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Religious Parallels in the Writings of Orson Scott Card
Written: March 20, 2002 - by Logan Mallory

Orson Scott Card uses the religious teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the basis for his science fiction writings. Many authors create stories based on personal experiences, family relationships and familiar settings. Actual people are often the basis for fictional characters. Situations that have influenced the author often shape the plot of a book. This results in a book that is shadowed by real life; it is clearly a common and successful way of writing. Orson Scott Card, an author renowned for his science fiction writing, is a perfect example of this approach.

Born a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1951, the culture in which Orson Scott Card grew up in influenced him from the beginning. He has published numerous novels, works of historical fiction, short stories and several dramatic plays with Mormon themes. He has also written many articles and poems based on Mormon issues. His readers are not limited to Mormons. The majority are not, but they are aware of Card’s affiliation with the religion. Those readers who are Mormon, however, do not miss the allusions to Mormon figures, traditions, doctrine and history.

Orson has said that he has made a “life study of great leaders and great forces shaping nations and history” (Collings, 361). While his best stories are driven by passion for reconciliation, many are filled with his knowledge of past events and leaders (Clute, 197). His abilities have helped him to become the only writer to win both the Hugo and the Nebula Award for Ender’s Game in 1985.

The themes provided in Orson’s novels are very distinct. While most science fiction novels end up written with the focus on an individual, novels written by Card point more directly at a family or a community. Each story has a protagonist who is either in his youth or is a child who is “imbued with dignity and respect” from the adults that surround him (Proschet, 26). Although the stories have fictional problems, the characters wrestle with real moral dilemmas. Describing his novels, Card states that his characters “confront evil no matter what because that’s how real life is” (Proschet, 24). They must see the effects of atonement, sacrifice and mediations on their community and must make decisions that eventually bring no personal gratification. The decisions they make help them as they strive to become a type of savior to their family, community, or society.

As quoted by John Clute “The almost demonic skill of his writing is deliberately designed to sway our minds” (Clute, 197). However, Orson claims that there is no attempt to persuade or convert readers (Proschet, 6). “Orson writes with an inward looking religious parable, which is modeled in science fiction format” (Clute, 197). The religious parable in his writing is embedded in the Mormon culture. Some might argue that his technique of writing demonstrates a lack in creativity; others believe it is the driving force of his success.

The writing techniques of Orson Scott Card are comparable to the great C.S. Lewis. Lewis wrote many successful novels such as The Narnia Chronicles and Perelandra, and is famous for his use of Christian allusions. In a similar writing style, Orson Scott alludes to Mormon doctrine. “In the three-volume series The Tales of Alvin Maker, Orson Scott Card does the same thing with Mormonism that Lewis did with Christianity; that is, he articulates Mormon history, tradition and doctrine in an other-world setting—an alternate America in the early 1800’s—a world in which magic works” (Proschet, 6). The values of Mormonism drive the words he writes while embedded in his symbols and characters. The artist made this clear as he said, “I believe that I present Mormon theology most eloquently when I do not speak about it at all” (Proschet, 7).

While “not speaking about it,” Orson Scott Card paints a clear picture of Mormon history in his “Alvin Maker Series.” The stories in the Alvin Maker Series most closely parallel the situations found in Mormon history. Personal conflicts, family life and community situations are all comparable to the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first book of the series, “Seventh Son” has a boy named Alvin as protagonist. Joseph Smith had a younger brother named Alvin, who died. Hoping to find better farmland, Alvin Maker leaves his home in Vermont with his parents and siblings. In 1811, Joseph Smith and his family also left Vermont on the chance of finding new land to farm. As the story develops, the knowledgeable reader begins to uncover numerous additional similarities between the book and Mormon history.

As children, both the fictional Alvin Maker and Joseph Smith underwent serious operations on their legs. They were plagued with disease-filled bones that were only fixable by surgical procedures or by amputation. Once the operations were completed, both Alvin’s and Joseph’s legs quickly healed from the disease, and they fully recovered.

Other similarities occur when the youthful Alvin receives a visit from the story’s character known as the “Shining Man.” The Shining Man explained to Alvin the purpose that Alvin would have to fulfil. This is a fictional parallel of a vision that Joseph Smith Jr. claimed to have seen at the age of 14. On September 21, 1823, an angel visited Joseph (Smith, 52). The angel called himself Moroni and said he claimed he was there to prepare Joseph for his future responsibilities. Both Alvin and Joseph understood the callings they set aside for them after their visits with the angelic personages. Each had been chosen to lead their people into a greater place than earth. Alvin received the task of leading his people to the “Crystal City.” Joseph’s goal was to lead the people into what Mormons refer to as the Celestial Kingdom. Both the Celestial Kingdom and the Crystal City are heaven-like places.

The supporting characters also have nonfiction counterparts who were a part of Joseph’s life. Alvin’s brother “Measure” was the fictional version of Joseph’s brother, Hyrum Smith. Both Measure and Hyrum were older than their brothers and loved Alvin and Joseph more than themselves. They accompanied their brothers on numerous journeys and both listened to the teachings offered by their younger brothers, whether Makership for Alvin or Mormonism in Joseph’s case. Both became absolutely and totally devoted to their brothers’ work and supported them fully.

