I recently had the urge to reread John Kessel’s and Elaine Radford’s thoughtful essays on Ender’s Game. It struck me that they don’t differentiate as clearly as I would like between judging the character and judging the choices the author makes about the character. If you identify with the main character, Ender, you might feel compelled to defend him personally (as this blog post does, largely missing the point).
And your defense would be more or less justified. Of course Ender is innocent. He’s designed to be innocent. Kessel says the author “rigs the game to make us accept that he does no wrong.” I would put that even more strongly—the author rigs the game to make Ender almost incapable of doing wrong.
The question of Ender’s guilt or innocence is a distraction. The real question is how we should respond to moral wish-fulfillment stories—stories designed to make us feel like good people, even as they indulge our tastes for revenge and power and self-importance. I think Kessel and Radford both make a good stab at answering that question.
Edit: I forgot to add that both these essays, especially Kessel’s, were a big influence on my thinking about fiction in general. I think wish fulfillment is one of the most fun things about fiction, even as I try to be skeptical of it.