Orson Scott Card Rewrote Hamlet With Gay Characters, So Why Does Everyone Hate Him?

Writer Orson Scott Card wrote the seminal sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. He also wrote a rant in the Mormon Times telling Americans to rise up and destroy “any government that attempts to” redefine marriage. So is it any wonder that in 2008 he wrote a homophobic version of Hamlet? It’s called Hamlet’s Father and in it Hamlet’s gay dad molests all of Hamlet’s friends turning them all gay. Subterranean Press has just republished Card’s Shakespearean novella and the gays are not happy.

For those of you who are curious about the book, here’s a quick explanation of its twist ending:

Hamlet’s father was gay, and that this made him a terrible king. And his ghost was actually a demonic liar that misled Hamlet as to his cause of death. Claudius didn’t kill Hamlet’s dad after all — instead, it was Horatio, who was taking revenge on Hamlet’s dad for molesting him as a little boy. Hamlet’s dad also molested Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and turned all four of them gay in the process.

Two different recent reviews have blasted Card for his homophobic version of the Shakespearean classic. The book site Rain Taxi called it “a nightmare of vitriolic homophobia and Publisher’s Weekly called it a book primarily focused on “linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of paedophilia.”

What’s worst though is the book is also very badly written, lacking any of Shakespeare’s lyrical nuance or dramatic tension. Take this scene where Hamlet learns about Ophelia’s death:

Horatio brought him his sword. “Laertes is looking for you,” he said.
     “I don’t have time for Laertes. He must know I didn’t mean to kill his father,” Hamlet said.
     “It’s not his father,” said Horatio. “It’s his sister.”
     “Ophelia? I didn’t touch her.”
     “She killed herself. Walked out into the sea, dressed in her heaviest gown. A funeral gown. Two soldiers went in after her, and a boat was launched, but when they brought her body back, she was dead.”
     “And for that he wants to kill me?”

In Card’s rewrite, Hamlet has all the depth of a paper plate—he didn’t particularly like his molesty, dead dad nor does he have any good reason to avenge his death—he just does. But to nail his homophobic point dead into your skull, Card sends Hamlet to hell at the end of the book where his dad exclaims, “Welcome to Hell, my beautiful son. At last we’ll be together as I always longed for us to be.”

It’s kinda like the end of Chinatown except with lots more necrophilic Satanism.

Card has written anti-gay screeds as early as 2004. So it will also come as no surprise that Card joined the board of the National Organization for Marriage in 2009, a group that has no issue partnering up with folks who thinks that gay people eat poop and rape animals.

In response, Twitter users have begun using the hashtag #buyabiggaynovelforscottcardday in which they all suggest buying gay novels and great books written by gay authors. Furthermore, all the media attention has gotten The Guardian to pick up the story and the publisher, Subterranean Press, to issue the following response:

Let me first admit that these complaints about the novella have caught us flat-footed, in part because the work is a reprint. The novella had been published before in the 2008 anthology, The Ghost Quartet, edited by Marvin Kaye, published by Tor Books. Subterranean Press has had a fruitful publishing relationship with Orson Scott Card, and anticipated a collector’s edition of the novella would find an audience among his fans. We did not anticipate controversy for republishing a work which had received no controversy prior to our publication, and which remains in print elsewhere.

Nevertheless, as publisher of Subterranean Press, I am responsible for everything we publish, and that means being ready to hear any complaints and criticisms about what we publish.

It’s a real shame because sci-fi fans once praised Card as an influential visionary. Tons of geeks have read Ender’s Game and consider it a must-read in the genre. Now he’s tarnished his reputation as a futuristic thinker by participating in the retrogressive politics of NOM and their ilk.

Shakesqueer would be sighing in her grave.

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  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    I first read about Card’s anti-gay bias in 2001. For the most part, most sci-fi fans feel his only good book was Ender’s Game, and that he hasn’t written anything before, or since that comes close.

    He’s more famous for being anti-gay, than for being a writer.

    The man is absolutely obsessed with gay men. If he spent as much time writing science fiction, as he does trashing gay men, maybe the rest of his books wouldn’t suck.

  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    I was a great fan of O.S. Card’s early work twenty, thirty years ago and the various Ender books. Now, he’s the only author I can think of where I’ve actually purged my huge collection of Scifi paperbacks and thrown them into the trash.

    Normally I’d recycle them through the local paperback exchange for the next reader. ..Card, he goes straight into the trash. And I don’t read any of his recent work.

    Obviously he has some “issues”, and I dearly wish he’d work them out in some other manner….like perhaps sudden acute lead poisoning.

