Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I think I've mentioned here before that Speaker for the Dead is probably my second favorite book. If I haven't, I'll say it now: Speaker for the Dead is probably my second favorite book. That said, nothing saddens me more than when I hear of people reading Ender's Game and they don't bother to read Speaker for the Dead. What saddens me more than that (even though I already said "nothing saddens me more") is when people do read Speaker for the Dead and they don't like it as much as Ender's Game, or worse, they just don't like it. What saddens me equally as much as the first thing that saddens me is when someone starts reading Ender's Game and a year later (give or take) they still haven't finished it (you know who you are).

Speaker continues the story of Ender's Game protagonist Andrew "Ender" Wiggin in his travels as Speaker for the Dead -- a type of humanistic 'preacher' who recounts the deeds and misdeeds of the deceased as a way for the departed's loved ones to find truth, understanding and reconciliation in the wake of death.

About a year ago I decided to put my neglected Audible.com subscription to good use by downloading the complete Ender Saga (there are nine novels and countless short stories that make up said saga). They're fantastically produced, and according to Orson Scott Card himself, having the stories read aloud to you is the optimal medium for experiencing these books. At the end of some of the books, OSC provides an ad-libbed afterword explaining how the book came to be and so on. I love what he says at the end of Speaker:

If you really understand someone well enough to speak for them when they’re dead, you will end up – probably – loving them. Now, that’s a pretty bold thing to say – because what if you had to speak for the death of Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin or somebody like that – but I really think that if you knew enough about them you could at least understand how they got set on the road that led to the terrible things they did. And you don’t pull any punches, you name their sins for what they were, you talk about their flaws, you talk about their horrible choices, the viciousness, the violence, whatever they did. But you also say, "But at one point, this was a child. At one point this was a kid who wept, or a kid who wanted to be loved, or a kid who tried to well at this or at that." You look at the war experiences that shaped Adolph Hitler, or you look at the deep hunger for influence or control that drove Joseph Stalin in his childhood, and it doesn’t excuse anything, but it makes the person comprehensible. [...] You don’t eradicate them, you don’t glorify them either, you just face them for what they were, good and bad – you understand how it is a human being could get to where they are.

It's impossible to have such a complete understanding of someone, even of those we love the most. But simply knowing that we can't understand everything, and knowing there is a motive behind each action, and believing that the majority of people are inherently good -- all that is the first step, and it's quite a large one.


  1. Awesome post, Myke. I loved Speaker and I love listening to OSC's writings. He's the man.

  2. i love speaker. you know this.

    and that osc quote at the end? I have always kind of thought that. at one point, even hitler was a spirit in the pre-existence.

    it makes it hard to stay mad at people... yah know? (well maybe not hitler. I am still mad at him)

  3. i loved this. and it has inspired me to listen to the whole saga (because i've been meaning to read it and it just hasn't happened so maybe i'll be more successful with hearing it).

    i love that last line of OSC "you understand how it is a human being could get to where they are." i've been reading the book thief right now and it's basically a WWII story told from the perspective of death himself (along with a little girl who is the book thief) and it has helped me understand a little more on how germany as a people got to where they were. they get a bad rap for letting the things happen that did and even today when you stand in one of the death camps it's amazing to think that people let this happen and didn't try to stop it or question. but the germans for the majority were a broken people looking up to a really great leader, cause that's what hitler was, a really great charismatic leader. people get to where they are because of where they've been. and while that doesn't excuse anything (like OSC said) it does help us understand and understanding makes me feel better about most situations.

  4. Myke.
    Time for confessional.
    I may now lose most-favored status in your eyes.
    I've tried at least twice to read Speaker for the Dead.
    Why? I don't know.
    Ender's Game is one of my all-time favorites. Seriously so well done.

    This may have motivated me to try a third time.
    Maybe I should listen to it on my drive to ID?