An Ode to Animorphs
Recently, after I watched the latest movie in the Avatar series - yes, the one with the blue people - it got me thinking about why I like the series so much, and I realized it's not the only "blue alien falls in love with human ultimately resulting in inter-species transmogrification" story that I love. That got me thinking about Animorphs.
Actually, I never stopped thinking about Animorphs. Despite the fact that I read through the series when I was in grade school, and despite the fact that it was written for children, the dark themes and situations, cast of complex characters, and moral quandaries presented within have stuck with me for my entire life.
I know what you're thinking - Animorphs, really? Those weird kids' books with the embarrassing 90s cover art? The low-budget, forgettable Nickelodeon show? The next generation of the Babysitter's Club? The rag-tag Captain Planet squad of kids? Maybe you read a few of them as a kid and it didn't really stick with you, or maybe you were too old or too young to bother. It's hard to imagine that anything but nostalgia that could make me make such bold claims about Animorphs being so deep.
Animorphs was dark. Animorphs was often disturbing, and no one got a happy ending. War, morality, ethics, genocide, torture, psychopathy, love, betrayal, loss of innocence, and sacrifice are all themes that were explored in Animorphs.
I don't think anyone who didn't engage with the series understands or cares to, and why should they? But oddly I feel like this important part of my childhood and myself is misunderstood as a result and I have a desire to get more people to understand what I felt. Although I haven't read any of the books since I was a teenager, and the writing is very simple so my childhood imagination read between the lines and filled in the blanks, many quotes and situations throughout the story still evoke emotion and still make me think about them, and I want to share them with you.
So let's start at the beginning...
(Massive spoilers ahead)
The story does not begin with Earth, humans, or the Animorphs. Two alien species, the Yeerks and the Andalites, are engaged in a bitter war spanning the galaxy and humans eventually become unknowing pawns in this war. But before that there was Seerow's Kindness.
Prince Seerow was an Andalite scientist and researcher that led the first expedition to the Yeerk homeworld. Andalites are a highly intelligent and advanced race of space-faring aliens that look like blue centaurs with no mouths that communicate with their minds using thought-speak. They also recently developed a technology that allows them to absorb the DNA of creatures they touch and morph into them at will.
When Seerow arrives on this new planet, he discovers two sentient species that evolved and live in an almost symbiotic harmony: a highly-intelligent and slug-like parasitic species known as the Yeerks, and a host species with low intelligence and poor motor skills known as the Gedd. Yeerks can burrow into the ear canal of a sentient species, wrap around the brain stem, and take control of the host. In their natural state, Yeerks are blind and helpless, and need to return to their pool to feed every three days.
Seerow befriends the Yeerks and teaches them writing, science, technology, and space travel. He takes pity on them and believes they have the right to join other sentient races, and seeks to form a peaceful coalition of cooperation and understanding between the two species. This era of harmony doesn't last long - a group of Yeerks rebel and betray the Andalites, steal several ships and escape to space with intent to expand their empire, find new hosts, and not be forever playing second fiddle to the Andalites.
You're a fool, Seerow. A soft, sentimental, well-meaning fool. And now my men are dead and the Yeerks are loose in the galaxy. How many will die before we can bring this contagion under control? How many will die for Seerow's kindness? — Alloran
This event leads to the start of the Andalite-Yeerk War, and the creation of the sarcastically named Seerow's Kindness law, in which Andalites must never give their advanced technology to any other race.
Already, I'm intrigued by how the supposed heroes and villains are compelling and not so black-and-white. The war does not begin with a conquest for land or a fight for ideology, but with an innocent act of naive kindness. Although the Andalites are our supposed heroes, they're full of arrogance and pride. And although the Yeerks are our clear villains, it is possible to empathize with their situation.
The First Innocents
After the events on the Yeerk homeworld, the disgraced Seerow is exiled to a new planet with his family. This new planet is the homeworld of the Hork-Bajir, a fearsome looking but peaceful race of tree-dwelling reptilians. The Hork-Bajir are a simple tribal people that have not even discovered music or art yet. Once every several generations, a special Hork-Bajir capable of deep understanding and intelligence known as a seer is born to the people, who is seen as a harbinger of change.
