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Author Topic: The Worthing Saga
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[Spoilers for multiple books contained herein!]
A boy about to come of age lives in a small community, one that seems, at first, perfect. It is safe. Pain is rare, and immediately relieved. Death is made nothing but a distant memory.

But the boy's world is about to change.

A wise old man comes into the boy's life; a man with unusual eyes who is capable of telepathically passing memories to him - memories of a time long, long before, when the world was not so neutered and harmless. Memories of war and pain and loss, but also of beauty and family and love.

The boy learns his world was not so perfect after all. Death was there all along, simply hidden. The avoidance of pain, suffering, mistakes, and bad choices rendered people's lives bland and meaningless. Had his father ever truly loved him? Had he ever truly loved his father? Were they even capable of meaningful love in that world as it was? It is only after his awakening that the boy realizes what love is.

The boy eventually comes to understand that the destruction of this flawed mode of existence is not a horror, but a blessing…

The Worthing Saga has long been my favorite OSC book (and, in fact, one of my favorite books in general), though it seems to be often overlooked even by OSC fans. Card seems to be answering the question, Why does God let bad things happen?, but even as an atheist the meaning rings true to me. What are we but robots, without the freedom to choose? How can there be beauty, without ugliness? How can there be love, without loss and heartache?

Those who have read it (or The Worthing Chronicle, which is the meat of The Worthing Saga, and is the portion I will refer to from here out) might recognize the basic summary I wrote above… However, that is not a summary of The Worthing Chronicle. Or at least, not solely.

A couple years back, a boy I was tutoring happened to mention to me his favorite book. He wasn't much of a reader, so I was curious about what could have piqued his interest so strongly. Imagine my surprise when his favorite book turned out to be one of my favorite stories - but hiding behind a different cover.

This month it came up again with another student; it is a popular book for 6th grade literature assignments, at least here in California. Reading it again, this time with The Worthing Chronicle already in mind, I noticed even more interesting parallels - and surprisingly, there seems to be not one single mention of this anywhere on the internet. So here I am, mentioning it.

The book in question is Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal-winning dystopian science fiction book The Giver.

The above summary, while perfectly describing The Worthing Chronicle (published 1983), is my summary of The Giver (published 1993).

Am I here to say Lowry could only create a popular, award-winning book by ripping off Card? No. She's a great author (also of the Newbery Medal-winning Number the Stars), and The Giver is a great book, different enough in the details and the telling that I feel both stories can be enjoyed separately, on their own.

But at the same time the similarity is fascinating to me; even small details overlap far too much to be coincidence (blue eyes as a marker of telepathic ability!), and yet there's no discussion of this anywhere that I can see. (And honestly, since Card complained about Lost Boys = Sixth Sense, I'm surprised there was never any mention of this by him. Perhaps he is unaware.)

Has anyone else read both books? Any opinions?

What follows is my list of similarities (and differences) in the two books, for future reference. Hopefully I'm not forgetting any:
  • Main Character:
    • An adolescent boy about to come of age.
    • Has a pet name used by his father (Lared -> Lareled, Jonas -> Jonas-bonus).
    • Has one younger sister, also referred to by pet name (Lily -> Lily-billy, Sala -> Sarela).
  • Secondary Character:
    • An older man who carries memories of the past in his mind.
    • Transfers these memories to the main character telepathically.
    • He has blue eyes, which appears to be a marker of telepathic ability. (In The Giver, the eye color is not directly specified, but can be inferred. Also, the direct telepathy appears only to work between blue-eyed people; the main character Jonas is also blue-eyed.)
  • Initial setting: A community without pain, violence, or (though the characters don't necessarily realize it) freedom. This community is but a small corner of a world (or worlds) where this bland existence is held true. The people are mostly unaware of what they are missing out on. (Major differences: in The Worthing Chronicle, this mode of existence is enforced from the outside, by what are essentially gods. In The Giver, it is enforced by genetic alterations and by the people themselves through a strict, Communist-style government.)
  • The return of pain/violence/freedom/understanding/love to the people: Both books do this, but at different times in the story. In The Worthing Chronicle it happens at the start, and the reasoning comes clear later after Jason transmits his memories to Lared. In The Giver, Jonas is given the memories first, then later comes to understand the need to return them to the people (and then he enacts it).
  • Making a distant memory of death: Both books do this. In The Worthing Chronicle, telepathy is used to turn deaths, which are rare except for the old, into no more than a distant memory. In The Giver, the community enacts a ceremony designed to help everyone forget the dead, after which they are generally not thought about again (additionally, death is rare except for the old, and even those deaths are hidden from the people behind a seemingly benign ceremony of "release" from the community).
  • A challenge in the snow: Both books, as part of the main character's coming-of-age, make the boys face the challenge of an unaided trek through the snow.
  • Some other differences: The Giver, as befits a book targeted at younger readers, uses more literal and blatant imagery to get across the point that the people are lacking in freedom, beauty, and love. "Sameness" is literally enforced - land has been razed flat, people have been genetically engineered to look the same (ie. no separate races), are required to wear the same clothes and hairstyles, and perhaps most importantly are unable (presumably due to genetic engineering) to see color or comprehend music. Family units are put together as a matter of practicality by the government; neither love nor sex happens.

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I read The Giver as a child. (my mom gave it to me) I think it does a much better job at describing how someone who lived a bland and mostly emotionless life would experience strong emotions for the first time - maybe because it's far more centered around Jonas' perception, and the fact that nobody around him experiences that change. It makes it a lot more dramatic, IMO.

I haven't read it in 15 years though. Maybe I should give it another go.

