturing that. Although you do not get the same insight into Ender’s thoughts, Butterfield is able to compensate for this fairly well with his ability to show a great depth of emotion and turmoil in his facial features. 



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