One such seer, named Dak Hamee, is living on the Hork-Bajir homeworld when Seerow and his family are stationed there. Seerow's daughter Aldrea befriends Dak, and they begin to form a bond sharing each other's culture and knowledge.
Soon enough, the Yeerks show up for their first planetary conquest, and Aldrea's family are among the first casualties. The Hork-Bajir have no concept of killing or war, making them incredibly simple to subjugate and turn into Controllers. Aldrea encourages Dak to teach his people to fight, and together they form a resistance force against the Yeerks.
"You are the seer. You were born to teach your people a new thing. Maybe you were born to teach your people to fight."
"I hoped I had been chosen to show my people all the things your father tried to show the Yeerks. I wanted to teach them music. Writing. Art..." — Aldrea and Dak
Dak leads his people knowing it's the only way to save them, but feels a deep remorse for introducing war and violence to his people who only knew peace.
"We don’t unleash a plague of parasites on the galaxy, endangering every other free species, and then go swaggering around like the lords of the universe. No, we’re too simple for all that. We're too stupid to lie and manipulate. We're too stupid to be ruthless. We're too stupid to know how to build powerful weapons designed to annihilate our enemies. Until you came, Andalite, we were too stupid to know how to kill." — Dak
Aldrea believes the Andalites will show up and save them, but the Andalite force led by War-Prince Alloran that eventually does arrive is not enough to turn the tide of the war. After many months of guerilla warfare, Alloran turns to drastic measures and plans to release a biological weapon called the Quantum Virus on the planet. The virus targets Hork-Bajir biology, and would kill all the Hork-Bajir on the planet, whether controlled by Yeerk or not.
"You ask me to kill my own people today and to lead my people in killing their brothers. You say they are not Hork-Bajir, but Yeerks. But when the dead have given up their souls to Mother Sky, there will be Hork-Bajir bodies lying dead." — Dak
When Aldrea learns of this plan, she and Dak try to stop Alloran but are thwarted by a Yeerk named Esplin 9466, ranked Sub-Visser Twelve in the current Yeerk regime and one of the first Hork-Bajir-Controllers. They fail to prevent the release of the virus. Aldrea becomes disillusioned with her species, defects and morphs into a female Hork-Bajir. A morph becomes permanent if two hours pass without returning to the original form, and Aldrea becomes a Hork-Bajir forever.
The war is lost; Alloran and his Andalite forces abandon the planet and Alloran, now disgraced, is henceforth known as the Butcher of Hork-Bajir. Aldrea and Dak hide away in a deep valley the virus does not reach, and have a child they name Seerow. Eventually the Yeerks take full control of the planet and its inhabitants, and completely ravage the natural habitat. Aldrea and Dak are killed, and their child is made into a Controller.
Would he leave me? No. He cared for me. We had more in common than he could ever have with any Hork-Bajir. It was too late for Dak: He knew that the stars were not flowers. — Aldrea
This story was a lot to take in. It really shows that everyone loses in war. Dak's loss of innocence, Alloran's loss of humanity, Aldrea's loss of hope and optimism, the innocents caught in the crossfire. It becomes increasingly difficult to root for the Andalites when they're advocating for actual genocide. I appreciate that K.A. Applegate respected her readers enough, young children that we were, to be able to engage with these themes.
Although Aldrea, Dak, their child, and the Hork-Bajir homeworld are doomed, all hope is not completely lost. Many generations down the line, a seer will be born of their descendants who, having grown up in the midst of war, has no reservations about fighting back.
The Discovery of Humans
The end of the Hork-Bajir War is far from the last we see of disgraced War-Prince Alloran. Many years later, well into the Andalite-Yeerk War, Alloran - no longer in a position of much importance, although the atrocities he committed have been mostly kept quiet - oversees a simple transport mission with two Andalite cadets, Elfangor and Arbron.
