'Lost Boys' by Orson Scott Card: An analysis
What follows is a close reading of the short story “Lost Boys” by Orson Scott Card, from the collection The Changed Man. Please be advised that this piece contains many spoilers.
“Lost Boys” is written in the first person and the narrator is a father; what is unique about this story and what gives the story much of its impact is that the narrator also happens to be the author, Orson Scott Card himself. This clever blurring of the author’s persona with that of the narrator is achieved by including details of the author’s life at different points throughout the story. The first line sets up the premise:
“I’ve worried for a long time about whether to tell this story as fiction or fact.”
(Card, 1992: p. 200)
The story is about an American family’s move to a different home because the father, the narrator, has started a new job. The move is particularly hard for the oldest son, Scotty, who is starting at a new school halfway through first grade, after leaving his old school and all his friends behind him. He becomes distant and his parents become worried, especially when Kristine, his mum, notices that the imaginary friends that he has begun to play with have the same names as all of the neighbourhood’s missing children. Things come to a head when Scotty asks his parents if his friends could spend Christmas Eve with them. His parents agree and are introduced to the “lost boys” who reveal that they were murdered by the landlord’s father and buried beneath the house. It is only when Scotty says “You should have told me, I wouldn’t have let him touch me” (Card, 1992: p. 218) that it is confirmed that he is a victim of the murderous old man too.
The last part of the story, in which the lost boys agree to give statements to the police, especially the final part where they say their last goodbyes to their parents, is emotionally charged. It is here where the heartache that each parent feels makes you appreciate your own family all the more. After everyone else has gone the narrator, his wife and their son are left alone for a final farewell. Children can be so down to earth and Card captures this when he has Scotty say “I’m sorry I was so mad all the time last summer” and “I knew it wasn’t really your fault about moving and it was bad for me to be so angry but I just was” (Card, 1992: p. 221). This characterisation finally gives Scotty some depth where before he seemed one dimensional. Scotty’s final words to his parents are full of the innocence of childhood:
“...he put it all in proportion for us. “That’s OK. I’m just glad that you’re not mad at me.” And then he was gone.”
(Card, 1992: p. 221)
It is worth noting the story’s afterword (Card, 1992: p. 221-224) in which the author tells us that the story is a fictitious one. He tells us of some of the negative criticism that he received because of his decision to write the story in the first person and include details of his own life, making the story seem more real. He was accused of claiming something which did belong to him, the loss of a child, as he never had an older son called Scotty. He mentions that subconsciously Scotty could represent his youngest child, Charlie-Ben, who has cerebral palsy. The author wrestled with the choice to change the story’s narrator to an entirely fictional one and lose much of the story’s impact or keep all of the personal details linking narrator to author but also keep the shaky moral ground on which he stood. The compromise was to publish the story as it was but print the explanatory essay as an afterword. Is this just another device to blur the lines of fact and fiction, an echo of the story’s first line? It is difficult to tell where fiction ends and fact begins.
Card, Orson Scott, 1992, The Changed Man, New York: A Tor Book, Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.