Joseph Smith spoke of the love shown by his brother Hyrum. In a journal Joseph wrote: “Thought I to myself, Brother Hyrum, what a faithful heart you have got!…Oh…the care you have had for my soul! Oh how many are the sorrows we have shared together; and again we find ourselves shackled with the unrelenting hand of oppression” (Smith, 107-8). Hyrum died by Joseph’s side as martyrdom took place in a jail cell in Carthage, Illinois. He devoted his life to his brother Joseph and gave his life while trying to protect Joseph. Not only do characters resemble historic figures, but concepts in Card’s stories are also based in religious philosophy. Orson Scott Card portrayed water as a force controlled by evil in the Alvin Maker series. It is often, if not always, referred to in a negative view. Alvin stated “No matter how peaceful it looks, it’ll reach out and try to take you” (Card, 8). He was proven right later in his story when Alvin, his pregnant wife, and their family were forced to forge a river.

“The clouds came up and the rains came down and the Hatrack became…insane. It doubled in speed and strength all in a moment. [It was] as if the river knew they were coming and saved up its worst fury till they were already in it and couldn’t get away”(Card, 16)

Joseph Smith referred to the evil and destruction that water could create in journals that he kept. As was done in the Book of Revelation, Joseph prophesied of water’s evil power. Revelation 8:8-11 reads of a vision that John saw. “And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the water, because they were made bitter” (John, 1574). Many Christian denominations believe that the vision John received in Revelation is a prophecy of what may come in the last days. The religious predictions of the Bible and Joseph Smith imply that water will play a large part in the Second Coming of Christ.

In 1985, Card wrote the amazing science fiction novel “Enders Game.” The book won both the Nobel and the Hugo awards and tells about a young boy who unwittingly saved earth from an alien race. Ender trained through his childhood with other children geniuses. He was unaware of the power his actions would have. Tricked by military strategists, Ender was deceived into causing the genocide of earth’s enemies.

Ender Wiggin is a parallel to Jesus Christ. Although Ender represents the Christian deity, he more comfortably resembles the attributes of Jesus Christ that Mormons focus their beliefs in. The Mormon religion believes Christ to be a mediator between men and God the Father. As with Christ, Ender acts as a mediator between mankind and the higher beings. In the end of his story he relates to the aliens on a level that only he can understand, which is symbolic to the relationship between man, Jesus Christ, and God.

According to Mormon beliefs, Christ is the only savior. It is only through Christ that Mormons have the opportunity to reach their eternal goal of the Celestial Kingdom. By sacrificing all he had to give while in the Garden of Gethsemane and during his crucifiction, Christ provided the way for man to save themselves spiritually. He sacrificed all to save all. Ender Wiggin’s story relates to this portion of doctrine. By destroying the alien’s home planet, he sacrificed their lives to save human kind. Ender, like Christ, became the savior of man.

Ender did not attempt to save the world alone. All throughout his story, people find themselves drawn to him. They love Ender, respect him as a leader with perfect capabilities, and therefore follow his every move. The group’s trials grow near, and Ender becomes the commander and his twelve most trusted friends come to his side. Under Ender’s guidance, they accomplish the unthinkable and save the world from destruction. This again relates to Christ and his ministry. Although many followed his teachings, twelve became the most trusted and loyal to Christ. They worked under Jesus in order to fulfil his command and preach the gospel to all. Both Jesus and Ender were amazing leaders who had a common goal of saving the world, whether literally or spiritually.

Orson Scott Card has abilities to emotionally draw his readers into his stories. They become connected with the characters and situations which are, whether intentionally or not, related to the doctrines and beliefs of the Mormon religion. It was said by C.S. Lewis that “By putting bread, gold, horse, apple or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. By dipping things in myth, we see them more clearly” (Lewis, 37). Orson Scott Card has taken his religious views and dipped them into the myths of his writing.

Everything from his characters to his story plots allows Card to create an amazing way of expressing his beliefs. He has taken the things taught to him in his childhood and built stories around them in order to create an emotional tie with his readers. The Mormon doctrine and history that Orson Scott Card intertwines in his writings influence all the emotional ties that cause the reader to love the books that he creates.

Works Cited Page

Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. New York: TOR Books, 1985.

Card, Orson Scott. Seventh Son. New York: TOR Books, 1987.

Clute, John. Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Darling Kinderslay Publishing, Inc., 1995.

Collings, Michael. In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization, and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card. Westport CT: Greenwood, 1990.

Collings, Michael. “Orson Scott Card: An approach to Mythopoeic Fiction.” [WEB]. March 1, 2002.

The Doctrine and Covenants. 1835. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Hatrack.com. “Without Joseph Smith and Mormonism There Would be No Seventh Son, No Red Prophet, No Alvin Maker.” [WEB]. Feb. 25, 2002. www.hatrack.com.

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: Macmillan, 1950.

Lewis, C. S. "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said." Of Other Worlds. New York: Harcourt, 1966.

II Nephi [Book of Mormon]. 1830. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

The Pearl of Great Price. 1851. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.

Revelation [The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version]. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979.

Smith, Lucy Mack. History of Joseph Smith. 1901. Salt Lake City UT: Bookcraft, 1958.

[Copyright © Logan Mallory, 2002. Reprinted with permission.]

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