Their task is to return two humans back to Earth: Loren and Chapman, who have been essentially abducted by a mischiveous species of aliens called the Skrit Na. True to character, Alloran has no qualms ordering Elfangor to flush the cargo on the ship - thousands of defenseless Yeerks. Elfangor refuses. Still, it seems Alloran's time in the last war has left him with some mental scars as well.
"So, Loren, Daddy went nutso, huh? Another whacked-out 'Nam vet? I guess some guys can't take it."
"Be quiet, fool. Those who have been to war understand. Those who have not have no opinion worth hearing. Even those who return from war may never really come home." — Chapman and Alloran
Elfangor and Loren discover that they are curious about each other's life and culture and begin to form a friendship on the journey.
"Do humans dream?"
"I do. Every night."
"So do I." — Elfangor and Loren
Soon the mission is interrupted, as the Andalites discover that the Skrit Na also inadvertently made off with a machine known the Time Matrix, the most potentially dangerous weapon in the galaxy. The Time Matrix is known in Andalite lore as having been created by an all-powerful being called the Ellimist, but Elfangor thought both the Time Matrix and the Ellimist were just a myth. The Andalites are desperate to stop the Skrit Na before they realize what they possess and sell it to the Yeerks. The humans get strung along as the Andalites head to the Yeerk colony on the Taxxon homeworld.
The Taxxons are a sentient, hive-minded species that resemble enormous centipedes and live in a state of eternal hunger - a raging, insatiable and irresistible instinct to consume. Unlike other species, the Taxxons willingly exchanged their freedom for the promise of a constant supply of fresh meat from the Yeerks. Even Yeerk Controllers cannot overpower a Taxxon in a bloodlust-induced feeding frenzy. Taxxons will not even hesitate to turn to cannibalism when faced with a wounded of their own kind.
The Yeerk Esplin is stationed on the Taxxon homeworld, his rank now upgraded to Sub-Visser Seven. Having realized that a Yeerk's host body becomes a political indication of power, he is obsessed with idea of being the first to infest an Andalite.
"There is one other possibility, Andalite. There has never been an Andalite-Controller. None of us has ever succeeded in capturing an Andalite alive. Your warriors use that nasty Andalite tail blade on themselves rather than be taken alive. Such a waste. Really. See, I want to be the first to have an Andalite body." — Esplin 9466
The three Andalites acquire Taxxon morphs on the homeworld, and do some reconnaissance before getting separated during a frenzy. By the time Elfangor and Arbron meet up again, Elfangor realizes with horror that Arbron is still in his Taxxon form - Arbron had passed the two-hour time limit and will forever be trapped in a Taxxon body.
Initially, Arbron tries and fails to get Elfangor to kill him. Elfangor refuses and they get separated (and then Elfangor has a whole montage of discovering Earth through cigarette ads in a magazine and driving a Mustang through the Taxxon desert while drinking Dr. Pepper and blasting The Rolling Stones...) by the next time Elfangor and Arbron meet, Arbron had discovered the Living Hive and the Taxxons who were still loyal to their own kind, and decides to aid their war of resistance against the Yeerks.
"Don't pity me, Elfangor. I am glad I didn't die. Any life is better than none. And no matter how awful things seem, there is always meaning and purpose to be found." — Arbron
Elfangor meets back up with Alloran who has captured the Yeerk Esplin, who he plans to use as leverage to get off the planet. Once again Alloran commands Elfangor to flush the Yeerks, but once again Elfangor refuses and discovers the reason for Alloran's disgrace.
"They are the enemy. Hypocrites! You're all hypocrites! We lost the Hork-Bajir war because of weak, moralizing fools like you! Because of fools like you, I am disgraced and shunned and sent off on trivial errands. What is the difference how you destroy the enemy? What does it matter if you kill them with a tail blade or shredder or quantum virus?" — Alloran
Secretly working together, Chapman knocks out Alloran and Esplin infects Alloran's body and becomes the first Yeerk controlled Andalite.
