Animorphs: The Encounter

The EncounterThis was my first time reading The Encounter to the end. I owned the book and started it a couple of times when I was younger, but for some reason I could never get through it. Maybe it was because the narrator, Tobias, could not morph. I initially read Animorphs for the morphing. Maybe it was because this book is so dark.

The Encounter is extremely dark and depressing. Every Tobias book is kind of dark, as it’s the nature of his character, but this one is ridiculously dark. I’d venture to say that it may even be too dark to be a children’s book. I’ll explain why in a little bit. The book is also beautiful, though, in a weird way. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate that quality as a kid, but I appreciated its beauty now, as I read the book in one sitting. Are you ready to go on this dark ride with Birdboy and me? Hang on tight.

Cover

I am in love with the original cover. It’s David B. Mattingly’s first cover for the series, and it’s wonderful. Everything about it works for me. I like the moody purple. It actually really suits this book. I like the full-body morph. I like how Tobias actually looks his age. The only thing I don’t like is that Tobias has dark hair. In the book, it’s blonde. This gets corrected on later covers. Mattingly said in an interview that he didn’t actually read the series during its original run, so someone dropped the ball when they gave him Tobias’ description. Funny enough, this Tobias looks like the Tobias in TV show that would come out on Nickelodeon in this series’ distant future.

Here is Tobias and Rachel in the show. D’aw.

Tobias and Rachel

Tagline: Now you see them. Now you don’t…

See who? The Yeerks? Are they referring to the cloaked ship? If so wouldn’t it be an it and not a them? Sigh. These taglines so far have been pretty bad.

The EncounterThe new 2011 re-release cover is about as good as the original. It retained the moody purple, and the morph phase between boy and hawk works really well here. Again, I’m reviewing a screen capture and not the actual lenticular cover, as I sadly haven’t seen a physical version of the re-release. I liked the new cover of The Invasion and the original cover of The Visitor. For this book, I’d say it’s pretty close to a draw.

Tobias to Red-Tailed Hawk is the only possible morph for the cover unless they decided not to do a morph.

Plot Analysis

Tobias and Rachel begin the book by rescuing a female Red-Tailed Hawk that Tobias had discovered was being used as a mascot for a used car dealership. During a live commercial, Tobias frees the bird from her cage while Rachel tramples over convertibles as an elephant. Later, the two get yelled at by Marco and Jake, but it was worth it to Tobias. He felt no animal should be trapped. This is a recurring theme that this book sufficiently rubs in our faces.

Tobias is struggling with the duplicity of his life as a hawk. He wants to hang on to his human self, but feels a strong desire to let go to the hawk. He sees the female hawk he freed several more times in the book, and each time, he wants to fly away with her. Tobias has been living in Jake’s attic and has been eating food Jake sneaks up for him. He hasn’t the heart to tell Jake that he can’t eat vegetables and potatoes because he’s a carnivorous bird of prey, but I’m sure Jake is able to draw conclusions when he retrieves the tupperware from which Tobias eats.

I wonder why Tobias chose to live in Jake’s attic. I think Cassie would have been able to fix him up a better place to live in her parents’ barn. I think Cassie would have realized that Tobias doesn’t eat veggies as well.

While riding the thermals one day, Tobias sees a ripple in the sky. It ends up being a stealth Yeerk ship. Tobias discovers it’s a stealth ship because geese fly into it and die. This is the first of several “What the heck?” dark moments in the book, but compared to other items on the list, this is nothing.

The Animorphs discover that the Yeerks are harvesting resources — air and water from Earth to take to space. They devise a plan to infiltrate the ship, destroy its cloaking mechanism, and show the entire world that the Yeerks are here. There is so much wrong with this plan. Where can I begin? Oh, they don’t know what the inside of the ship looks like. They don’t know its controls. They don’t know if they will ever be able to get off the ship once they get on. I would have been like Hell to the No when this plan was brought up, but I’m not an Animorph.

The Animorphs’ plan to infiltrate the Yeerk stealth ship seems like a side story, as the book focuses a lot on Tobias’ life as a hawk. He gives into the hawk partway through the book and attacks, kills, and eats a mouse. This devastates Tobias. He gets downright suicidal. He contemplates flying himself into doors, walls, and glass.

I wasn’t going to stop. I wasn’t going to slow down. I was just going to end this right now. I would hit the glass at full speed and maybe that would awaken me from this nightmare.

This is where I have a problem with this being a children’s book. I realize that this series gets dark, and a lot more dark things are coming our way. It’s arguable that a book series about war is too much for children, but I turned out fine after reading the series. Granted, I skipped this book. Self-inflicted death, or even self-inflicted pain, is where I draw the line for children. This would have been sad, but okay, in a YA novel, but not a Children’s. I realize that’s probably an unpopular opinion to Animorphs fans reading this recap, but keep in mind that I am an Animorphs fan, and I like the series despite this. I just have to be honest here.

Tobias flies straight for a glass ceiling in a mall, intending to end his life, when Marco throws a baseball into the glass, breaking the ceiling and allowing Tobias to fly out, free. Sigh.

