Saturday 28 June 2014

The Solution

Recently I reread the entire Animorphs series. For those of you who weren't kids in the 90s, it was about a group of teens who were gifted the power to turn into animals. They used this power to fight an alien invasion (they win, eventually). 

Book cover of The Mutation by K.A. Applegate. It shows a teen boy turning into a whale.

I'm an adult though. Shouldn't I be reading grown up books, with subplots about astrology instead of aliens? Sure, probably. But I went through a tough time recently, with a lot of upheaval, and I can't tell you how good it was to escape into these books.

Sometimes I think about that one, last moment when we were still just normal kids. It's like it was a million years ago, like it was some totally different group of kids. You know what I was afraid of right then? I was afraid of admitting to Tom that I hadn't made the team. That was as scary as life got back then. Five minutes later, life got a lot scarier. -- The Invasion, 1996. 

The problems were operatic, which made mine seem mundane and surmountable. (Marco's mother is host to the leader of the alien invasion on earth! Plus his dad is marrying his math teacher. Tobias has been permanently turned into a hawk.)

Beneath the ridiculous nature of the stories, the characters were grappling with heavy themes. The nature of freedom. Sacrifice. Time travel. It's a lot more than little girl "what if I could be a dolphin" fantasies.

An Andalite may think that humans are simple, open, trusting creatures. But they are more subtle than they seem to be at first. Possibly this is because of their spoken language, where no one word ever means just one thing. -- The Alien, 1997.

I was surprised to learn, upon rereading, that I had read almost all of the books the first time around. I thought I'd quit them earlier than I had, as I aged out of the series shortly before it ended. I'd forgotten most of the plot points, but I remembered the characters.

The characters were archetypes: Jake, the leader; Rachel, the warrior; Cassie, the pacifist; Tobias, the philosopher; Marco, the clown; Ax, the outsider. The patterns they fell into were comforting, seeing them relate to one another and wondering where I'd fit in. The Animorph's Rachel is sacrificed in the final book. War had ruined her, and she would not be able to find a place, we are told, in a peaceful world.

Of course the books were different the second time around. Everything changes and nothing remains still. You cannot step twice into the same stream. I would take three books into the bath with a glass of wine, an excellent distraction technique to stop me from drinking too much, when damn I really wanted a drink.

A fool is strong so that others will see. A wise person is strong for himself. -- The Pretender, 1998.

The second time round the books were better. I needed them more. I could read more critically, and take note of themes I'd missed the first time around. Read as a whole, in order, the characters were developed more fully, the startlingly complex family trees more entwined than I had known.

There are 65 books in the Animorphs series. Each book took around 40 minutes to read (the Megamorphs took longer, a treat to savour). By the time I was done with the series, my life was back on track.

Relevant XKCD.


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