Here we are, at the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and glorious tradition – the Intergalactic Academy Animorphs Re-Read! Starting with this post, I’m going to be recapping each of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs books, along with some general thoughts about my feelings on the series as a whole. If you’ve never read the books before, I encourage you to go and buy the reprinted editions that are now being released by Scholastic. For a brief crash course on what this whole ‘Animorphs’ thing is about, refer to my introduction post from last week.
And now, without further ado, I present The Invasion!
You know how a lot of children’s cartoon series would have a fairly set formula, with each episode adhering to a rigid plot template? Well, the first episode of a series like that tends to be something of an anomaly, because it has to establish the characters and world building that will be taken for granted in all subsequent episodes.
The Invasion is kind of like that. It’s essentially the origin story for the main characters, recounting how they came to know about the Yeerk invasion and how they acquired their abilities. That may be why this has always been my favourite book in the entire seres. There’s something about the newness of the whole thing, both for the characters and for the reader, that I was particularly drawn to.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how the whole thing kicks off:
My name is Jake. That’s my first name, obviously. I can’t tell you my last name. It would be too dangerous. The Controllers are everywhere. Everywhere. And if they knew my full name, they could find me and my friends, and then . . . well, let’s just say I don’t want them to find me. What they do to people who resist them is too horrible to think about.
And here we’re introduced to one of the major selling points of the series: it’s ostensibly set in the real world. Aliens aren’t just invading a facsimile of your home town, they’re invading your actual home town. (Well, not my actual home town, because I live in Ireland and the books are set in America. But anyway.) This was a stroke of genius in Applegate’s part, because it plays on the willingness of most kids to believe that their boring everyday life might hide something deeper and more mysterious beneath the surface.
In this case, it’s hiding a terrifying alien invasion. But hey, you might get to turn into a tiger!
The narrator for this volume is Jake, the group’s de facto leader. In rapid succession, he introduces us to the rest of the core cast: his sarcastic best friend Marco, his kick-as cousin Rachel, his obvious love interest Cassie, and Woobie Extraordinaire Tobias. We’ll get introduced to each of them as they get their own viewpoint books, but for now they’re drawing on fairly standard archetypes.
The five friends happen to bump into each other at the mall (after going to an arcade, one of many quaint nineties-isms throughout the series) and decide to take a shortcut through an abandoned construction site. As so often happens in these situations, they’re intruded upon by a crash-landing alien spaceship.
The wounded alien that emerges is an Andalite, essentially the ‘good aliens’ for the series. (Uh, sort of. More on that in later installments…) He is described thusly:
My first reaction was that someone had cloned a person and a deer together. The creature had a head and shoulders and arms that were more or less where they should have been, though the skin was a pale shade of blue. But below that he had fur, a mix of blue and tan, covering a four-legged body that really did look like it belonged to a deer, or maybe a small horse.
And…yeah. I’m afraid I could never quite buy into the Andalite’s physical design, mostly because, no matter what way you look at it, they’re just kind of goofy. The artwork used to depict them doesn’t really help:
They look kind of like they were designed by a 12-year old who wasn’t entirely sure when to stop adding new features. In terms of their characterisation, though, they end up being pretty awesome. Just wait, they get all kind of morally ambiguous later!
The Andalite speaks telepathically to the kids, which is depicted in the text with <brackets like these>. Let me tell you, when I was twelve, I considered this the height of literary experimentation. James Joyce? Pshaw!
Anyway, he explains that Earth has already been infiltrated by the Yeerks, a species of parasitic slug that infests host bodies (called a ‘Controller’) in order to stage a covert takeover. They’ve already enslaved billions of sentient individuals, with Earth being the latest in a long string of conquests. More Andalites are coming to stop them, but they won’t arrive for another year at the earliest. In desperation, he uses a piece of Andalite technology to give the kids the ability to ‘morph’ into any species whose DNA they can acquire.
With that done, he tells them to hide just as a Yeerk ‘Blade Ship’ arrives. On board are Hork-Bajir, a species entirely enslaved by the Yeerks, Taxxons, who are like giant maggots with rotary teeth, and Visser Three, the leader of the Earth invasion and the only Yeerk ever to take an Andalite body. He promptly morphs into a hideous alien monster and eats the other Andalite alive.
And thus begins the adventure of a lifetime bloody war against an invisible alien menace! It turns out you can’t summarise an entire book and the series it belongs to in a single post, though, so come back tomorrow for the rest of my re-read of The Invasion. In following weeks, I’ll be giving briefer recaps of each book. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, whether you’re an old fan rediscovering the series with me or a new reader jumping on the bandwagon!