Ender Wiggin, Harry Potter, and Kurt Godel

I love finding real-life connections to my favorite fictional characters. One of the consistent criticisms I hear about Ender’s Game is that people have trouble buying into the notion that children as young as six can be so intelligent, rational, and independent. That’s also a knock against Harry in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (which was clearly influenced by Ender’s Game) – he just doesn’t fit with how we expect eleven-year olds to behave. But if we accept the premise of a hyper-intelligent child, would the other traits follow?

I was reading Rebecca Goldstein’s book Incompleteness on the life and work of Kurt Gödel, and young Kurt might fit the bill. Gödel was an extremely intelligent child, far more intelligent than his parents. Goldstein thinks he made this realization as early as five, and it had a big impact on his character:

It would be comforting, in the presence of such a shattering conclusion… to derive the following additional conclusion: There are always logical explanations and I am exactly the sort of person who can discover such explanations. The grownups around me may be a sorry lot, but luckily I don’t need to depend on them. I can figure out everything for myself. The world is thoroughly logical and so is my mind – a perfect fit.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Ender’s Game, but that sounded pretty familiar – the grown ups weren’t able (his parents) or willing (the teachers) to protect him, so he had to find ways to solve problems himself.

I’ve read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality much more recently, and he might be a closer fit. In this version, Harry is extremely intelligent and raised by parents who love him, but are – frankly – unable to keep up. This particular passage caught my eye:

Harry nodded. “I still don’t know whether the Headmaster was joking or… the thing is, he was right in a way. I had loving parents, but I never felt like I could trust their decisions, they weren’t sane enough. I always knew that if I didn’t think things through myself, I might get hurt… Even if it’s sad, I think that’s part of the environment that creates what Dumbledore calls a hero – people who don’t have anyone else to shove final responsibility onto, and that’s why they form the mental habit of tracking everything themselves.”

Situations like Kurt Gödel’s are rare, but that’s the point of fiction. Given his example, perhaps it’s not SO big of a stretch that children who surpass their parents at such a young age would turn into an Ender Wiggin or “rational” Harry Potter.

At the very least, perhaps this connection will help people suspend their disbelief a little bit, and go read either of these fantastic works of fiction.

11 Responses to Ender Wiggin, Harry Potter, and Kurt Godel

  1. Interesting! Slightly OT, but I think this is the best critique of Ender’s Game ever: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~tenshi/Killer_000.htm

    • Jesse Galef says:

      This is fascinating! Thanks Bora, I haven’t read Ender’s Game in a while and love to see it analyzed like this.

      – Jesse

      (Sorry for the delay, I just got back from a trip to Houston for the Texas Freethought Convention)

  2. PCGuyIV says:

    I personally have no issue with the ideas of hyper-intellect and hyper-rationale, especially in relation to the expected normal level of intelligence and reason within a given age group. In fact, I think there are probably more out there that fit this archetype in these areas, but don’t necessarily have the confidence to trust their own intellect and reason. Either that or they are afraid of being ostracized and so adapt to blend in. I also feel that these traits can be nurtured to some degree.

  3. Barry says:

    If you say so, Jesse. It’s beyond me, I reckon.

  4. Mark Zug says:

    Bora, that review perfectly expresses my own long-held reservations about Ender’s Game; thanks for providing the link. It does bear somewhat on this topic: Like Potter it’s a coming-of-age novel, but it’s also a fetishizing of the super-child — a timelessly popular trope it seems. I’d like to know how many prodigies, like Godel, actually remain prodigal into adulthood, and how many burn out and become ordinary adults with impressive childhood stories.

  5. Bytor says:

    I’ve never read “Ender’s Game” (or much other OSC for that matter), but for this type of character the one that comes to mind is Paul Atreides. Indeed, when I first read HPatMoR my first thought was that Harry was written as if he were a Mentat/Bene Gesserit like Paul was, but with the Mentat part dominant instead of the B.G.

    Going on a tangent, in many ways, Herbert seems to me to be the ultimate “skeptic” writer. Whether it’s the the Atreides and the Bene Gesserit in “Dune” or both Gilbert Dasein (protagonist) and the villagers (antagonist(s)) in “Santaroga Barrier”, his major characters are rationalist thinkers who do their best to make objective judgments based on the evidence around them instead of their own preconceived biases. His literary brilliance comes in that these are feeling human beings, not cold Vulcans, who make sympathetic mistakes from passion or anger or fear and then revisit their opinions and change their minds. Just like a good skeptic. 🙂

    • Jesse Galef says:

      This is embarrassing, but would you believe I haven’t read Dune yet? It’s on my (ever-expanding) list of books to read, and just jumped up a few spots after your description of Herbert’s writing.


  6. Gabor Kurthy says:

    I’ve just finished Ender’s game, and as a Harry Potter fan I typed in google “Ender, Harry Potter”, cause I thought I’d found some similarities. And this page came up.
    I considered comparing the two negative characters Peter Wiggin and Voldemort as well. They are both cold, not-loving persons with the ambition to rule the world. Even at one point of the book Ender’s sisters calls their brother “You know who” in a letter, that is the name of Voldemort in HP, because the name in unspeakable to many wizards.
    Ender’s army of friends is like Dumbeldore’s army, and the similarity is even greater, because both Ender and Harry Potter taught their friends how to fight, and the decisive battle was won by their help in both stories.
    Besides, the storylines differ, the similarities hold only for the characters and some other things.
    Now I’m reading the second Ender book wondering the “speakers for the dead” have something to do with the “death eaters”.

  7. Gabor Kurthy says:

    Nothing is by chance. Since my last comment I’ve googled a bit, and here is what I found from Orson Scott Card:

    “Well, heck, I feel like the plot of my novel Ender’s Game was stolen by J.K. Rowling.

    A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities, who are to be educated in a remote training facility where student life is dominated by an intense game played by teams flying in midair, at which this kid turns out to be exceptionally talented and a natural leader. He trains other kids in unauthorized extra sessions, which enrages his enemies, who attack him with the intention of killing him; but he is protected by his loyal, brilliant friends and gains strength from the love of some of his family members. He is given special guidance by an older man of legendary accomplishments who previously kept the enemy at bay. He goes on to become the crucial figure in a struggle against an unseen enemy who threatens the whole world.”

    You can read the whole story here: http://greensboro.rhinotimes.com/Articles-i-2008-04-24-177772.112113_JK_Rowling_Lexicon_and_Oz.html

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