Speaker for the dead

I finished re-reading Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” tonight. (It’s the Kniterati book for November.) I’d better not talk about it here or I won’t have anything left to say by the time the 27th comes around. However, I will say that I enjoyed it so much that I’ve just spent the entire evening re-reading its sequel “Speaker for the Dead”.

I love the idea of a Speaker for the Dead. The premise is that when someone dies, you call on a Speaker and they talk to all the people who knew the person who died and then Speak for that person. Speaking involves telling their life like it really was, not just the good bits, not just the bad bits but all of it; all the stuff they meant to do but didn’t ; how their life felt to them. For me that last one is the key, it’s about skipping past trying to explain yourself to people and just having them understand how it feels to be you. Of course, it would be even better if we could do this while we were alive and not have to rely on someone doing it for us once we were dead!

I attended a memorial service last month for a friend of mine who died unexpectedly earlier this year. As at most events, there were good speakers and not-so-good speakers but even the good speakers didn’t manage to convey what it was like to be her, just what she meant to them. It was enlightening for me, I knew what she meant to me and to my other friends and acquaintances who knew her, but I learnt so much about her that I didn’t know from what she meant to others. I still wish there had been a true Speaker though, in the sense that Orson Scott Card writes about. I would have liked to have known more about her life from her perspective.

Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed reading the Life of Dickens so much. (I finally finished it and when I’m done posting will upload it for it to be finished and it should be available from Project Gutenberg at some point in the not-too-distant future.) Since it’s based on letters and conversations that Dickens had with one of his closest friends over most of his life, it really does seem to give you a glimpse of what it was like to be him. I think Peter Ackroyd did a better job than John Forster of Speaking for Dickens in his biography but there’s an affection missing from it. Also, it’s not split up into manageable sections like the Forster biography and at 1,256 pages including index, bibliography, etc. is a little intimidating even to me!

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