He stood there, rage on his face. Alloran. War-Prince Alloran-Semitur-Corrass. But not really Alloran anymore. For the rest of my life I would remember that moment. The moment when I looked for the first time upon the abomination. — Elfangor
Elfangor and Loren manage to escape with the Time Matrix on the ship, but they can't evade the Sub-Visser for long, who has now been elevated to a Visser position. Eventually, all three fight for control of the Time Matrix, and get transported to a new world. When Elfangor comes to, he sees the Guide Tree from his homeworld and believes himself to be home, but looking up at the sky he notices the red and gold of his own sky interspersed with the blue sky and clouds of Earth and lightning-torn green sky of the Yeerk homeworld. The memories and desires of Elfangor, Loren, and Esplin combined created a patchwork world.
Elfangor finds Loren and as they travel through this newly-devised world, it only becomes more bizarre. Any sentient beings they encounter turn out to be simple representations formed from bits and pieces of their memories. Loren sees a boy she knows, but his splotchy, pustule ridden face is completely devoid of eyes, as his acne was all Loren ever noticed of him in the real world.
Eventually they find the Time Matrix in a spiral at the center of the new universe. Elfangor decides due to the shame of being responsible for the existence of the first Andalite-Controller, the horror leaving Arbron behind, and the knowledge of what Andalites have done and what they might do with the Time Matrix technology, that he will go with Loren back to Earth.
Elfangor decides to leave the war behind forever and morphs into a human, taking the name Alan Fangor. He buries the Time Matrix deep in a forest. He goes to college to be a computer scientist (and teaches his friends Bill and Steve a few things). And he marries Loren. Elfangor starts a new life, and for three years he lives as a human far away from the battles raging across the galaxy on distant stars.
However, Elfangor's self-imposed exile will not last. The Ellimist, creator of the Time Matrix, arrives to right the wrongs of the alternate timeline Elfangor has created. He gives Elfangor the choice to stay and allow the galaxy to fall into chaos under the Yeerks, or return and become the War-Prince he was meant to be.
"You refused to slaughter defenseless prisoners. You refused to destroy yourself in order to win a battle. You are wise, for a primitive creature. But you also altered the course of time by using the Time Matrix. And that has created awful problems. For your people. For both your peoples. Your peoples need you. You are not where and when you should be, Elfangor." — Ellimist
The Ellimist conveniently fails to mention that Loren was pregnant before restoring the timeline, erasing her memories of all that had conspired.
"No! You can't take me away! I have a son! That changes everything! Don't take me away!" — Elfangor
Although Elfangor leads his people to victory in many battles, his already tragic story will not end any happier. After crash-landing in an abandoned construction site on Earth during a battle with Esplin - now upgraded to Visser Three - he encounters five young humans. In a last-ditch effort, he breaks the law of Seerow's Kindness and gives them the morphing technology before being mercilessly devoured by Visser Three in morph.
In a small thread of hope, one of the humans with the new technology is his son, Tobias. Tobias's story is hardly any less tragic - abandoned by his mother at birth, he grows up being shuffled between an alcoholic uncle and apathetic aunt. Tobias experienced no love in his childhood. When Tobias gets trapped in the body of a hawk and disappears from human life, there is no one to notice or care.
The Ellimist intervenes in its twisted way, giving Tobias the ability to become a human, but only for two hours at a time, leaving the hawk form as his permanent body. Even as Tobias begins to find meaning in his life through his friends and the battle against the Yeerks, he ultimately gets kidnapped and tortured, and sees the woman he loves get murdered before his eyes. Tobias never recovers, severing his last remaining connections with humanity. Maybe the Ellimist should have just let Elfangor be a dad.
Our story leaves off in the middle of the war, but does not explain how the Yeerks came to infiltrate humanity...
The Yeerks, now let loose upon the galaxy, are in search of what they consider a Class Five species: a species that is a viable for infestation with no biological drawbacks, that exist in large numbers and do not possess the military power and technology to present a challenge for invasion.
