The Damnation of Orson Scott Card


So. Orson Scott Card.

I should start by acknowledging that he and I have a lot in common, lest I be accused of ignorant favoritism. We're both Mormon, BYU alums, returned missionaries, a little snotty in our opinions, and strong in the faith that art and commerciality are not divorced.

That said, if you can respect my opinion, I believe that he is the best writer currently working in the English Language. I'm not saying he hasn't had misfires, but I don't see how anyone can read, say, Speaker for the Dead, and not agree that it is the work of a true master.

My first exposure to----

PAUSE: Sorry, but I can't decide how to refer to the man. OSC is silly. Card is overly formal. Scott is too personal. Hmmm. Well. What the hey. I'll say Scott.

My first exposure to Scott's work was not through his fiction however--I was aware of it (Ender's Game was my best friend's favorite book)--but had never read any. So my first exposure to his work was reading my parents' copy of A Storyteller in Zion, given to them by my beloved grandmother and, to the best of my knowledge, never read by anyone but me and my writer brother Wyote.

I have since read the book several times, have checked it out from more than one library, have purchased my own copy. To say that it has influenced my aesthetic sensibilities is to say earthquakes have influenced the landscape of my homestate. That book has been hugely influential, to the point where I can no longer be sure what my prior opinions were.

Anyway, I still haven't made it to the damning o' Scott, so let me move on.

One year Lady Steed and I purchased Sarah for my mother for Christmas. And she loved it. My sister Canary revealed last night that she despised the book because she found the characterization unrealistic. Fine criticism. Then she told us she dismissed Ender's Game also, this time because of language. That I can accept also, to a point, but this is where the conversation broke down.

I refused to dismiss an author that prefers honesty over an empty purity, but this was not a position easily defended. My mom took on Scott's "split personality", writing one thing for his LDS audience and another for his "worldly" audience. My father was similarly appalled that alleged Saints could justify even a single damn in their fiction.

The best defense, in my mind, is that an author's job is to tell true stories. But this is not seen as a tenable position by people who can't get over the fact that fiction is nothing more than a pack of lies.

So while they're happy for me selling my first book, and even though my work, as a whole, is remarkably clean, how long till I join the ranks of Mormon authors generally assumed to be apostate ne'er-do-wells who sold their soul for fame and glory? How long till I am diagnosed with a split personality and worldliness and evil? How long till I am damned?

At this point, if I were a student, I would delve into Storyteller and start quoting things like "There are three types of evil in relation to fiction: Evil depicted in fiction. Evil advocated by fiction. Evil enacted by fiction." or "The criticism always boiled down to the idea that I had shown ugly things on stage.... Didn't I realize that a true Latter-day Saint artist would not make his audience think of ugly or difficult things...?"

But I am not a student and I'm not trying to argue my point to absolute victory.

What I am doing is making something of a statement on where I stand. And this is it:

♦ - It is the responsibility of the artist to tell the truth (even within a pack of lies).

♦ - Sometimes telling the truth is not the pretty and feel-good thing to do.

♦ - I intend to tell the truth.

♦ - And if I go to hell, maybe I can hang with Scott, and we can tell each other stories.


  1. I, personally, will be going to heck because I would never dare say that other name.

  2. Card's stories tend to remind me of fever dreams.

  3. I always feel like it's a cop-out to say that Ender's Game is my favorite book because it seems so obvious. But really, what else could I say? I've read the Ender's books but none of the others. I'm happy to see some good suggestions here for other good reads - thanks!

  4. For some reason, despite the fact that I've been told by a few people that OSC is a wonderful writer, I have still never read anything by him. And, for whatever reason, even after reading your well-written reasons for why he is the greatest writer of our time, I still have very little desire to pick up one of his books. I must have some sort of syndrome that makes me completely apathetic to the work of Orson Scott Card. Let's hope it passes at some point.

    As far as swearing in fiction is concerned, I'm sure that a good writer could find ways around using such devices; however, I'm sure that such a writer would also desire to write a story with realistic characters who, out of necessity, would need to swear.

  5. My creative writing teacher this past semester, being very good friends with Orson Scott Card, always referred to him as "Scott Card." Always. Without fail.

    I've actually never read any of his books. Perhaps I am missing out on something, but I'm quite content with my literary library.

  6. Frankly, yes, you can avoid the "swears" but it downgrades writing. Am I going t6o make a truly heinous villain by making him a jay-walker and coupon-copier?

    One of the things I love so much about Dune is the fact that Baron Harkonnen is so absolutely debauched, I am left with no other option but to HATE and LOATHE his character, making me feel all the happier when the Atreides clan wins! (I didn't ruin anything, trust me).

