Animorphs: The Invasion

The InvasionI told you guys an Animorphs recap was coming. Before I jump into the first book, I want to talk about this series for a little bit because it is more than nostalgia to me. Animorphs was my childhood. I have so many friends I’m still in contact with today that I made from reading this series. Lori, Margie, Matt, Lawren, Holly, Izzah, Laura, Alex, Connor, Tina, Dustin, Katherine, and Vega, I’m talking about you! And those are just the friends I made that are still social enough to be on Facebook today. I know it sounds silly, but this series and the people I met while reading it helped me discover and accept myself. Let’s go back to the beginning, though.

In seventh grade, my Middle School put an emphasis on Language Arts. I guess the school had low reading and writing test scores. As a result, We spent nearly two and a half hours in Language Arts compared to 50 minutes in Math, and poor Science and Social Studies were combined in one 50-minute class. I remember my Science and Social Studies teacher was a man named Mr. Lowe that year, and he was a Social Studies teacher. He was so annoyed that he had to teach Science that year. I digress.

The VisitorIn Language Arts, 30 or so minutes every morning was devoted to silent reading. Someone had donated a bunch of books to our school, and my Language Arts classroom had a clothes line hung on the perimeter of the room with books hanging on it. On the first day of class we were told to walk around the room and pick out a book to read. The first book I grabbed was an Animorphs book — the second book in the series, The Visitor. It was my favorite color, red, and had a girl turning into a cat on the cover. It called out to me.

I loved it. Since I couldn’t take the book home with me, I couldn’t wait until class started each day so I could read it. I started searching for the other books any time my cottage parents or my mom would take me to Wal-Mart. I read the series largely out of order, but that’s okay. The books stand really well on their own individually.

I got to know these characters, and I got to care about them. Their lives and their war with the Yeerks was my escape when life was hard. I searched for Animorphs sites when I got the internet, and I met all the people I mentioned above in message boards we used to connect and discuss the series. We shared details about our lives together, and struggled through life together. Because of them, even when I felt alone, I was never alone. Eventually I even made my own websites to K.A. Applegate’s series that followed Animorphs, Everworld and Remnants, and it’s a large reason I have the skills I have today to make and run this blog. I never made an Animorphs site myself, partly because I didn’t feel like I could do it justice, but also because there was no shortage of Animorphs websites back then. There were some really great ones online. I’m kind of sad they are not up today.

Needless to say, Animorphs is important to me, and I realize that I may view it with rose-tinted glasses. The series wasn’t perfect, but it was still amazing. With my recaps, I hope to reminisce about the things I loved as a kid, but also dive into how different the series is reading it as an adult. I imagine I’ll take away different things. Having just reread the first book, things already stick out to me that didn’t before. Things like the kindness one human being can show another, and the difference it can make. I think these books can be relevant today. Scholastic recently released them as Kindle e-books on Amazon. You all should definitely check out this series if you didn’t read it in the 1990s with me.

Anyway, let’s get this party started! Spoilers are everywhere. Don’t read on if you intend to read this book!

Cover

Most of the original Animorphs covers were illustrated by an artist named David B. Mattingly. The Invasion was one of the books that was not illustrated by Mattingly. It’s not one of my favorites.

The lizard was a smart choice for the morph to feature on the cover. When I look at the morphs on the covers, I try to think about when that morph takes place, and what that scene reveals about the book. In this book Jake morphed his dog, Homer, a lizard, and a Siberian Tiger. I think the tiger would have been a little too much, because the tiger to me represents all-out war, and the Animorphs are not quite in that place yet. Jake’s tiger morph is actually used on the cover of the 26th book in the series, and it works better there. That leaves Homer and the lizard. Homer was Jake’s first morph, and he would have made a good cover morph for that reason, but I feel like the lizard is better. Here is why: Jake morphs a lizard to spy on the Yeerks. This book is very much about setting everything up, and the Animorphs learning about what they are facing. They do battle the Yeerks near the end of the book, but that battle is not the highlight or the focus of the book. It occurs in the last 10% or so. This book, to me, is much more about the Animorphs discovering their new place in the world, learning about each other and about themselves.

