Book #1 in the series Animorphs
by K.A. Applegate.
Disclaimer: If you've heard of Animorphs and you're thinking "Aww, how cute," maybe you should put aside any preconceived notions before reading this node.
Animorphs is rather misunderstood as a series, partly because it is marketed to children and partly because it had a rather sad television show with especially hokey effects. I have no doubt that if the language had been upped a notch and the adolescent-sized paperbacks had been sold instead as twelve or thirteen adult-oriented novels, it would have been accepted by the adult population. Its themes, characters, and plots are on par with much of the adult science fiction out there, and some people would be surprised upon reading one of these that they'd ever let their children read them.
The language is almost squeaky clean. There is almost no romance. But there is a WHOLE lot of violence (involving people getting killed and dismembered--even the good guys!), graphic descriptions, and above all, the very UN-childish gray areas between good and evil, right and wrong. These books involve lying, stealing, vandalism, car theft, breaking and entering, hostage-taking, threatening the lives of innocents, murder, and genocide. (That's just the list of crimes committed by the good guys, there, though at least they have nightmares about it.) There is a scene in which a main character has her arm chopped off by a bad guy, and responds by grabbing her own severed arm and beating the villain to death with it. Politics, alliances, and loyalties play large parts in the scheme of things. And good guys die while bad guys live. This is not children turning into animals and going on picnics.
That said, this node is a fairly exhaustive article full of information about the first Animorphs book. If it's well-received (or at least, not downvoted into oblivion), I'd like to post articles on more of these books. Onward.
by K.A. Applegate
Summarized Plot: Jake and his friends Rachel, Cassie, Marco, and Tobias meet a dying alien, who tells them their world is being invaded by mind-stealing aliens and that their only weapon is to accept technology that will allow them to turn into any animal they can touch. After wrestling with fear and denial, the group of children begin to accept their roles as warriors and begin to carry out their first missions trying to gather information about who is being controlled by the Yeerk slugs and what they are up to, and free those they love from the threat.
Detailed Plot: Jake is a middle school student who's good at basketball and video games. He and his friends Rachel, Cassie, Marco, and Tobias happen to be walking home from the mall together and end up cutting through an abandoned construction site. There they see strange lights and witness an actual spaceship landing! They make contact with the alien piloting the ship; it's some kind of strange mix between a deer, a human, and a scorpion (because of the bladed tail), except it is blue and has a set of eyes on stalks as well as the eyes in its head, and has no mouth. The alien explains (using his species' communication form, thought-speak) that he is an Andalite prince named Elfangor, and that he is dying, having been wounded in battle. He is being pursued by a deadly enemy named Visser Three, who is of the race of Yeerks. Yeerks have been on Earth for several years already, and are planning on taking over the planet (and others). Elfangor and his people are trying to stop them from doing this, but since Earth does not appear to be their number one priority, the humans have no weapons against this secret invasion. The Yeerks are slug-like creatures that can physically enter their subjects' heads and wrap around the victim's brain, and then completely control the victim as well as read their mind. Therefore, the Yeerks can make their bodies act exactly like the person whose identity they've usurped, so no one suspects anything, and they plan to keep doing this until they have enough people to win a war once it becomes public. The Yeerks' only real weakness is that in order to survive, they need exposure to a special kind of radiation called Kandrona rays, and once every three days or so they must come out of their enslaved creature to feed. They have secret places where the feedings take place; armed guards watch cages of the temporarily freed slaves while the Yeerks swim around in the pool, and then the slaves' heads are forced under the water again, and the Yeerks resume control. The Andalite prince tells all of this to the scared children, and then tells them they can have a small chance to fight against the Yeerks until the Andalite army can make it to the planet and kick the Yeerks' butts for them.
Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Marco, and Tobias have to make the decision whether they want to be involved in this war. They don't have much time since the Visser is liable to show up any second and finish Elfangor off. Ultimately, of course, the kids decide to take the weapon. They are told to put their hands on a special blue box, which is supposed to give them the power to acquire DNA from any animal they can touch, and then, through the technology of the Andalites, actually turn into the animal whose DNA was copied (but only for two hours or less, because if they stay in one morph any longer than that, they will be trapped). That way they can become stronger in order to fight, as well as become smaller in order to spy, and of course they would be able to have eyes in the sky as birds or investigate the oceans as fish; it's the perfect disguise and weapon. The only problem is, the Yeerk leader of the invasion on Earth, Visser Three, also has this power. Because he is the only Yeerk in the history of the galaxy to steal the body of an Andalite soldier, and generally all the Andalite military use the morphing technology. (Andalites are quite offended by this and refer to the Visser as "The Abomination.") The other creatures the Yeerks use are Hork-Bajir, aliens that have bodies covered in natural blades; Taxxons, a type of giant carnivorous worm; and Gedds, the unfortunate slow and stupid primate-like aliens that were native to the Yeerks' home world. And now, they have humans.
The Visser arrives and threatens Prince Elfangor, and makes a big show out of killing him in front of the children, who are incredulously watching the scene from behind a wall. The Visser turns into a giant monster and eats the Andalite while the Taxxons scramble for the scraps. The kids run away, and though they are pursued they escape.
The next morning, Jake is greeted by Tobias, who comes over to tell him that he has successfully morphed into his cat. He gets Jake to try it (morphing into his dog, Homer), and they experiment with their powers and set up a meeting with Rachel, Marco, and Cassie, at Cassie's farm. Cassie's parents are veterinarians and they run the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. During the meeting, they share a newspaper article, which reports that there was a disturbance at the construction site and reports of flying saucers. But alarmingly, the article goes on to say that the cops had just found teenagers playing with fireworks. They have to assume that Yeerks are trying to cover up the truth, which leads them to realize just how paranoid they're going to have to be with this. Anyone could be a Controller!
They discuss what they're going to do. Marco doesn't want to get involved, because if he gets killed in this crazy war, his father will totally be unable to handle it. (Marco's mom disappeared and was presumed dead a couple years back, and his father still hasn't gotten over it.) Then Cassie comes up, having morphed into a horse. Just as she's turning back, a policeman drives up and almost sees her, but she quickly morphs back to human before he can see. The cop interrogates them about whether they know anything about the supposed fireworks-using teenagers, and after they assure him they know nothing, the cop points out that Jake looks like someone he knows named Tom. Turns out the cop knows Jake's brother Tom from the organization they're both in, called The Sharing. No one thinks anything of this at the time.
When the cop leaves, they begin arguing about what to do with their morphing power. Marco reiterates that he's not going to do it, and Rachel says it's kind of too big for a bunch of kids to save the world. But Tobias insists that he wants to do what the Andalite asked, and fight. Since they can't trust anyone not to be a Controller, Jake agrees that at this point they have no choice, but they need to think about it. Marco and Jake go home to play video games, and then his own brother comes over and starts interrogating them about the construction site, asking if they saw anything coming home from the mall the night before. And just like the cop, Tom then invites them to join The Sharing. After Tom gives up, Marco informs Jake that his brother has got to be one of them, a Controller. Jake hits Marco over this and they fight, but realizes he might be right. Then Tobias shows up, morphed as a hawk.
They let Tobias in and he turns human again, and Tobias reveals that he was flying around looking for Yeerk pools. Marco tells him he shouldn't be doing those things, but Tobias says that no matter what the group decides, he's still going to fight.
They decide that The Sharing must be a front organization for the Yeerks, and agree to let Tom take them to the meeting. Jake brings his friends, but Tobias goes in hawk form, keeping a lookout. After the kids play volleyball with the Sharing members and Jake is convinced there's no way these guys are aliens, he has a discussion with his brother. Tom tells him about how it's even more fun when you're a full member, and when Jake asks about that, he swears he can see a sort of twitch in his brother's face, like the real Tom is trying to warn him. Tom slips off to go to a full members' meeting, and Jake meets up with his friends again, where they make a plan to invade that secret meeting to see what it's all about. And for Jake, he just needs confirmation that his brother is one of them.
