I recently went to see the movie version of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic, Ender’s Game. While no adaptation of a book is ever flawless, I felt the film captured the essence of the main character’s journey. The performances and the overall look and feel of the show lived up to my expectations.
However, the movie reminded me of a disturbing trend in science fiction for young audiences, one that has cropped up lately in a number of popular titles. Not only in Ender’s Game, but also in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, and The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins, readers are confronted with dystopian futures in which young characters are constantly being manipulated and used against their will. They are unwitting tools in the hands of an evil establishment. Often, they have no clear understanding of who their real enemies are until it is too late.
As an author of speculative fiction, I find myself wondering, where is Ben Kenobi? Where is Gandalf? Where are the wise mentors with the power to make a difference, as well as the willingness to sacrifice themselves in defense of the helpless? If writers abandon such archetypal figures, what will be the consequence?
Young people are already predisposed to believe that no one really understands them. Stories like those I’ve mentioned reinforce that pessimistic outlook, but they go a step further. They imprint young minds with the destructive belief that no one can be trusted, least of all their elders or people in authority.
Certainly, there are adults who misuse their power to manipulate, control, and abuse. But the idea that everyone is a user with ulterior motives does nothing to help those young people who live under such tyranny every day. What they really need is the reassurance that there are people who can and will come to their rescue. Instead, we have offered them the cynicism of despair.