The lizard is an awkward and frustrating morph for Jake. He struggles to take control of the lizard and ends up eating a spider. He struggles to see out of the lizard’s eyes because they differ so much from his own. Morphing is not always powerful or easy. It can be frustrating and awkward, and that’s why it’s such a great morph for the first cover.

Overall, I just don’t like the illustration. Jake looks far too young on this cover, there are too many phases of the morph (I like that they went to five starting with Book 2), and Jake doesn’t even look like himself after the first phase. It just doesn’t look real. Jake and the lizard look realistic, but the morphing phases just look cartoony. The artist really needed to go one way or the other. The morph is awkwardly placed on his head, too, which is just weird.

Tagline: Some people never change. Some do. . .

Gotta love the 1990s tagline obsession. This tagline is actually pretty decent. I dig plays on cliches.

The InvasionThe first eight books were re-released in 2011 with new covers. I generally like the older covers better than the new, but with The Invasion, I prefer the second cover. The texture and color on the cover is nice, and I like that they opted to feature Jake mid-morphed rather than in phases. I don’t own a physical copy of the re-releases. Do the characters morph if you tilt the cover left and right? That would be pretty cool.

Despite it being a little better than the original cover, the new cover wouldn’t inspire me to pick the book up the same way the old cover did. The first cover, even with its faults, made the book seem a little more exciting.

Plot Analysis

After an evening of playing video games at the mall (Man, I miss arcades),  Jake and his best friend Marco run into Jake’s cousin, Rachel, Rachel’s best friend Cassie, and Tobias, who was kind of a loner. The five decide to walk home together, choosing to take a short cut through an abandoned construction site Jake’s parent’s forbade him from going through. There, they witness the landing of an alien spacecraft, containing well, an alien — an Andalite named Elfangor.

Elfangor

Elfangor is this blue horse-like thing with a scorpion’s tail, a chiseled chest, deer ears, and no mouth, but an extra set of eyes held up by stalks on his head. With no mouth, one might wonder how Andalites are able to eat or communicate. The prior is explained in a later book, don’t you worry. The latter is through a process called thought-speak. I’ll have to be careful here, because the book uses the opening and closing marks of HTML to indicate thought-speak. <Like this.> Don’t want to write something in thought-speak and accidentally tear up my site. 😉

Thought-speak is what it sounds like. Elfangor is able to communicate with the five pre-teens — Teenagers? Their ages aren’t stated because they have to hide so much of themselves from the Yeerks, but I always imagined them to be Middle Schoolers, perhaps because I was a Middle Schooler when I first read this — through thoughts. That would mess with me royally. Am I really hearing this alien speak, or am I imagining it speaking to me?

Elfangor explains that he is dying and there isn’t much time. He warns the five kids of an alien invasion that is already underway. An alien species called Yeerks, parasitic slugs, basically, are taking over Earth. The Yeerks enter bodies through ear canals, wrap themselves around brains, and take over host bodies. The bodies they control are called Controllers. Anyone can be a Controller, as Jake is about to very personally find out.

The Yeerks have already taken over other planets and Earth is next. Elfangor wants to leave Earth a fighting chance until the Andalites can make it to fight off the Yeerks. He has Tobias enter his spaceship and grab a blue cube. All five teenagers (or pre-teens) touches a face of the cube with Elfangor and acquires the power to morph into animals. All they have to do is touch and concentrate on an animal to acquire its DNA, and then think about becoming that animal to physically morph into it. They are warned by Elfangor to never stay in morph longer than 2 hours or they will be stuck as the animal they morphed, unable to return to their human forms.

Another spaceship begins ascending and Elfangor commands the Animorphs to hide. From their hiding place, they see other, different types of aliens — Hork-Bajir and Taxxons — as well as humans exit the spaceship. They watch idly as another Andalite, the only Andalite Controller, a Yeerk by the name of Visser Three, exits the ship, taunts Elfangor, morphs into a larger hideous alien, and devours Elfangor. Elfangor put up a fight, but he knew he was going to die.

Jake and his friends do what any kids would do and high-tail it out of the construction zone. The Controllers chase them, but all five kids make it out safely.