Jake morphs a dog, and with information Tobias has gathered, he finds the insider meeting. He wanders up, disguised, and overhears the vice principal of his school coming to make a speech. They're all in a tizzy because the kids from the construction site haven't been found, and Tom announces that his brother might have been one of them. When he says, "Either we make him ours, or kill him," Jake has his confirmation. He also hears that Tom will be going back to feed at the Yeerk pool on Monday. Jake mopes about, kind of getting lost in the pleasures of being a dog in order to get his mind off the serious situation, and Cassie tries to get his attention but is sighted by a Controller policeman, where she claims she was looking for shells. Jake remembers what he's supposed to be doing. The kids regroup as the meeting is breaking up, and Jake asks Cassie for help in finding a morph that will allow him to spy on the vice principal. He means to save his brother next time he goes back to the Yeerk pool. Cassie suggests Jake morph a lizard.
Jake does indeed morph a lizard, in his locker at school. He hasn't practiced the morph at all, so when the instincts of the lizard kick in, he's very afraid. He scurries around and tries to find Chapman's office, but ends up eating a spider instead, much to his own surprise. Then he gets his tail stepped on, and it snaps right off. He realizes that's Chapman that stepped on him, and decides to follow him. He thinks Chapman is going to his office, but for some reason, he goes inside the janitor's closet. Jake follows, and finds that Chapman can open a secret passageway in the closet. It leads directly to the Yeerk pool. Right under his own school.
The kids meet at the mall and decide what to do. After a discussion and a vote, they decide they'll be going into the Yeerk pool, for various reasons. (Jake, for his brother. Tobias, for the Andalite. Rachel, because the responsibility can't be ignored. Marco, because Jake's his best friend. Cassie, because she's fighting for Mother Earth.) They decide to go to The Gardens, where Cassie's mom works, to acquire some battle morphs. Marco comes up with the title "Animorphs."
At The Gardens, Cassie gets them in the back way and Jake convinces Marco to acquire the DNA of a gorilla. But as soon as that happens, they get caught by a security guard. A little chase ensues, and they lose the guard by getting away in a golf cart, even though Marco cannot drive. But then they encounter other security people, and run into an animal exhibit to escape. Unfortunately it's the tiger habitat.
By acquiring the tiger, Jake puts it in a trance. That buys them time to escape the exhibit. They meet up with the others, who have been acquiring other morphs the whole time. They go to their respective homes before meeting up for the night's invasion of the Yeerk pool. But before they can all meet at the school, Jake discovers Cassie is missing and no one knows where she is. They meet up anyway, and sneak into the school via an unlocked window. Finally they discover that the cop that was giving them trouble before now has Cassie as a prisoner, and he's taking her to the Yeerk pool!
They realize that they must've thought Cassie was a security risk because she got a little too close to them on the beach during their secret meeting. They make a quick plan and pretend they're just Controllers themselves, and just walk into the Yeerk pool. There they see that it's huge, not just under the school but under a large portion of the town, and they figure there must be secret entrances everywhere. They see cages where Hork-Bajir and humans are kept while their Yeerks are bathing in the Kandrona rays, and some are crying, screaming, or just waiting, beyond hope. They also see that there is a comfortable area for voluntary hosts, which surprises them; some people have agreed to house a Yeerk just to make their problems go away and be part of something big. Tobias, as a hawk, reports to the others that Cassie is on the infestation pier, about to be given a Yeerk in her head, and that Jake's brother is now in a cage screaming his head off, which is a relief to Jake because at least that means Tom wasn't a voluntary host. At this point, some guards notice them, and ask who they are. Rachel saves them by turning into an elephant and squashing the guards (killing a Taxxon and tossing a human halfway across the state). Jake follows suit and turns into a tiger to face the onslaught of Hork-Bajir coming their way.
They take out a whole bunch of Hork-Bajir and free some of the captive hosts. Tom is in the cage that they bust first. Jake is about to tell his brother who he is when he is interrupted by Rachel telling them that Cassie is next to be infested. Tobias attacks one of the Hork-Bajir and frees Cassie, and she runs away, quickly becoming a horse out of their sight so that she can get away quicker. They are just about to get away, with Tom, when Visser Three comes on the scene.