Tobias gives completely into the hawk and disappears for days. He joins the female hawk he rescued at the beginning of the novel in her territory at the lake from which the Yeerk stealth ship harvests water. There he watches prey running from predators. It’s not until he witnesses prey that is a human man running from a predator, a Hork-Bajir Controller, that he is awakened back to his humanity. He claws out the Hork-Bajir’s eyes and helps the man escape.

Rachel rips Tobias a new one for disappearing and leaving the other Animorphs worrying. Tobias totally deserves that and more. Cassie thought he might have died. They were all genuinely and naturally worried about Tobias’ safety. Heck, he was suicidal. Tobias vents to Rachel. He feels alone. He feels trapped.

Sometimes I feel so trapped. I want to move my fingers, but I don’t have any. I want to speak out loud, but I have a mouth that’s only good for ripping and tearing.

A lot of emphasis is placed on getting stuck in morph, not just in this book, but in the first two as well. It may be something that is stressed in every book after, but I just didn’t notice it reading the books out of order as a kid. Maybe it’s because this is the beginning of the series, and we’re learning the harsh reality of what happens when the Animorphs stay in morph for more than two hours.

The other Animorphs almost get stuck in wolf bodies. One of the Animorphs comments that trying to demorph so close to the time limit is like trying to pull yourself out of molasses. Seeing the Animorphs nearly get trapped, but being able to escape messes with Tobias.

The Animorphs continue with their plan to infiltrate the Yeerk stealth ship. This involves traveling as wolves to a cave near the site the ship was frequently seen, catching and acquiring a trout, morphing the fish out of water, having Tobias fly their fish bodies to the lake, and swimming up the ship with the water. This plan actually works and the Animorphs get into the ship. The trout part was hard to read because the Animorphs couldn’t breathe, and suffocation really scares me.

While grabbing the last trout, Rachel, to take to the lake, a Hork-Bajir Controller stumbles upon Tobias in the cave. He tries to shoot Tobias as he flies out. but ends up hitting the Yeerk stealth ship. The Hork-Bajir is brought before Visser Three and is ended. Applegate didn’t go into detail with what happened to the Hork-Bajir. Maybe she figured this book was dark enough already.

Before dying, the Hork-Bajir told the Visser about the hawk he had seen, and the Yeerks begin searching the skies. Tobias is eventually surrounded, and finds the best place to be is on top of the Yeerk stealth ship, because the Yeerks wouldn’t shoot their own ship. Visser Three knows that Tobias is a morph — He thinks he’s an “Andalite Bandit,” but potatoes, potatoes. Visser Three releases Taxxon Controllers out onto the stealth ship, and they begin approaching Tobias. How wild that would have been! They couldn’t see the floor beneath them. One wrong step and they’d fall to their deaths.

Rachel thought-speaks out to Tobias that the other Animorphs are trapped in the ship. Of course they are. She tells Tobias that, basically, they are okay with dying but do not want to be taken alive. She begs Tobias to destroy the ship. With his friends practically dead, Tobias has nothing to lose, and makes a desperate move. He kills a Taxxon and takes its Dracon Beam (a type of gun, for you non-Ani fans). He flies to the front of the ship and shoots the bridge, which causes the ship to fly out of control and crash into another Yeerk ship. This tears a gash into the ship, and water, and the Animorphs, pour from the ship. Jake, Marco, Cassie, and Rachel morph their birds of prey on the way down and barely make it out alive. Again.

The female hawk Tobias has gotten close to in this book decides this is a good time to fly. Having seen and studied Tobias on top of the stealth ship, the Yeerks shoot her out of the sky because she looks exactly like Tobias. Oh good, more death.

Rachel later tells Tobias that the Animorphs would like to hold a funeral for the female hawk, but Tobias would rather nature take its course. He explains to Rachel that another wild animal would eat the hawk.

What the death of the hawk does for Tobias is helps him hold on to his humanity. He realizes that the sadness he feels for the hawk is human, and that he is still human somewhere inside that hawk body. That is where the beauty of this book lies.

Rachel tells Tobias that the Andalites will return, and when they do, they will find a way to allow Tobias to return to his human body. This is a long shot, but the Animorphs need hope. Tobias desperately needs hope.

The Encounter

The word “encounter” often has negative connotation. You might encounter a small problem, for example. It generally means to experience or be faced with something unexpected. In this book, Tobias encounters the negativity surrounding his situation: losing control to hawk insticts, losing himself, feeling trapped… How he reacts after this encounter is what this book is truly about. Forget the Yeerk stealth ship.

My Thoughts

Well, I’m sufficiently depressed now. This is definitely one of the darker, if not the darkest, Animorphs books. Tobias struggles with so much, a lot more than the other Animorphs, and because of this, reading him can be a little exhausting. I imagine writing him can be exhausting too, which might explain why Tobias and Ax alternate turns narrating the third of every five books.

Tobias has so much to deal with, and what he goes through is important to his character and to the story of the series as a whole. Although I feel uneasy with this being a children’s book, I’m not saying this story isn’t necessary or should be left out when reading the series. I think it might be a good idea to talk about this book with younger children if you allow them to read it, and allow them to get their thoughts and feelings out. It’s hard to read even as an adult.

Next is The Message. I hope Cassie can lift my spirits. Dang, Tobias.

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