Tobias visits Jake’s house the next day and informs Jake that he morphed Dude, his cat. Jake wasn’t dreaming. Everything was real. Tobias proceeds to morph Dude in front of Jake, and then demorphs bare-ass naked. Jake acquires and morphs his dog, Homer, and does the same in front of Tobias. This would be a little awkward for me, if I’m to be honest, but Jake and Tobias handle the situation rather maturely. Thankfully, in later books the Animorphs have learned to demorph into skin-tight clothing they refer to as morphing outfits. The public nudity —  heck, the private nudity in front of close friends, even, would be a deal breaker for me. Nope, I couldn’t be an Animorph if it meant demorphing nude.

Jake and the others later meet at Cassie’s farm. Cassie’s parents are veterinarians. Cassie’s father owns a rehabilitation clinic on their farm, and her mother works at a zoo called The Gardens. Upon arriving, the group finds Cassie as a horse. A cop shows up on the farm while Cassie is demorphing and asks the kids if they know anything about kids who cut through the construction site the night before. The group — with a fully demorphed Cassie, thankfully, naturally feigns ignorance, and the cop goes away.

Tobias and Marco notice that Jake’s brother Tom is acting suspect, and inform Jake that Tom is probably a Controller. Jake denies it and gets angry at his friends until he sees Tom fighting the Yeerk in his head for control of his face. Tom invites Jake and Marco to a group called The Sharing, and the two agree to go to find out if Tom is really a Controller. Rachel and Cassie also go, and Tobias oversees the event from the sky in his newly-acquired Red-Tailed Hawk  morph. Jake morphs Homer to walk along the beach to spy on a super secret meeting held by full-fledged members of The Sharing. He figures no one will notice or care about a dog walking along the beach. Luckily for him, Homer is not a Corgi. If I morphed my dog, Helo, everyone would be running up to me to tell me how cute I am and how big my butt is.

Helo Helo
Why, yes, I intend to use every opportunity to post pictures of Helo; why do you ask?

Jake’s fears about Tom are confirmed.

Over the next few days, Jake and the others discover their Assistant Principal, Assistant Principal Chapman, is also a Controller. Jake morphs a lizard to follow Chapman and learn the location of the Yeerk Pool, where Yeerks have to go to swim in Kandrona Rays and recharge. Jake discovers that a Yeerk Pool is directly below their school. He sees Chapman enter it via a maintenance closet.

Intent to save his brother, Jake and the others devise a plan to go to the Yeerk Pool and rescue Tom. Marco is the only hesitant one, convinced that he does not want to be an Animorph because his father needs him alive. Marco coins their awesome name, however. I have to hand it to him; Animorphs is a pretty great name.

The Animorphs (man, it feels great to not have to write “teenagers” and “pre-teens” anymore) go to Cassie’s mom’s zoo and acquire some heavy artillery. Jake acquires a Siberian Tiger. Marco grabs a gorilla. Rachel acquires an African Elephant. I guess Cassie doesn’t want a battle morph yet. Tobias is content with his Red-Tailed Hawk.

Sometime between the zoo and the night the group planned to go to the Yeerk Pool to try to rescue Tom, Cassie goes missing. Jake and the others decide to continue on with their plan anyway. They enter the Yeerk Pool the same way Jake witnessed Chapman doing, through the closet in their school. They hear screams of people and Hork-Bajir in cages waiting while their Yeerks swim in a sludgy lake. They see lines of people over piers, waiting to release their Yeerks into the pool. They see Cassie being led to the pool by the same policeman who questioned them at the farm.

Jake and Marco look a little too suspect and are almost caught by Controllers. They and Rachel morph into their new animals and wreak havoc. Tobias, as a hawk, claws faces from above. Jake almost saves Tom, but ends up having to make the tough decision between saving Tom, who is already a Controller, and saving Cassie, who is about to become one. The group saves Cassie. Cassie morphs her horse to help rescue human hosts. Rachel tramples over Controllers. Marco and Jake kick butt.

Visser Three comes out from somewhere and ends the fun (or creates more fun?) by morphing an eight-headed beast and fighting the Animorphs. He calls the Animorphs Andalites, as he doesn’t know Elfangor gave humans the ability to morph. Jake nearly rescues Tom again, but Tom runs back in after Visser Three yelling and attacking, allowing Jake and the others to escape. In a way, I guess Tom rescued Jake that day. The Animorphs rescued exactly one human, a woman who rode Cassie out. I don’t know if we ever learn what became of that woman. If I were her, I’d move somewhere far away and isolated. Maybe I’d become a transcendentalist out in the woods somewhere.

