Orson Scott Card: Penetrating to the Gentle Heart has been a long time in the making…nearly three decades. It began with an essay written for the Sunstone Theological Symposium in 1987; the latest essay was written in 2014. Unlike many literary studies of individual authors, this book intentionally does not intend to discuss, explain, anatomize, or critique every novel and story by Orson Scott Card. Given his prolific output, to achieve such a task—if a single writer could do it at all—would require hundreds, if not thousands, or pages.
Instead, this study concentrates on providing paradigms for approaching Card’s stories based upon intense examination of a number of early works, with particular emphasis on Ender’s Game, with its sequels and prequels; the Tales of Alvin Maker; the Homecoming series; and The Folk of the Fringe. Certainly other novels will be mentioned, but this volume makes no claim at being comprehensive or definitive.
By looking closely at key early works, however, scholars, students, and readers may identify key images and themes that recur throughout Card’s storytelling, from the earliest through the latest. And by assessing the critical approaches contained herein, they can—I think—discover profitable ways to look at almost all of Card’s books.
Many of the essays included originally appeared in the 1980s and 1990s. In the Image of God: Theme Characterization, and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card, reproduced here as Part I, was published by Greenwood Press in 1990. It was the first book-length study of Card and remains one of the few scholarly books devoted exclusively to him. It was originally intended for a limited audience—specifically university, college, and public libraries—and has accordingly reached relatively few readers. One of my purposes in securing publication rights from the original publisher has been to make the ideas and conclusions in it available to a much wider readership. It appears largely as it was first written; I have edited for smoothness and correctness (I hope that I am a more accomplished writer now than I was a quarter of a century ago). I have made no attempt to update it to include the scores of subsequent novels that deserve attention.
“Part II: ‘The Epic of Ender: In Search of the Godlike Man’” stems from my graduate researches into epic and epic theory with John M. Steadman at the University of California, Riverside. Under his tutelage, I read extensively into the literature of the genre, both primary and secondary. One of my first published papers, “The Epic of Dune: Epic Traditions in Modern Science Fiction,” applied much of what I had learned to science fiction, using Frank Herbert’s monumental novel as a point of departure.
In 2002, I was invited to serve as Academic Guest of Honor at EnderCon, which provided an opportunity to apply the same methodology to Ender’s Game. The original paper and subsequent published essay incorporated only a portion of what seemed necessary to complete the comparison between ancient and modern, however; the chapter as it here appears provides that completion, discussing twelve key convention and how they apply to Card’s novel.
“Part III: Approaches” focuses on several modes of assessing Card and his work. “Orson Scott Card: An Approach to Mythopoeic Fiction” extends a Guest of Honor Address delivered at the 1994 Conference of the Mythopoeic Society and includes a lengthy analysis of Lost Boys. “The Story that Binds Them Together,” presented to the Philological Association of the Pacific Coast in 1991, examines The Folk of the Fringe in relation to Medieval Mystery pageants. “Literature and Genre: Scrambling Toward the Light” responds to criticisms made about Ender’s Game and other LDS science fiction and fantasy.
Over the years, I have received requests for interviews about my work. The two interviews included in Part III reflect my thinking about Card—and about Stephen King—as directed to a high-school student and an online expert in fantasy and horror.
“Part IV: Introductions and Afterwords” reproduces two biographical introductions to Card published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They have not been updated, since most of the more recent information is readily available at a number of Card-oriented online sites. They do, however, provide insights into how Card was received as a fiction writer, a science-fiction and fantasy writer, and a Mormon writer in the early years. Afterwords to the first edition of The Worthing Saga and the first paperback edition of The Folk of the Fringe are also reproduced.
The final part presents reviews of fourteen novels shortly following their first publication. These piece were written for mainstream, science-fiction and fantasy, and Mormon-oriented journals and represent immediate responses and reactions to the stories.
As should be apparent, Orson Scott Card: Penetrating to the Gentle Heart is part overview (Image of God), part reference, and part appreciation. It is not intended to be read novel-like, from start to finish, but rather to be used selectively, with Card’s earlier novels as starting points and thematic approaches to be applied by the student/reader to later works. Because treatments of various works overlap across the book, there is a certain amount of necessary repetition—Card’s themes and images intertwine through novel after novel, with a key passage in one often providing an explication for key passages in another. Even so, most times what seem repetitions also incorporate differing viewpoints, making each contribute to the book.
And a final point. This book contains much about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). To write a book about Orson Scott Card without taking into account his religious backgrounds and some of the key elements of Mormonism would be tantamount to closing one eye and missing essential portions of a large and complex tapestry. I’ve avoided—to the extent possible—references to specific Mormon doctrines except as they relate directly to Card’s words in his novels and stories. And in almost every case, such references—when not presented in conjunction with Card’s own statements—are the results of my readings and my interpretations.