Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blue Eyes and Strong Minds

First off, I am deeply sorry that this is the first post since last July. Life just started happening, fairly without warning, and I found myself swept away, a little out of control at times.


I have recently reread Frank Herbert's novel Dune, and its sequel Dune Messiah. I was enchanted immediately, and as my family will be glad to agree, I haven't shut up about the books since I finished them. Unfortunately, it seems that no-one in the school (who doesn't have a salary) has read these books, and so I am left with the deep loneliness of not being able to talk about what I have found to be truly fantastic books.

I have also been rereading Ender's Game (possibly my favorite book in the world) for my English 10 Honors class. I'm not entirely sure if I approve of the way the pace is going, but I am not teaching the class, although I do lead many of the conversations. So far, the class seems to be half-asleep, or possibly half-dead, and I'm just waiting for them to wake up a little so I can engage someone my own age in serious conversation about this book. I have my doubts that this will ever happen, though, because trying to discuss the setting of Ender's Game with the class so far has been like trying to lead around an obstinate hog without one of those hog-leading sticks. (No, I'm not making this up; to lead a pig, you must nudge it in the side of the head with a stick.)

So, with the juxtaposition of two (three, if you want to count Dune and Dune Messiah separately) of my favorite books, I began to notice very interesting similarities between the two main characters. Ender Wiggin and Paul Muad'Dib are startlingly similar to me, once I began to examine the events that surrounded them, and the events they participated in, willingly or otherwise.

One of the first things I noticed was that both of them had a deep desire to win, no matter the horrors that would have to be done. The motives might have been different, for Ender the motive being so that he wouldn't need to fight again (exhibits being his kicking to death a bully, and later killing a boy who attacked him, up to the final battle of the book), and for Paul the motive being to simply survive at first, then moving to carry out his will, but the desire was the same. Both of them show clearly a desire to win, and to win completely, with no-one left to hurt them again.

However, winning completely does not always win one friends. Both Ender and Paul were hated by many in their species, and many others wanted to see them fail, and fail completely. Ender was hated by the boys, and some teachers, he shared Battle School with, up to the point of being attacked in a Battle School bathroom (he won that battle completely, as well, and the attacker was rendered incapable of hurting anyone, ever again). Paul, on the other hand, was hated by far more than just a few boys and teachers. Paul angered the Spacing Guild, the Emperor, and the Bene Gesserit, all through his actions. When he displaced the Emperor on the throne and exercised his new power on spice, however, anger built up in stranger places, and conspiracies were formed among those Paul had always trusted.

For all that hated Ender and Paul, there were also those that followed them without much in the way of questions. Both were leaders of rarely-found charisma, and this charisma attracted people who would do anything for their leaders, even go to wars in distant places, to die on worlds years away from the place of their birth, to be killed in wars they did not start. Both Ender and Paul, as they grew into leadership, found their friends disappearing, not because of death, but because their friends became receptacles for orders and doctrine, like little machines created to dispense the orders of their superior. Ender watched this with his friends from Battle School, as they broke down when they failed him as their physical limits failed, while Paul watched worlds fall to their knees in worship of the great Muad'Dib, emperor-oracle, as his Fremen friends turned from wild desert-folk to the priests of a religion. Both had traded friends for creatures that would obey, and both felt the loneliness of power.

But how did these brilliant leaders come to be? Was it freak accident that produced Ender Wiggin, or Paul Muad'Dib? No. Both were bred for a purpose, although there was a slight element of unexpected chance surrounding Paul's rise. Ender Wiggin, a hated Third child, was born on commission, his parents receiving the request to produce a Third from the government on the hope that their child would save the world by wiping away the bugger threat. Paul was the result of ninety generations of Bene Gesserit breeding, although the element of surprise struck when he was born, as he was supposed to be born as a female for reasons the first book elaborates on beautifully. Both Ender and Paul were bred to play a role in a greater plan, of a greater plot within plots, and they were supposed to be used for that purpose. They were bred to be used as pawns in greater schemes.

These greater schemes, well, had very different outcomes in the two books. Ender was bred to save the world, and he did just that. He tried to rebel against the puppeteer adults in his final battle, and he played directly into their hands. He fulfilled his purpose for being born then, as he wiped out almost completely an entire species without knowing what he was doing. Paul, though, was not meant to be male. As a male, he had twisted his purpose by the virtue of his gender, and he rebelled against the new purpose he found himself 'offered' by the Bene Gesserit. His rebellion brought him to the Fremen, and eventually to the throne of Emperor as a Kwisatz Haderach, a different future than the one that had been set for him. Paul's rebellion was successful, in some respects, although one's definition of success is really one of the key factors in deciding this point.

It goes without saying that Paul and Ender were very different from their surrounding 'peers'. Both were brilliant in an uncommon way, along with being charismatic, and somewhat cut from the mold of rebellious wise-ass at times. Both displayed points of view that were rather more mature than most would have expected from younger people, as well. (Ender's knowledge of the unspoken laws of chivalry, and his rejection of them is an example of this. Paul's intuitive way of understanding diplomacy on Dune is, again, an example of this.) However, brilliance sometimes walks hand-in-hand with a touch of sociopathy, and both Ender and Paul display some of those earmarks. One of the most obvious is how they observe society's rules, then make their own, or disobey those rules of society in ways that make those around them cringe a little (see above examples).

Ender Wiggin and Paul Muad'Dib. Two boy-men, called gods by those who surround them in their respective stories. Both respected, and feared, embodying new powers emerging with the old powers unsure of what to do.


The above is what I have been thinking about for about a week now. For me, this realization that two of my favorite characters are of almost the same mold is somewhat of a shock while also being the most logical thing in the world. I feel rather lonely, though, with these thoughts because so few people around me have read both books, and are willing to talk. If you, dear readers, have read both books and want to talk, please comment.

1 comment:

  1. And yet...

    I can't comment on Dune very much, but when reading Ender's Game, I always come back to a Buddhist saying: "The lotus grows in the mud." The deeper the mud, the more beautiful the flower. Ender leads a lonely life at the best of times. And yet, despite (or perhaps because of) the gulf that separates him from others, the moments of friendship and connection that he does experience blaze like a candle in pitch darkness, visible from miles away. I still get a shiver in my spine when Ender puts on his headset, and is greeted by a single word says everything: "Salaam".