The Ruins of Ender’s Game

Mike Grist Book Ruins, Fantasy Ruins, Giant Beasts Leave a Comment

Orson Scott Card’s brilliant novel Ender’s Game is not widely known for its ruins. You’re rather more likely to read it and be blown away by the sheer force of Ender’s personality, by the twisted morality of the story’s central conceit, or by the genius with which Card orchestrates his entire Battle School world.

But there are ruins. One of them in particular stands out, and throughout the novel we see its creation, its dessication, and at last its final resting state; transliterated across time and space for the novel’s finale.

If you know Ender you’ll probably already know what I’m talking about. If not, you may want to turn away now due to-


OK, still here? Cool.

Ender in Sum

Ender’s Game is awesome. It’s the story of the Earth’s most precocious 8-year-old kids getting zipped up into space to save the rest of us from invasion/obliteration by the Buggers- aliens as nasty and insectile as they sound. We’ve been attacked before, we got our butts kicked, and our only hope lies in a prodigy kid taking on the job of Interstellar General.

Upon Ender’s shoulders does that hefty role fall, and to ensure that he really is the material the Earth needs, he is tested darn near to destruction; from bloody fights in the locker room to increasingly unfair campaigns in the Battle School’s zero-G battle room, to the blatantly unfair virtual reality game’s Giant, who kills him off no matter what choice he makes. Across them all, Ender has to learn this one shining, brilliant lesson:

No one is going to save him.

He is alone out there. The teachers will never step in to stop a fight, the battle room’s rules will change constantly to keep him on edge, and the Giant will not, no matter how hard Ender tries to play by the rules of its lethal game, ever let him live.

So he becomes a killer. He stops playing by the rules, and he starts killing things instead.

So, the ruins…

This is not a review so I won’t go on about how great Ender’s Game is any more. We’re here for the ruins, and the ruins we will get. The ruins I’m talking about are not only gorgeous, poignant, and intrinsic to the plot, they’re also deeply symbolic of Ender’s struggle with the monster he must become. Of course, I’m talking about the ruins of the Giant.

The Giant is part of the VR game designed to adapt and psychologically analyze the kids. For Ender the whole game is easy- except for the Giant, who plays a simple and ugly guessing game called the Giant’s Drink. It offers two drinks, always different, and says Ender must drink one of them, and it will take him into Fairyland. Ender must stick his head into one of the glasses to drink, but every time he tries his avatar dies horribly. He plays again and again, but every time he dies, and the Giant laughs and laughs as his rigged game plays out one more time.

At last Ender gets tired of it, and instead of playing by the rules, he has his avatar jump onto the Giant’s face, burrow into his eye, and tear up the Giant’s brain.

The Giant dies. Ender finds his path into Fairyland.

The Giant’s Ruins 1

The next time Ender plays the game, the Giant hasn’t re-spawned. He is still dead.

For a while there had been rats gnawing at the Giant’s body. but Ender had killed one with a pin from the Giant’s ragged shirt, and they had left him alone after that.
The Giant’s corpse has essentially finished its decay. What could be torn by the small scavengers was torn; the maggots had done their work; now it was a desiccated mummy, hollowed out, teeth in a rigid grin, eyes empty, fingers curled. Ender remembered burrowing through the eye when it had been alive and malicious and intelligent. Angry and frustrated as he was, Ender wished to do such violence again. but the Giant had become part of the landscape now, and so there could be no rage against him.
– Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.

On the other side Ender faces more challenges, more things he must kill preemptively to survive, which just him more miserable still.

The Giant’s Ruins 2

Ender doesn’t play the VR game for a while after that. Instead he focuses on the Battle Room, and on learning to manage his ‘jeesh’ and win. when he does return, this is what he finds:

.. he began by the Giant’s corpse. Only now, it was hardly identifiable as a corpse at all, unless you stood off a ways and studied it. The body had eroded into the hill, entwined with grass and vines. Only the crest of the Giant’s face was still visible, and it was white bone, like limestone protruding from a discouraged, withering mountain.
– Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.

Simple, though probably some of the most descriptive writing in the book, that really captured my attention every time I read it through.

The Giant’s Ruins 3

Ender’s next visit occurs at a real low point for him; he’s winning battles, he’s respected by all the other children as the best soldier and commander around, but he doesn’t have any friends, and he feels totally isolated. He passes through the Giant’s ruins on his way to a face-off with the mirror image of his brother Peter in the castle at The End of The World.

He walked as he often did through the village that the dwarves had built in the hill made by the Giant’s corpse. It was easy to build sturdy walls, with the ribs already curved just right, just enough space between them to leave windows. The whole corpse was cut into apartments, opening onto the path down the Giant’s spine. The public amphitheatre was carved into the pelvic bowl, and the common herd of ponies was pastured between the Giant’s legs. Ender was never sure what the dwarves were doing as they went about their business, but they left him alone as he picked his way through the village, and in return he did them no harm either.
– Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.

A haunting lull as Ender goes, again, to face the ghost of his brother, in a world that has hardly any taste or happiness left in it.

The Giant’s Ruins 4

The final time Ender visits the Giant’s ruins is in a very different way. After the denouement of the war with the Buggers, he goes to distant Bugger planet, where he and a boy named Abra find the mysterious ruins of the VR game’s Giant incarnated in the landscape; like the fake mountain and castle at Disneyland.

The hill was hollow. A deep depression in the middle, partially filled with water, was ringed by concave slopes that cantilevered dangerously over the water. In one direction the hill gave way to two long ridges that made a V-shaped valley; in the other direction the hill rose to a piece of white rock, grinning like a skull with a tree growing out of its mouth.
“It’s like a Giant died here,” said Abram “and the Earth grew up to cover his carcass.”
Now Ender knew why it had looked familiar. The Giant’s corpse.
“Somebody had to have built this,” Abra said. “Look, this skull place, it’s not rock, look at it. This is concrete.”
“I know,” said Ender. “They built it for me.”
– Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.

And those are the ruins of Ender’s Game.


Perhaps I’ll do more posts like this, if I can think of the books, movies and games that contain enough good ruins to make it worth it. As I’ve said before the number of real world ruins is limited, and seemingly always waning, along with my interest in wandering them.

Abandoned theme parks can still capture my attention, but the rest of them; bath-houses, hotels, houses, factories, largely look a lot the same. Exploring the ruins of fantasy worlds, and marrying that with my love of writing and story, may be the next big adventure.

Buy Ender’s Game on Amazon here.

See more SF / Fantasy Ruins here:

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See all my real world ‘haikyo/ruin’ explores in Japan here:

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See a curation of curious world ruins here.

Read my stories inspired by ruin here.

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