    I'll see you in the seventh circle...and speaking of swears, you think it's interesting that your wee one likes Dump Trucks? Well mine has laughingly said what sounds like "sh*t" for the last three days and he's only a year old!

  7. .

    Start them early, that's what I say.

  8. she dismissed Ender's Game also, this time because of language

    Now see if I'd been looking for a reason to dismiss it, I'd have picked the violence from, and visited on, children, including a six-year-old.

    I like OSC's fiction, but his politics can be a little blindly conservative for me. I did like that essay he wrote about church basketball and the lack of alternatives for church youth. That was great.

  9. I find myself in a quandary:
    I want to write a clean book my family could be proud of; they are very conservative.
    I have terrorists in my book.
    I can't write terrorist dialogue with church language--I feel to make the characters true I'd have to add in some hellanddamn.
    My family won't like hellanddamn.

    I choose hellanddamn.

  10. .

    Chosha--did you know he is aligned with the Democratic Party?

    Stupid--it's a tough choice. But that's what you get for making your dolphin's terrorists.

  11. He's pretty middle of the road. Conservatives (especially very conservative Mormons) say he's "sold out" and "too liberal". Liberals say he's "blindly conservative." Meh. Down with labels I say. He's a d**n good writer. (Fill in the ** with what you will...)

    Probably my all time favorite author. I've read the vast majority of his books. Funny, though, I didn't truly revel in speaker for the dead. I liked it well enough, but it is probably in my "least favorite" category when it comes to his books.

    For any looking for good reads from him, his Shadow series is awesome (the earth spin off of Ender's Game).

    I like the Women of Genesis series, mainly because it makes me think of the women as people rather than just names with very little role in the bible. Even if it's not accurate or "realistic", it makes me actually notice that those women would have played a part in Christian history. I like that.

  12. .

    You're right. He may be a Democrat, but they don't agree with him much more often than the Repubs would.

    Which is why political labels are worthless.

  13. I like his books too. Maybe this is where I will restart reading?

  14. I've read a lot of books about the Vietnam War, both fiction and nonfiction. Most of them contained a lot of graphic violence and swearing. So I was pretty impressed by Dean Hughes' ability to write well about Vietnam (Hearts of the Children) without any swearing. Sometimes the tags like "and then the sergeant swore" got a little old, though.

  15. .

    Yeah, nothing's impossible. And I respect Dean Hughes a lot, both as a writer and as a person. Although my relationship with him was brief, I consider him one of my most important mentors and I can't deny that Children of the Promise does not seem any weaker for its "cleanliness."

    Truth be, I don't think any one solution is perfect.

  16. I like Lost Boys. It's the only one I've read.

    Which is not true, because I've also read Storyteller in Zion. His essay on the hypocrisy of homosexuality kind of sort of turned me off to his politics. His stuff on morality in fiction, though, is good.

  17. And my head is bigger here. Must be the new Blogger.

  18. I have no objection to the occassional profanity Scott-Card (Scott is not enough, Card is too much) uses, especially since it's mostly neither blasphemous nor vulgar.

    My problems with his writing: I must say that I felt a little uncomfortable with the feelings elicited by the explicit description of the protagonist's orgasm in "Wyrms." I prefer to experience those particular feelings without the assistance of people I am not married to. Whoa.

    I would say that "Speaker" is one of my top ten favorite books. I would also say that some of his historical-fiction religious-themed books bother me ("Stone Tables," etc.). The reason for this is that Scott-Card is such a brilliant writer that his viewpoints tend to impose themselves on the reader as actual facts (or feelings--see above). While I love a book that makes me think and feel, I feel so sucked in to Scott-Card's writing that I can almost not distinguish my thoughts and ideas from his after a while. I think that's what you were saying at the beginning of your post. When this happens I think, "Damn him!"

  19. I respect Scott's view and think that if a story's gonna be believable it can't be overly censured.

    Frankly, though, I thought the swearing in Ender's Game felt too much like a statement. It was like he was saying, "I'm a Mormon and I'm NOT AFRAID TO SWEAR!"
    The profanity felt a lot more natural to me in the Shadow books--at least, the two of them I've read thus far.

  20. .

    Speaking of, when are you going to borrow the others?

    And I have an extra copy of the fourth now, btw....

  21. I am such a desensitized heathen-I don't even remember the swearing in Enders Game.

    But perhaps that's because I have no compunction against using any word that's also in the bible as long as it's right for the scene. Now that I think of it I probably have a bit of that biblical vulgarity in my book as well I wonder how much "Saints" will pooh-pooh it?

    I found it interesting Th. that your father found an occasional "damn" too much in Saints but then I subscribe to the idea that good fiction is a pack of true lies.