A Taxxon asks if they can be allowed to eat these "wild animals," but Visser Three replies that they are not wild animals but must be Andalite warriors. This is their perfect cover; by not allowing the Visser to know that they are actually humans, they are perfectly safe in their own homes, because they'll be looking for Andalite bandits, not humans, since humans don't have any morphing powers. The Visser threatens the Animorphs and turns into another sort of giant monster, with which he proceeds to attempt to destroy them. The monster he's morphed can throw fireballs, and he does so, almost killing the retreating Animorphs in the process. But then Tom tries to attack the Visser instead of retreating, so when the Visser trounces his brother, Jake attacks him. Then they all flee, and Visser Three's morph is too large to follow them up the stairs. Cassie manages to free one woman who was riding on her back when she was a horse. And Cassie reveals that the cop who was trying to infest her was the only one who was suspicious of her, and refuses to admit what happened to him, though the reader is led to believe that he is dead (and therefore no longer a threat). Tom, however, was not freed.
In the morning, Jake is awoken by Tobias in hawk morph, and is overjoyed to see that he survived too. But Tobias says that he had to hide out in the caves and find a good time to escape, and it took longer than two hours, so he is now trapped in the hawk morph. This realization makes Jake cry, but Tobias assures him that at least they're all alive. They make a pact to fight until the Andalites come to take over for them.
About this book:
New known controllers:
New morphs acquired:
- Jake opens the book by claiming he can't reveal his name or identifying personal information because it would help the Yeerks find him and his friends and family. The problem is, they keep up this "we can't tell you who we are" schtick throughout the series until open war is declared late in the game, and despite that even from the beginning there are multiple details that could have easily identified them. This breaking-the-fourth-wall bit is poorly conceived, because it also reveals that the Animorphs are human, and that's a detail they try to keep secret from the Yeerks (and succeed at keeping for over half the series). Just finding any five kids with their names and descriptions at a school in a known area (near The Gardens) would be a pretty easy afternoon's work for a Controller with data processing experience, but since they give even more information (siblings' and parents' names, specific recognitions the kids have gotten, etc.), it would have been cake to track the kids down if these books were actually released into the same world they're trying to hide in.
- Marco is shown to have always had the capacity to be a master strategist, an ability that comes out obviously much later in the series. Before they even become the Animorphs, Marco uses his strategy abilities to beat Jake in video games.
- It is shown even in this first book that Cassie and Jake "like" each other. Cassie asks the boys to walk with them when they cut through the construction site; if she hadn't just wanted to have a chance to be near Jake, they might not have all been together to meet the alien. It is a bold step in a children's series to have interracial dating (Cassie is black, Jake is white); not many authors have tried to cover that sort of ground in children's literature, but in these books it totally is beside the point.
- Jake only knows Tobias because he saved him from bullies once. Now Tobias sort of looks up to him, which is what got him involved in the first place. Little did he know he would pay his hero back by acting as a loyal soldier to Jake in the most bizarre war ever to hit Earth.
- The Andalite, Elfangor, is said to have a three-dimensional picture of "his family" inside the ship, and there were two that were children. Since Elfangor was an adult when Ax was born, it's unlikely that one of the children was himself, so this is suggesting that Elfangor was the father in the picture and that he had a wife and two children. But in later books there were never any references to Elfangor taking an Andalite mate or having kids. This, like several other issues that crop up in this book, is probably just a result of the author not having worked out all the details yet when she wrote the first book.
- The kids find out early on that morphing fixes injuries, so it's confusing how Elfangor, who had the morphing power, could have been mortally wounded and not morph to get rid of it. It's possible he was too exhausted, but he was in much better shape than the kids later were sometimes when they morphed to escape mortal injury, and he had enough time and energy to give instructions and information about the Yeerk invasion, so he probably should have been able to morph and fix his injury. He still would have had to deal with Visser Three, but the fight would have been very different. It is also possible he was tired of fighting and had made peace with his death, but that seems a bit unlikely . . . unless he was deliberately doing it to provide a distraction for the Animorphs' escape.
- A lot is revealed to us through the communication between Elfangor and Visser Three, right before Elfangor is destroyed. In the conversation, it is revealed that the Hork-Bajir are slaves, conquered and stolen by the Yeerks, but that the Taxxons, the giant worms, are actually allies, voluntary hosts. Also, we learn that a "visser" is a rank in the Yeerk society, and that Visser Three aspires to be Visser One. And finally, we find out why the Yeerks want humans: Because they are easy to conquer and very numerous, yet are pleasant bodies to live in.
