On Ender's Game

The Monster's Heart

By John Brown

The moment we turn works of literature into puzzles, into clever and tricky essays that readers are supposed to sleuth through in order to find clues that reveal the true meaning—in that moment, the work dies. Oh sure, there are things to learn. But they are the things you learn from a cadaver, not the things you experience with a living soul.

For too long the discussion of literature has focused on meaning: on concepts, puzzles, symbols, themes, and ideas. On “what do you make of that?” I refuse to do that here with Ender’s Game. I refuse to kill that story and everyone in it.


Because I prize the people I’ve met, the insights I’ve gleaned, the places I’ve been. I prize the experience. That’s why I go to literature.

I don’t watch Fiddler on the Roof about once every other year because of what it means. I don’t watch the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (the one starring Colin Firth) with my daughters with the same regularity because it’s an exploration of views on women and class in the landed gentry of early-nineteenth-century England. I rewatch these stories because the people and situations in them delight me: they make me laugh, cry, and think. They change my heart.

I believe most readers go to fiction for the same reason. It’s the experience we’re after—the laughter, the delight, the poignancy, the loss, the longing, the triumph, the suspense, the insight. And so that’s what I’m going to share with you here.  …

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