A low-ranking Yeerk named Edriss 562, ranked Sub-Visser 409, hears about humanity through Esplin's report from the Taxxon homeworld with Loren and Chapman. Suspecting that humans might be a Class Five species and desiring the glory of discovering them herself, she hijacks and ship and heads for the region where Earth is thought to be, along with a subordinate named Essam.
After obtaining information from their first victim, a solider in Desert Storm, the Yeerks head to America, believing it to be the most powerful sector - and Hollywood to be the most important, according to the broadcasts they discovered. Edriss finds and infests a drug addict known as Jenny Lines, and Essam's finds a host in a movie producer she is acquainted with.
"This human has suffered what the humans consider to be the most horrific torture and deprivation in their history. An experience in his youth that even a Taxxon would find cruel. I believe he has weaknesses, but is not weak."
"No, Essam, you are wrong. They are not a strong species with a few weaknesses. They are weak, with but a few strengths. We will not have to conquer humans. They will conquer themselves. They will come to us willingly and make themselves our slaves." — Edriss and Essam
In need of a more useful host, Edriss disposes of Jenny Lines and infects a scientist named Allison Kim, and she begins to learn more about the resiliency of the human spirit.
Allison fought me. What a glorious fight she made of it! I used to toy with her, withdraw some small bit of my control, just to see how long it would take her to find the weakness and attempt to exploit it.
Once I surrendered control of a single eye. Allison discovered that she could change the direction of that one eye. She waited a week, til I was driving a car on a busy road, going at a high speed. Then, at the perfect moment, she closed her eye. She had been trying to kill herself, and me. Better dead than a Controller. — Edriss
Essam, in turn, takes a new host named Hildy Gervais. Far from the Empire and sentenced to death for disobeying orders, Essam and Edriss begin to fade into human life, reveling in their new senses. Through Allison's romantic attraction to Hildy and Edriss's feelings for Essam, the four fall in love, resulting in Edriss becoming the mother of two human children through her host body.
"I love you, Edriss. And I love these small humans. Our children. One thing we swear, the four of us, the children will survive." — Essam
Caught between her ambitions and her desire to bask in the experience of being a human, Edriss decides she must find a way to infiltrate humans from within.
Starvation lay ahead. Essam said he would die rather than contact the Empire. Not me. I wasn’t ready to die. I loved life as a human. Loved my life as Allison Kim, as Hildy's wife, as a mother. — Edriss
Edriss invents the idea of The Sharing, a front organization and subtle cult for vulnerable people (similar to the real life Landmark]). She takes a secondary host to be the leader, and uses San Francisco as a base.
It would cater to one of the most fundamental human weaknesses: the need to belong. The fear of loneliness. The hunger to be special. The craving for an exaggerated importance. I would make a haven for the weak, the inadequate, the fearful. — Edriss
The Sharing consists of an Outer-Sharing and Inner-Sharing. To any observer, the Outer-Sharing seems like a community center with events like cookouts and rafting trips; something to bring your friends and family to. If and when a person voluntarily decides they wish to join the Inner-Sharing, they are told they will become a part of something beautiful and bigger than themselves, discover their true potential and be the best person they can become.
Joining the Inner-Sharing means willingly submitting and being infested by a Yeerk. In this way, the slow subjugation of Earth begins, unbeknownst to the general human population. After the first human submits, Edriss contacts the Empire with proof, and the plan is put into operation.
Horrified by everything that's happening, Hildy/Essam rebel against Edriss, free Allison, and escape with the children, but it doesn't last long. Edriss manages to track them down, kills Allison, and tears Essam in half as he crawls out of Hildy's ear, killing Essam and rendering Hildy insane.
Edriss rises to the rank of Visser One, the highest military rank among the Yeerks, answering only to the Council of Thirteen. She takes a new human host, a woman named Eva, and stages her death. However, Eva has a son named Marco, who happened to be one of the kids walking through the abandoned construction site on that fateful night...
And Finally, the Animorphs
Everything I've mentioned so far has been backstory and build-up to the Animorphs.