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I think much of it-based on likewise very old memories-is because in the Giver so much is focused on very simple sensations and feelings and observations. Color, taste, music, haste or slowness and anxiety or lack, whereas Worthing Saga has a truly epic scope, frequently mingling with a much smaller more mundane scope, and the two are constantly mingling and one is being seen throigh the eyes of the other.
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The Giver, IMO, is completely inferior in every way to The Worthing Saga. Everyone raved about it, and I read it, and if I were 12 years old, then yeah, I'd probably be blown away.

But I'd already read OSC do it all so much, much better and compelling and epic, that The Giver just fell flat.

There was no attempt to explain the fantasy telepathic process. No attempt to explain how ability to see color was tied to memories. Why didn't the Giver just kill himself and release ALL the memories without ever giving any to the new Receiver in the first place? The stuff about how many women were used for breeding was woefully false; the math is off by a huge margin.

It was fantasy, and not to be examined too closely, but the subject matter is one that demands examination.

The Worthing Saga, on the other hand, while not without flaws, did a much better job on the philosophy.

It's like how people that saw Avatar were blown away by it... unless they'd seen Dances With Wolves, or Ferngully, first, and in that case all that was there for them was the special effects, because the story had already been done. I wasn't impressed by Avatar at all because it literally had NOTHING to teach me I didn't already know.

Whereas the Worthing Saga, when I read it, was genuinely thought-provoking, The Giver was not. It didn't provoke any new thoughts in me. By the time I read it, I had already had all the thoughts it might have tried to provoke.

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The Giver is written at a level that a young child can understand. It uses simple language and situations to convey some rather difficult concepts.

It's also pretty brilliantly subversive. The culture portayed in "The Community" is specifically designed to mimic an idylic American suburban community - complete with a pledge of allegiance, national anthem singing, playgrounds, 2 parent families with 2 children each, and a society where everyone works a job they find interesting, everyone fits in, and everyone is content.

To a young reader (I was 9 when I read it) unfamialiar with dystopian fiction - it *is* a perfect society. There's no insinuated evil or forboding, no hint that anything is wrong. And indeed, the society seems to run perfectly and those leading it do their best to make everyone happy. Like the people in the book, I didn't even question "release."

So the point hits home even harder when you get it - not because the utopia is flawed but because it *isn't* flawed. Nobody's life has any meaning. Nobody feels any joy or love or lust or pain. Nobody even really has a reason to live. Everyone is just too busy and content with their perfect lives to care.

Worthing Saga is a far more complex book and I'm not knocking it, but the Giver is a lot more brilliant than you're giving it credit for

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I read The Giver post 1984 and Brave New World, and it unfortunately struck me as weak after those two.
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You can't judge a work targeted at younger readers with the same criteria you judge adult books; if you do, they will generally (and unsurprisingly) fall flat. Concepts have to be simplified and singled out. Images and metaphors are more blatant. Foreshadowing more obvious. Details may be glossed over to avoid making the story too long for shorter attention spans (though that's not entirely fair to say; you have to remember kids read slower. Their attention spans probably aren't worse than mine!).

That said, I see no problem with "no attempt to explain the fantasy telepathic process" or many of those other complaints. Not every story element needs a detailed backstory. You could equally ask: Where did the swipe come from, and how does it work? Or on another subject: How did Jason Worthing's stardrive work (with its vague "delicate balance of impossible forces")? Some books go into great detail about the mechanics of a starship; others may not, especially if it's not particularly relevant to the story. Not every scifi book is hard science fiction.

I do agree with the birth-math issue; in addition there's the issue of a stable population requiring every adult to couple up and raise 2 children, while the book indicates there's a significant number of adults who are not qualified for a spouse and family. But you can find mistakes in some details of any story (granted these in particular are a bit glaring to an adult reader), but if they are background details that don't affect the story, move on.

Originally posted by Dogbreath:
I think it does a much better job at describing how someone who lived a bland and mostly emotionless life would experience strong emotions for the first time - maybe because it's far more centered around Jonas' perception, and the fact that nobody around him experiences that change.

The Giver is, as I said, much more blatant about it; The Worthing Chronicle, much more subtle. The difference is interesting in how it affects the unraveling of each story:

The Giver begins with Jonas unaware of how the world could be. He receives the memories and then knows how the world once was. He realizes fairly quickly that life would be more meaningful if they didn't try to avoid pain and hardship by making existence so bland and safe.

The Worthing Chronicle begins with the Day of Pain. Before Jason Worthing ever gives him a single memory, Lared already knows the difference between the two modes of existence - he's lived them both. What he doesn't yet do is understand, because the distinction is much, much more subtle. There's nothing so blatantly good as color or music or love gifted to Lared - all he gets is pain. It takes Jason's memories (and Lared's own coming-of-age experiences) for Lared to finally understand why and how pain makes life more meaningful.

Ultimately, The Giver tells the reader, "If you avoid pain, you're going to lose all these wonderful, meaningful things," by explicitly taking those things away. There is (as Seatarsprayan perhaps indelicately put it) not as much to think about. Jonas' father literally laughs at the very idea that he'd love his son. The Worthing Chronicle, on the other hand, asks the reader, "All these wonderful things in life - do they have meaning without pain?" And then it takes the reader through a number of journeys to answer this question. Lared and his father always loved each other, but did that really mean anything before the Day of Pain?

Again, I see nothing wrong with The Giver's method here. It's very appropriate for its intended audience. The 12 year old I'm tutoring liked The Giver and expressed interest in reading The Worthing Saga, so maybe in the coming weeks I'll get to hear some comparisons from the younger end of the spectrum.

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