  • Skeloric

    I was always intending to read Ender’s Game but stuff kept coming up.
    Now i think I’ll just avoid it and avoid Mr. OSC from now on.
    What I wonder is, how much of his own money has been sunk into NOM?
    Could he be totally financially ruined when NOM finally collapses under the weight of all the different Disclosure Laws around the country?
    Specifically: could we hasten his financial ruin with a boycott of any publishing company of which he is involved with?

  • Mav

    I just bought Ender’s Game last weekend because every book nerd I know practically spunks themselves when you mention Orson Scott Card, and I managed to get through an internship at a lit mag and five years of lit courses without having this particular novel shoved down my throat (though I must have heard it mentioned half a hundred times).

    Reading this about Card makes me feel a little sick that I contributed to one of his royalty checks. That’s not going to stop me from reading Ender’s Game though, since apparently it IS one of the seminal science fiction novels of our time…

    And as far as the photo of Card in this article goes, does it not read “latent homosexual” to you? Because I can barely hear my own thoughts over the PING PING PING of my gaydar going off.

  • missanthrope

    It’s been almost entertaining to watch him make himself in to a joke in both the Sci-Fi and literary worlds through his homophobic obsession. I predict that in the next five years he’ll be busted while going on vacation with some handsome rent boy or in a police bust of a cruising hang-out.

  • mike

    creeeeeepy pic … looks like the cover boy for next month’s issue of “Pedophile’s Almanac”

  • randy

    Look, it’s a LOT of work to write a novel. You just don’t dash it out over a weekend. And it’s a lot of editing, rewriting, and more rewriting. IT can consume months, even years, of your life. That’s why you have to be pretty passionate about your subject and your characters to be able to live with them the whole time you are creating them.

    Anyone who is that obsessed with gays, and writes up most of the characaters as gays, has some issues. Major league issues. Any straight man who is comfortable with his straighthood just would not have the energy to write a novel. A short story, perhaps, but a novel? NFW.

    You don’t have to have a phd in psychology to realize he’s working through issues through these sorts of books. The self-loathing just reeks through the few graphs quoted here. If people were smart, they would keep their kids far, far away from this guy.

  • Ogre Magi

    He is a christian ( of the mormon variety) what do you expect?

  • Jperon

    Card’s anti-gay screed go back a long way. I sparred with him in a Mormon publication some decades ago because of the anti-gay crap he wrote back then. He is obsessed with his hatred for gay people.

  • Lazy

    Obviously internalized homophobia aside, how lazy is it to rewrite Shakespeare? And I’m not talking some teen take on Taming of the Shrew, but a lazy, half-assed fractured fairytale solidly build on the original work. Lazy. And….desperate.

  • Atlas

    He’s the literary equivalent of a one hit wonder, and the worst part is he knows it. No sane author would hang themselves on blatant homophobia like this unless they knew they didn’t have any other quality ideas. He can’t write a book to keep himself relevant, so homophobia will do.

  • ChiGuy76

    What do you mean by “rewrite Hamlet as gay?” If you read the original, you can already see that Hamlet is gay. He is the only one of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes that has no interest in his “girlfriend/lover.” The dialogue between him and any young male character illustrates some kind of latent sexual or romantic feeling. I do contend that either Rosenkrant or Guildenstern is Hamlet’s ex and he’s pissed off that they’ve gotten together. Plus, he is unusually obsessed with his mother’s romantic life. Mr. Card has done a grave misservice to the world of literature with his latest endeavor. I just wish he could have done something less cliched than linking homosexuality with pedophilia. But like everyone here has already mentioned, we can’t expect much from a one book wonder. (Well, maybe two. “Speaker for the Dead” was actually pretty good.)

  • Reader

    Most of Card’s writing is derivative, hackneyed crap. Even “Ender’s Game” is barely above decent — a “B movie of books” for hard-core science fiction junkies.

  • karen

    He is a complete douche bag. And probably a self loathing closet case at that. He writes a column in this stupid conservative paper in my home town of Greensboro NC called the Rhino Times where he is either bashing gay people or gushing about some hot lead actor in his movie reviews. What a joke.

  • soakman

    This actually really surprises me. Have any of you read his novel Songmaster? One of the main characters is gay, and actually I would say that it is a very beautiful novel. I’d check it out.

    On the other hand, interviews with him about the book are filled with condemnation of homosexuality. I don’t get it. Songmaster is brilliant and beautiful and emotionally recognizes both male/male love and sex.

    There is also a bit of underlying paedophilia themed in the book. I think Card might have some demons in his closet.