Animorphs was a book series that came out in 1996, when I was seven. Even as a young grade schooler I was embarrassed by the cover, but I was enthralled by the story. Every month, a new book would come out, and if I could scrounge up five dollars, I'd buy it.
When I think back on it, the books had even more of an impact on my young self than I remembered - my first ever online screenname was Morph, one of the first websites I ever made was a little Animorphs fan site, and something about Andalite thought-speak and HTML is
<forever linked> in my mind.
The books were not all of particularly high quality - in order to meet the monthly quotas, ghost writers were hired, and the books in the middle of the run were often questionable filler - but the first books, last books, and supplemental world building books were highly engaging.
The Animorphs follows our Breakfast Club cast of misfit who were in the abandoned construction site that night: Jake, the fearless leader; his cousin Rachel, a popular girl at school who finds more joy in the fighting than expected; "kill 'em then cry over them" Cassie, the team's voice of morality; Marco, the comic relief and the son of Visser One's host; and Tobias, the Three Wolf Moon shirt-wearing dweeb with a sad upbringing. And later Aximili, Elfangor's younger brother.
They can't tell you their full names. They can't tell you where they live. Because nothing is safe, and anyone you know - your brother, your dad, your teacher, your best friend - might be under a Yeerk's control right now.
Before Elfangor died, he gave the group the power to morph and told them the Andalite fleet might take a year or more to show up. If they don't want Earth to be completely taken over by then, they'll have to fight. At first the kids shrug it off, but Jake soon discovers that his brother, Tom, is a Controller. The group goes on their first mission to save Tom. They fail - and Tobias gets forever stuck in his hawk body - but from then on they become the Animorphs.
Right from the start, the stakes are high. Tobias's human life is over, and Jake's brother is one of them. As the series progresses, it only gets darker as they have to deal with the horrors they're committing and their own mental torment.
Rachel, once just a pretty girl who liked shopping and gymnastics, discovers that she revels in the thrill of violence and killing in her new Animorphs role. She takes the form of a grizzly bear, and is always down for any plan, no matter how dangerous or gruesome. She becomes the one who does the dirty work, the deeds no one else in the group wants on their conscience.
Lately, it's been scaring me that I like it. That I look forward to it so much. I can't help myself. It's like I'm addicted or something. Addicted to danger. Addicted to defeating the Yeerk invaders. - Rachel
At one point, another human named David gains the ability to morph but turns out to be a sadistic psychopath. Rachel is the one who carries out a plan to trap him in a cage until he's stuck in rat morph, and leave him stranded on an island as he pleads for Rachel to kill him.
By the end of the series, Jake has to give the order to Rachel to kill his brother, Tom, who is the host for a high-ranking Yeerk. He also gives the order to flush 17,000 Yeerks in a pool into space.
Tom was dead. And I wondered how I was ever going to explain it. I had ordered my cousin to execute my brother. How would I ever explain that? All these years I'd fought to keep us all alive, to stop the Yeerks, always with the hope that someday I would save my brother, that he would come back, that he'd be Tom again. That was why I'd enlisted in the war to begin with. I was going to save Tom. Tom was dead. The Yeerk in his head was dead. And Rachel. - Jake
Rachel also dies and Tobias, who loves her, loses the last shred of what keeps him tethered to humanity, escaping to the woods and living fully as a hawk.
And ultimately, the whole story is actually a universe-spanning 4D chess game between two powerful entities, the Ellimist and the Crayak (similar to the Vorlons and the Shadows in Babylon 5) with all the rest of the characters just being pawns in their war.
The Author's Take
Nobody got a happy ending in Animorphs, which did not sit well with many readers. K.A. Applegate wrote a letter to the fans with her thoughts about it.
Animorphs was always a war story. Wars don’t end happily. Not ever. Often relationships that were central during war, dissolve during peace. Some people who were brave and fearless in war are unable to handle peace, feel disconnected and confused. Other times people in war make the move to peace very easily. Always people die in wars. And always people are left shattered by the loss of loved ones.
