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
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”
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
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
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
“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
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
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.]