    Now I understand why one of my poems (the best sestina the editor had ever read) was declined politely from his online poetry site; I had 2 poems selected for publication there, but the one featuring a queer spin got both praised and rejected.

    It’s a shame really. I’m slightly less excited about the publication now.

  • Chitown Kev




    Hic et ubique? then we’ll shift our ground.
    Come hither, gentlemen,
    And lay your hands again upon my sword:
    Never to speak of this that you have heard,
    Swear by my sword.

  • Chitown Kev

    @Chitown Kev:

    The original Hamlet play by William Shakespeare

    Act1 Scene 5 lines 156-160.

  • Jeff in NYC

    Okay so I confess to knowing nothing of Ender’s Game, or Orson Scott Card before this article, aside from maybe hearing the names somewhere before. That being said, I thought he was a gay author, strictly from the picture accompanying the article.

  • Dave

    @Skeloric: You’re honestly not missing anything. I don’t get what people see in it. It’s schlocky, overdone, messianic, Mary Sue wish-fulfillment fanfic.

  • Pat Duffy

    I was a fan in his early days, until I started to see his op-ed articles in local papers(I lived in S Utah at the time). I stopped buying his books. I don’t Support those that Hate Me and Mine…..

  • Tony

    Card is, and was always, a hack. Like most hacks, he had ONE good novel in him – in this case Ender’s Game. That novel is not by any means ‘seminal’, it’s well written with a nice twist but anyone who’s read Delaney or Banks should know what a real seminal SF novel is.

    Why is it that people suffering such obvious delusions (and Mormonism is about the most transparent BS I’ve ever come across) are not treated to some strict reparative therapy until they get over it?

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Lazy: While you are probably correct about Card’s internalized self-hatred and that his use of Hamlet was lazy, you are very wrong about basing new works on Shakespeare. There are many fine rewrites of the tragedies of Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth (love Scotland, PA) and the comedies of Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, among many others.

    In Card’s case, it is lazy, very lazy, based on several passages in reviews. But that does not mean others have been lazy, some are quite brilliant, perhaps, the modern most famous use of Romeo & Juliet to base the movie Shakespeare in Love.

  • the crustybastard

    @Dave: “It’s schlocky, overdone, messianic, Mary Sue wish-fulfillment fanfic.”

    Nicely done.

  • Inis Magrath


    Neither Mr. Card nor his Ender’s Game book are considered “seminal” in SF circles. Yes, the book won an award, but that doesn’t make it seminal.

    A seminal work is one that launches a new genre or sub-genre of some scope. Ender’s Game, while a decent read, was not such a work.

    Contract Card with an example of a real seminal author, William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace” in a short story, and fully fleshed out his vision in his first novel, Neuromancer. Gibson is considered a seminal author, having launched the cyberpunk sub-genre, and Neuromancer is considered a (if not the) seminal cyberpunk novel.

    Card is a mediocre writer who got lucky with one book, Ender’s Game. No one would have read Speaker for the Dead if not for the anticipation of reading an Ender’s sequel, and none of the following books in the Ender’s series went anywhere because Speaker for the Dead was so awful.

  • Caliban

    I’m a book collector and just wanted to say a few words in defense of Subterranean Press. Small publishing houses like Subterranean scrape by in the post-reading book market by making limited editions of well-known genre authors’ work as collector’s items and Card is still coasting on the popularity of a SINGLE book, Ender’s Game.” Small presses like this would GLADLY do a signed limited edition of Stephen King’s Grocery Lists if they could, because King’s name sells.

    Considering that Subterranean also publishes Poppy Brite’s books as well as other gay or trans authors, I don’t believe their intent was homophobic. They just didn’t think it through and see the book for the propaganda piece it clearly is in light of Card’s involvement with NOM. Should they have seen the implications? Yes. But Subterranean isn’t an Evangelical or anti-gay press, they’re a small sci-fi and horror genre press and Card’s name still has some cache in those circles. It was an error in judgment, not intent.

    What’s sad is this controversy, if it gets larger, may actually make the book a real collector’s item.

  • Jamie

    @Skeloric: Marvel Comics (Disney owned) is currently adapting the Enders series in comic form and Orson Scott Card does original comics for them as well every now and then, like the Ultimate Iron Man series that came out a few years back. I’m just saying if people are looking for boycott companies that are working with him or at least calling them out on it. Interestingly enough Marvel has been very progressive in their depiction of gay character, even having a teen gay couple (Hulkling and Wiccan), but in the end money is money.

