'Ender's Game' and the Most Intense Graduation Requirements in SFF
Because sci-fi and fantasy stories take place in other lands, planets and even dimensions, it makes sense that its writers often ground us in a very universal setting: high school. Whether getting their pilot's stripes or training to be a knight, SFF protagonists frequently endure hellish tests, all to ensure that they're hardy enough to face the real dangers lurking outside the walls of their academy/institute/school. That is, if they can survive final exams first.
Lionsgate just released the first full-length trailer for "Ender's Game," its upcoming adaptation of Orson Scott Card's novel. In Battle School, Ender Wiggin and his squad train in simulated space battles to fight the invading threat--but soon learn there is something much more sinister behind their classes. With these five other novels that have their own deadly graduation requirements, they're in good company.
Final test: The Chamber of the Ordeal
As much as I always wanted to be a lady knight like Pierce's iconic character, I quickly decided that I would never make it through the Chamber. All the bruises, broken bones and brushes with death hardly prepare Alanna and her fellow squires for entering the room that will determine their worth. It's unclear what force resides within the Chamber, though it's not a god and it doesn't care about right and wrong. If a reprehensible squire can make it through facing his greatest fears, he passes. If the most shining candidate opens his mouth anytime during the Ordeal, he dies.
Final test: Command School simulator
Warning: Spoilers for the book, so if your first introduction is the trailer, skip this entry. Though small like Alanna, Ender is isolated from his cohorts by Commander Graff, who believes that isolating his young charge from his inferior peers is the best way to mold the boy into a war hero. But when Ender is promoted to Command School and enters his final battle simulation, he discovers the horrifying truth about how much he's been lied to: What he thought was a training exercise was actually him destroying the Bugger homeworld.
Final test: O.W.L.s
Part of Rowling's talent was presenting the mundane aspects of everyday life in a magical way--including the academic rigors of school. Even though by book six of the series, Voldemort is starting a second war, Harry and his friends still have to take their Ordinary Wizarding Levels (O.W.L.s). Think the SAT subject tests, but with much cooler focuses like Transfiguration, Runes and the Dark Arts. And just when they've heaved a sigh of relief over passing, the following year Harry and pals take the N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests).
Final test: Battle to the death
Jacen and Jaina Solo are already enrolled at the school of their choice when they get kidnapped and brought to the Shadow Academy to train in the dark side. There, Sith Lord Tamith Kai tries to bribe Jacen with his very own lightsaber and tricks both twins into thinking they're fighting their grandfather Darth Vader when actually they're dueling each other. (Foreshadowing for Jacen's eventual turn to the dark side?) Thankfully, these two get "expelled" before graduation when Lando Calrissian swoops in to save them.
Final test: The Testing
Usually finals and graduation are the toughest part of high school. But in the United Commonwealth--formed after a world war fought with devastating radiation--certain graduating seniors are handpicked to participate in the Testing. Transported to Tosu City, they must ace written exams and take on real-world scenarios in which a wrong answer means mutilation or death. Most importantly, these future leaders must learn to identify their potential allies and deadly opponents.
Final test: Kill a puppy
No, really. When young Unsullied soldiers are castrated, each receives a puppy to care for. At the end of the puppy's first year, the soldier must strangle it. They're also required to kill a baby in front of its slave mother but, if you can believe it, most find the puppy harder to kill.