An Animorphs Retrospective: How Book Fairs Inadvertently Taught Resistance

“I had been a survivor of mass destruction. I had been a Z-spaceship captain. I had been a helpless captive, forced to be a new type of gamer. I had evolved into something the galaxy had never seen before, a melding of many technologies, the minds of many civilizations, all flowing in and through a matrix of music. And now that strange resume seemed to match perfectly with a job that needed doing. I would be a peacemaker. And more: I would foster the growth and advancement of species.”

-The Ellimist

Supposedly, Kathrine Applegate began working on the initial drafts of the Animorphs series during long nights spent at the hospital looking after her sickly and prematurely born son. What it says about her that days after giving birth she began writing a series about a parasitic alien species that occupies unwilling human bodies I’ll leave to the reader, but regardless she, her husband, and a dread ship of ghostwriters managed to deliver one of the 90’s most well articulated and imaginative book series for young adults. That it happens to also be one of the darkest franchises ever peddled by the Scholastic Book Fair is perhaps not in itself enough to warrant extended investigation, but the extent to which the series today reads like a  prophetic and only thinly allegorical account of the crises inflicted on the world by the hive mind of NPC culture makes the series worthy of critical examination. 

If you aren’t familiar with the books, here’s a quick rundown. A group of thirteen year olds (a contentious number but I stand by it) decide to cut through a construction site on their way home from the mall, stumbling into a dying Andalite (think blue centaur with snail eyes and a scorpion tail)  that informs them that a  parasitic race of mind control slugs called Yeerks are taking over earth and enslaving human beings. He gives the kids an Escafil device which allows them to morph into animals (with several restrictions, like you must acquire the animal’s DNA via touch, you’ll be trapped if you stay in a morph for more than two hours, etc). The kids soon find out that many people they know, including their teachers, police, and families are controlled by Yeerks and wage a secret, anon campaign against the Yeerks on earth and their leader Visser Three, a Yeerk that acquired an Andalite host, giving it the ability to morph. Assisted by a young Andalite weirdo they call “Ax”. a pacifistic android, and the Ellimist, a god-like being engaged in an endless struggle across universes and timelines with the Crayak, a Sauron inspired red eye described as being a Nazi “in a moral sense”, but  with “different visions of what constitutes total power. He wants to be able to control the strands of space-time itself.” This battle is waged across multiple planets throughout the course of 54 books. I have taken pains to not reveal major plot points, but if you don’t really care just read some fandom wikis and a couple articles on the David Trilogy and you’ll have a better idea of what’s going on here. 

I remember as a child the sheer thrill of seeing the newest Animorphs covers in all their glossy grotesqueness gleaming down on me from the book fair shelves. My mother was one to always keep the doors locked and a loaded weapon in sight, but my deep existential paranoia regarding cultural narratives was surely fostered by Animorphs. Anyone around you could be a Controller, someone that is no longer able to think for themselves but that has been infected by a parasite, a social parasite luring the spiritually adrift into their community organization known as the Sharing. Because I think an understanding of how the Sharing is described is critical to this essay, I want to offer a  block quote:

 “I formed fake companies and raised millions more from the sale of stock. And, once I had the seed money, several hundred million, I began to create The Sharing. 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. I would wrap it up in all the bright packaging that humans love so much. The Sharing would never be about weak people being led to submit to a stronger will, no, no, it would be about family, virtue, righteousness, brotherhood and sisterhood. I would offer people an identity. A place to go. I would give them a new vision of themselves as part of something larger, erasing their individuality.” – Edriss 562 

So, we have a parasitic species exploiting the human need to belong in order to crush their individuality and enslave the race being opposed by a group of teenagers hiding in their bedrooms protected only by their anonymity and their ability to shape shift (both of which they lose at some point in the series, which leads to interesting analysis but is beyond the scope of this essay). The weaponization of a unit of culture employed under the guise of community betterment is more prevalent these days than clean air, but it’s interesting to note that when the books came out in ’96 this could have been read as a progressive narrative railing against the conformist conservatism of churches and the Boy Scouts, whereas if Animorphs came out today it’d be condemned as reactionary and only available in self published volumes via Twitter links. Yet, long before politics poisoned my brain, I still had an implicit understanding that to be an Animorph meant to be the secret scorn of society. It is a tale of ingenuity and, as the Ellimist eventually makes clear, predestined suffering in the face of pervasive evil. Importantly, the Animorphs series doesn’t end in victory, an overcoming of the Leviathan and a return to the Shire. Instead, the last book ends with our heroes ramming a Blade Ship into the “feminine” chaos of a monstrosity known as The One. As a child, I was shocked by this ending.  . Surely, the good guys have to win, right? But somehow, be it through Applegate’s intuition or the hand of the Divine, a greater truth emerges that has become more profound for me with time, something like “ride the tiger” but more active, rebellious, and antagonistic. Something perhaps more spiritually akin to the last battle cry of the Alamo or Uncle Ted’s care packages, or any other way the individual chooses to carve out meaning from the void- a big FU as you gun your ship forward knowing change is near impossible but fighting all the same. 

The biggest strength of “the right” as I see it is the ability to morph, to engage in active mutation, generating new high-variance memes to resist the all encompassing entropy of the self-policing, self-correcting low mutation narratives espoused by the curators of mass culture. In this struggle, futile as it may be, we generate purpose through resistance, brotherhood among the outcasts, and tend to the spark of Divinity in each soul while surrounded by hordes of mind slugs. In the end, Animorphs turned out to be more than just a decent children’s series- it’s a survival manual.