  • Ben

    I read Ender’s Game a few years ago, before I discovered Orson Scott Card was a big homophobe. (It was OK.) I remember reading through several passages thinking “Hm. That was kind of gay.” Nothing explicit, but still, just a little this side of homoerotic. I wish I could think of some actual examples. Alas, I cannot.
    Anyway, I found out later about Card’s personal beliefs re homosexuality, and suddenly it all made perfect sense. I agree the man’s got some skeletons in his closet. All the repressed energy’s gotta go somewhere, I guess.

  • Canof Sand

    Not that I expect the kind of person that would spew the vitriol normally contained in posts about this topic (judging by other posts around the Internet) actually care about FACTS, but here are some anyway:

    OSC Responds to False Statements about Hamlet’s Father

    Normally I don’t respond to reviews, especially when the reviewer clearly has an axe to grind. But the dishonest review of Hamlet’s Father that appeared in Publisher’s Weekly back in February of 2011 has triggered a firestorm of attacks on me. I realize now that I should have answered it then and demanded a retraction, because while the opinions of reviewers are their own, they have no right to make false statements about the contents of a book.

    The review ends with this sentence: “The writing and pacing have the feel of a draft for a longer and more introspective work that might have fleshed out Hamlet’s indecision and brooding; instead, the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia, a focus most fans of possibly bisexual Shakespeare are unlikely to appreciate.”

    Since my introduction to the book states that I was not remotely interested in Hamlet’s “indecision and brooding” in Shakespeare’s version of the story, I wonder how carefully the reviewer read the book. But the lie is this, that “the focus is primarily on linking homosexuality with … pedophilia.” The focus isn’t primarily on this because there is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don’t show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make.

    Because I took a public position in 2008 opposing any attempt by government to redefine marriage, especially by anti-democratic and unconstitutional means, I have been targeted as a “homophobe” by the Inquisition of Political Correctness. If such a charge were really true, they would have had no trouble finding evidence of it in my life and work. But because the opposite is true — I think no ill of and wish no harm to homosexuals, individually or as a group — they have to manufacture evidence by simply lying about what my fiction contains.

    The truth is that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was definitely not fashionable to write sympathetic gay characters in fiction aimed at the mainstream audience, I created several sympathetic homosexual characters. I did not exploit them for titillation; instead I showed them threading their lives through a world that was far from friendly to them. At the time, I was criticized by some for being “pro-gay,” while I also received appreciative comments from homosexual readers. Yet both responses were beside the point. I was not writing about homosexuality, I was writing about human beings.

    My goal then and today remains the same: To create believable characters and help readers understand them as people. Ordinarily I would have included gay characters in their normal proportions among the characters in my stories. However, since I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them — for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia.

    But Hamlet’s Father, since it contained no homosexual characters, did not seem to me to fall into that category. I underestimated the willingness of the haters to manufacture evidence to convict their supposed enemies.

    To show you what I actually had in mind in writing Hamlet’s Father, here is the introduction I wrote for its publication in book form. I’m as proud of the story as ever, and I hope readers will experience the story as it was intended to be read.

  • Clark

    Also if you’ve read “Songmaster” by Card the main character (the personification of beauty and sacred innocence) has sexual feelings for a gay man. The gay character cannot repress his sexuality in the book either even after marrying a woman. Even in the Ender’s series, Ender has a friend who kisses him and Card describes it as being more meaningful than a kiss between friends. Not only are there gay themes in Card’s novels (if they can be called that) but their are is a tendency to sexualize underage boys. Also, didn’t Card criticize JK Rowling for “ripping off” his ideas to make the Harry Potter Series? Obviously, writing an atrocious rework of Hamlet okay though?!

    Orson Scott Card, suck a dick (not an underage one) and just come out already

  • IEC

    @Mr. Enemabag Jones: Erg, I am so sick of everyone saying everything else he’s written sucks. All of the books in the Ender/Bean series are really, really amazing and brilliant and there’s nothing wrong with them at all. IMO: All of the Ender books are brilliant, progressive works about acceptance of alien species and our interactions with different life in the universe. Also IMO: All of the Bean books make really awesome insights into political conflict on Earth.

    I really think something must happened in his head in the last 15 years that made him obsessed with this — who knows, maybe he’s gay himself. There is almost no real heterosexual romance in any of his novels. I don’t see any possible reconciliation between Speaker for the Dead and that series and how he’s been behaving — he’s clearly a really smart and wise man who’s been deeply misled by internal conflict.

    I think it’s unfortunate he’s done this to himself — made people see his works as bad. All of the Ender books won Nebula awards. They were not considered bad at all until everyone started hazing him for his recent crappy behavior.

  • IEC

    Rather, I guess he probably does have internal conflicted feelings about pedophilia, since he’s obsessed with that more than homosexuality. Unfortunate.

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