Jake discovers that Tom survived when Tom comes home later that night and acts like nothing happened. He is still a controller. Tobias pecks on Jake’s bedroom window, and Jake opens it for him, telling him to come in and demorph. Tobias tells Jake he can’t. After the others escaped, Tobias had to hide in the rafters until things calmed down. He was in morph for more than two hours. Tobias is stuck as a hawk.

While things seem hopeless for all concerned, Jake vows that they will fight until the Andalites arrive.

My Thoughts

This book is better than I remember it being when I was kid. I mean, I love Animorphs clearly, but this was never one of my favorites in the series, probably because the bulk of its story is repeated in the intro of many of the other books to catch up new readers, and I felt like I had heard this story over and over by the time I finally read it. Like I wrote above, I read the books as I could find them, out of order.

There were some things I paid attention to this time that I didn’t really notice or care about when I was younger. One was Rachel’s behavior toward Tobias. Tobias was a loner from a broken home. While the others talked about what a war with the Yeerks might cost them, Tobias commented that no one would care if he was gone. Rachel responded by saying she would care. Her basic human kindness really touched me as a reader. With characters like these, no wonder this series sparked a supporting, accepting online community where kids like me could feel comfortable opening up. Kids today need to read this series.

Something else that stood out in this read-through was the harshness of war. I always thought Cassie was sensitive (You’ll see why when we get to later books), but this time I felt uneasy reading about the Animorphs tearing apart helpless hosts who were slaves to the Yeerks. This theme and idea is brought up in later books, but it stood out to me on my own without Cassie mentioning it. Tobias being stuck as a Hawk, similarly felt like a costly price of war, where before, I thought it was pretty cool that he got to be a Hawk and got to get away from everything. Maybe it’s because I’m at a different place in life now, where I don’t want to get away, or maybe it’s because I’ve matured.

The Visitor is next. I’ve already started reading it, but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to finishing it. I have Finals this week. Wish me luck!

3 Responses to Animorphs: The Invasion

  • Awesome write up! This was definitely a special series and has gotten me thinking about all the things it meant to come of age during the era of internet 1.0. Back then everything was very much anonymized, a “walled-garden” where online life and real life were clearly delineated. Forums like reddit still exist, but in general online and real life have totally merged. Being able to curate your online persona meant something eholly different back then, and I think allowed me to open up and talk to others in a way I hadn’t yet done in real life. Ironically, those relationships were some of my first steps into a more intimate, mature friendship.

    Also made me think about how much of the books can be seen as a coming of age story. Kids turning into dofferent creatures eith out of control instincts? Changing yourself repeatedly and seeing what feels right to you? Learning about the real and mixed consequences that follow your actions even when you try to do good. Learning that the world around you is not always a friendly place and even the adults you trusted to be good and perfect and in control have more going on beneath the surface. I was already contemplating a reread, haven’t done the whole series since it ended, may have to join you.

    Thanks for sharing Todd!
    -Alex

    • Thanks, man! I’m glad you enjoyed the recap.

      You bring up a lot of good points about Internet 1.0. This series was great, don’t get me wrong, but I think a large part why it is so special to so many of us is because it was our “fandom” that we got involved with on the internet. It was how we all integrated ourselves into Internet 1.0.

      I can’t wait to get to Books 16 and 17 and see how well they held up. I can’t remember which one, but I think one of them was about the Internet. I’m thinking #16, because all I can really remember about #17 is “oatmeal.”

      You’re right. Animorphs is totally a coming of age story.

      Animorphs actually released on Kindle pretty recently and are just $3 or $4 a pop. I still have all the books, but I’m all about my Kindle these days. I couldn’t resist grabbing the first few e-books. If you decide to re-read, let me know your thoughts as I go along! Discussing these books is fun.

  • As promised here, here are my thoughts on “The Invasion” (title):

    I think the “invasion” could be the literal invasion of Earth by the Yeerks and then Elfangor, but I like to think about it a little deeper. The Invasion could be the Yeerks’ invasions of our bodies and brains. The word “invasion” has a very negative connotation, like it is unwelcome. As the book that introduces the Yeerks, it works here.

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