So, you don’t like the way our little fictional war came out? You don’t like Rachel dead and Tobias shattered and Jake guilt-ridden? You don’t like that one war simply led to another? Fine. Pretty soon you’ll all be of voting age, and of draft age. So when someone proposes a war, remember that even the most necessary wars, even the rare wars where the lines of good and evil are clear and clean, end with a lot of people dead, a lot of people crippled, and a lot of orphans, widows and grieving parents.
If you’re mad at me because that’s what you have to take away from Animorphs, too bad. I couldn’t have written it any other way and remained true to the respect I have always felt for Animorphs readers. — K. A. Applegate
As I mentioned, a slew of dark and disturbing scenarios play out in Animorphs.
- ✅ Ethics and morality - The entire existence of Yeerks, and the fact that the only way they get to live a life that isn't completely devoid of all senses is through enslaving another creature, how far the Andalites and Animorphs will go while still being "the good guys", the killing of innocent hosts in battle
- ✅ Genocide - Alloran's usage of biological weapons against the Hork-Bajir, multiple occasions in which the Animoprhs eject thousands of defenseless Yeerks into space, or boil them alive in their own pools, the Ellimist's home planet being annihilated by another species when they think his simulation games are reality
- ✅ Torture and body horror - Tobias being relentlessly tortured by Taylor, a voluntary Controller who chose to betray humanity after being disfigured in a house fire, the Ellimist being forced to engage in mental games with a large, borg-like alien for centuries as his body hangs from a tentacle, surrounded the rotting corpses of his friends, countless situations in which the Animorphs almost get stuck trapped in horrible morphs like fleas and ants, Animorphs losing limbs and almost bleeding out during battles, Elfangor almost being eaten alive as a Taxxon
- ✅ Suicide - Allison Kim attempts to commit suicide rather than be a Controller
- ✅ PTSD - Jake's inability to cope after the war, Tobias's escape from humanity
- ✅ Love - Several stories of alien/human inter species love, such as Aldrea and Dak, Elfangor and Loren, and Visser One's strange four-way relationship. Of course, none of these ended well, and even within the Animorphs, Tobias and Rachel's story ends tragically, and Jake and Cassie grow apart after the war and part ways, as Cassie can never forgive Jake for the atrocities he's committed against his own brother, Rachel, and the Yeerks
- ✅ Psychopathy - Rachel's slow descent into an obsession with the war
- ✅ Not black and white - So much of the fiction I read as a child had pretty clear divisions without much deviation: Gryffindor good, Slytherin bad. Redwall mice good, rats bad. In Animorphs, there are Yeerks that fight for peace, and Andalites and humans that commit all manner of war crimes.
- ✅ Just a host of other messed up stuff - Rachel trapping David as a rat, a Yeerk discovering they can stay alive via cannibalism, Arbron being stuck forever in a Taxxon morph, Taxxons hunger being so overwhelming that they will auto-cannibalize if wounded, Jake recruiting physically disabled kids to be Animorphs by the end of the war and then sending them to die on suicide missions,a peaceful android species turning to violence and being forced to forever remember every detail of what they've done, Marco having to struggle with his resolve to kill his own mother if it comes to it, etc.
And this is a broad take of the things I remember. So much of this has stayed with me, despite the fact that I read the whole series before I was even a preteen.
I really don't know if I'd recommend an adult to read Animorphs. Most of these books I read when I was 7-10 years old, and while the themes are very adult, the prose is very simple and full of onomatopoeia, and the books are full of dated '90s references, and there are a lot of them. As an adult, it's much harder to read between the lines and use your imagination to fill in all the blanks.
I don't tend to have a very good memory for the details of most books after reading them, but Animorphs has stayed with me through the years. I'm sad that the TV show was so bad, and I have little hope for any good adaptation, but I find the world created around Animorphs to be fascinating, as well as the feelings that come along with all these stories. I wrote this article to share the backstory of this world with an audience who I don't expect to ever read the books.
And there will always be a soft spot in my soul for a blue alien who falls in love with a human.
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