- The fight between Visser Three and Elfangor (well, the scene in which the visser eats him) doesn't suggest that they have a very long history. They're clearly rivals, but it's a stale conversation that shows none of the very personal nature of this battle--information readers discover later in the series.
- When the kids meet the Andalite, Tobias is the most drawn to him, and seems the most sympathetic to his situation. There's a reason for this, which is revealed much later in the series.
- Jake is appointed the leader very early on, when the other kids are first looking to him to see if they would accept the power to morph. This puzzles him at first, but he is indeed the best leader, and later in the series he embraces his position.
- This book contains an inconsistency. In this book in several instances, humans were able to project their thoughts, once to the Andalite and also Jake was able to send his thoughts to Tobias while Tobias was morphed but Jake was not. This is not how the thought-communication works in later books; normally they can only direct their thoughts while in a morphed form, and at that point they can direct thoughts to one person or many however they like. But no one can just hear them thinking when they are human (as Prince Elfangor does at the beginning of this book). Ms. Applegate was asked about it in an interview, and she replied that she could make up some kind of lame excuse if she wanted, but in all honesty she'd just made a mistake and hadn't worked that out fully before incorporating it. It's been said that this is fixed in the reprint.
- Tobias is the first to morph. He turns into his pet cat. It is through that experience that they realize that morphing isn't at all painful, and that they also receive the instincts of the animals they morph into, since Tobias knows who he is while in cat morph but still somehow wants to chase strings and kill mice. Morphing also has the unfortunate side effect of making them turn up naked after they've shrunk out of their clothes, though later they do learn to morph skintight clothing as part of their human forms.
- Tobias and Jake discover through their first morphing experiences that acquiring an animal's DNA puts the animal into a trance.
- Another inconsistency was in this book: When Jake turned into his dog, it was more like he was an exact copy of Homer than the same dog from the same DNA. He seemed to have Homer's memories (e.g., he knew a bunch of information, through scent, about another male dog that Homer knew). Also, he was apparently neutered just like his dog, and in a later book the kids acquire DNA from steer and end up morphing into uncastrated bulls, which makes them quite a bit more violent. Apparently the physical details of an animal that are not genetic were still able to be copied at this stage of the game but not later. (This brings up a plethora of questions, such as how copying from DNA can possibly dictate how old they are when they morph, or things like hair growth and weight and distinctive markings acquired through life choices] and whatnot.)
- While in dog form, Jake can apparently smell something he relates to Visser Three when he gets the scent of his brother, Tom. This is because, unbeknownst to him at the time, Tom is a Controller. It seems odd that they don't use the dog's ability to smell Yeerks as a way to detect Controllers in later books.
- Cassie is revealed to be the best morpher; she is the first to learn to morph clothing and can morph with both more speed and more control than the others.
- When Tobias acquires a hawk morph from an injured hawk in Cassie's barn (a.k.a. the Wildlife Rehab Clinic), it is discovered that injuries to the acquired animal do not affect the DNA itself, so they can morph into an uninjured animal.
- The "full members" of The Sharing (a.k.a., people infested with Yeerks) have one of their meetings on an open beach where anyone can just wander up. This lack of security is amazing considering the precautions they're forced to take in later books; it's funny to read this and see Controllers just talking about their plans out in the open.
- Rachel is also revealed to kind of like Tobias, even this early on. She mentions that she cares about him, and occasionally says and does things to comfort him that she doesn't do for anyone else.
Jake (When the alien spaceship has just landed and they're wondering how to make contact): "Do you think they speak English?"
Cassie: "Well, everyone speaks English on Star Trek."
Jake: I did it Monday morning in my locker at school. I turned into a lizard. A green anole, to be exact. It's a member of the iguana family. Like you care.
Rachel: "Marco, you can't just ignore what's going on."
Marco: "Sure I can. All I have to do is remind myself that hey, guess what? I don't want to die."
Cassie: "We're fighting for Mother Earth. She has some tricks up her sleeves."
Marco: "Good grief. Let's all buy Birkenstocks and go hug some trees."
Marco: "Just tell them we're Animorphs."
Rachel: "Tell them we're what?"
Marco: "Idiot teenagers with a death wish."
Next book: The Visitor, Animorphs #2