Religion & Liberty Online

Ender’s Game: What Does the Formic Say?

EndersGameFormicOver at Think Christian, I take another look at Ender’s Game, focusing on the leitmotif of understanding and communication in Orson Scott Card’s work. This applies particularly to inter-species communication.

We might, in fact, riffing off the Norwegian parody pop song, say that the central question of Ender’s Game is, “What does the Formic say?” Ender is the only one with the genuine curiosity to find out, and doing so is how he moves beyond his bloody calling.

What we find out, in a sense, is that on the Formic understanding, each human being has the dignity and worth of a queen. We are all queens, or as the Bible puts it, made in the image and likeness of God. This reality becomes all the more salient when like the Formic queen, “dynamite with a laser beam,” we too are killer queens, to make another pop culture connection (HT: Dylan Pahman).

A key difference between the film and the book is that the film is pretty thin on answers to that question of inter-species communication. There is much more about what the Formics think and feel in the book. I’ll post some of the relevant sections, which include significant spoilers, below the break. If you have not seen the film, you should not read these sections!

But for those of you who have seen the film, just think about that question of understanding the Formics as you revel in “The Fox (What Does it Say?)”


In the book, Ender is finally able to communicate with the queen. This is alluded to in the film, but the content of that communication is left generally undefined.

What the queen communicates to Ender is shocking: “We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again.” A society like ours, in which every individual has irreducible dignity and value, and which has a measure of independence and responsibility, was inconceivable to them. So not understanding what they were doing, they killed tens of millions of human beings in what to them seemed to be a minor skirmish. It was only when human beings successfully killed one of the Formic queens that the recognition sunk in that what was happening was not an amoral skirmish between replaceable drones, but rather that the Formics had been killing untold numbers of unique individuals.

As Mazer Rackham, who leads the humans to victory in the previous war with the Formics, tells it, “it’s as if they really couldn’t believe, until it was too late, that I would actually kill the queen. Maybe in their world, queens are never killed, only captured, only checkmated. I did something they didn’t think an enemy would ever do.” But when Ender finally comes to understand what was really going on in the war with the Formics, for them “only queen-killing, really, is murder, because only queen-killing closes off a genetic path.”

And as the dying Formic queen communicates to Ender, their guilt at killing humans turns to resignation: “They did not forgive us, she thought. We will surely die.” And it is at this understanding that the transition from vengeance to forgiveness in Ender comes to completion.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.