Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Animorphs Revisited: #4 - The Message

In which Cassie's rad psychic powers lead the gang to their best morph yet, and thence to a super awesome new character, hooray and cheers cheers cheers.

I heart Cassie. I love all of these characters (except Jake, yawn snooze), and I relate to Ax and Tobias the most, but I have an especial soft spot for Cassie – partly because I was in love with her as a child, partly because she is so desperately, heart-wrenchingly concerned with acting morally in an impossible situation.

(Side note: It's really weird to return as an adult to childhood crushes. I happened to see a snippet of Billy Elliot the other day, and was reminded that when the movie came out I thought Billy extremely dreamy. Which was fine when I was eleven, but is a hard memory to process as a grown-ass man.)

Cassie is excellent at character analysis: “Marco is never happy unless he's complaining about something. Just like Rachel is never happy unless she has something to fight against. And Tobias is never happy, period. He thinks if he's ever happy, someone will just come along and take his happiness away.” Notice how she doesn't have one for Jake. (Hint: It's because he doesn't have a character.) She's also super intuitive of subtle ways to make people feel better, like when she notices Marco being uncharacteristically quiet and compliments his haircut in a kind but unshowy way. Cassie is absolutely the Hufflepuff of the group and I love her for it.

Clockwise from top left: Rachel, Marco, Tobias, Cassie. Not pictured: Jake (squib).
I'm not exactly Ms. Fashion. Mostly, if you want to know what I look like, picture a girl in overalls and leather work gloves, biting her lip as she concentrates on trying to force a pill down the throat of a badger. Jake once took a picture of me doing exactly that. He has it next to his computer in his room. Don't ask me why. I would be glad to give him a picture of me in a dress or something. Rachel could loan me the dress. But Jake says he likes the picture he has.
As you know, Bob, I am hardly a Cassie/Jake shipper – Cassie is the most lesbian lesbian that ever lesbianed, and Jake is the human equivalent of the World Watching Paint Dry Championships – but this is super freakin' cute. Cassie opines that “Marco is kind of cute, too, although he's not my type.” NEITHER. IS. JAKE. YOU. ARE. GAY.

Oh yeah, this is the part where I'm supposed to talk about the plot. So Cassie is having psychic dreams – we know they're psychic 'cause Tobias has them too – but it's not because she's ingested demon blood, but because she's the best at morphing, which makes her particularly attuned to Andalite telepathy. (I don't know, just go with it). The dreams lead her and the other Animorphs to a crashed Andalite ship deep in the ocean, but to get there they need a new morph: dolphins.

It's a long time since I was either eight years old or a girl, but once I was both, and this is never clearer to me than when I read about people morphing dolphins. I WANT TO MORPH A DOLPHIN, DAMMIT. 
I am man enough to admit that, around the time this book was published, I thought this was the greatest fucking thing on the planet. And also that, if someone gave one to me today, I would write all of my doctoral seminar notes in it.

They have hecka fun being dolphins, obvi, and even better, they rescue Ax. Ax is the younger brother of Elfangor, the Andalite prince who gave the kids their morphing powers on his deathbed, and Ax is the actual best. He's the source of some of the best comedy and poignancy in this whole frequently funny, often poignant series. According to Rachel, he's also cute. Rachel, you minx. Of course, we already knew she was into the interspecies romance thing (what will Hawkboy think if you leave him for a shape-shifting space centaur??).

Actually, I think Rachel's attraction to differently-bodied persons is consistent with her general attitude toward her human body now that she can morph. Compare Marco's opinion: “I used to want to get all pumped up. Then I morphed into a gorilla, and it was like, why bother lifting weights? I can just become a gorilla and bench press a truck.” Rachel, on the other hand: “Being a cat made me more interested in gymnastics. I mean, as a cat I was just so totally, totally in control and graceful. Ever since then I've been trying to use that feeling. When I'm on the balance beam I try and remember that cat confidence.” For Marco, morphing is something you use when you have to, kept separate from daily life. Rachel, however, is interested in consciously maintaining continuity between her morphed self and her human self, even on a bodily level. It makes sense that she's more open-minded about non-human bodies than the others.
So cute! [source]
One of Ax's functions throughout the series is to provide extraterrestrial exposition, and here he offers a cosmic perspective on the evil the gang is fighting: “Yeerks are killers of worlds. Murderers of all life. Hated and feared throughout the galaxy. They are a plague that spreads from world to world, leaving nothing but desolation and slavery and misery in their wake.” I guess all good fantasy includes some really chilling incarnation of pure evil.

(Though Taxxons still freak me out the most on a purely visceral level. Human words really can't describe how much I loathe Taxxons.)

Despite a close run-in with our old friend V3, our intrepid heroes live to fight another day, thanks to the intervention of that most beloved of specfic dei ex, the (Space?) Whale. Cassie, who knows that every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name, is profoundly spiritually moved by her encounter with Free Willy (90s reference!): “even though I don't really know what a soul is, I know this – if humans have them, then so do whales.” Well, I'm convinced.

Moral Quandaries
As our resident animal-lover slash overthinker, Cassie has qualms about morphing that the others haven't considered: “How is doing this any different than what the Yeerks do?” As Rachel points out, morphing's not identical to Yeerk infestation, but it's still controlling another creature, and Cassie is deeply uncomfortably with it. Her conscience is a crucial agitator in the dynamic of the group. These kids are fighting a war. They might be on the side of the angels, but what they are doing is horrible, and they all need Cassie's scruples to keep them aware of their humanity.

In some ways, Cassie has the hardest time of them all, because she has the deepest understanding of the terrible predicament they are in. Resistance as a whole is the moral course, but nearly every individual action goes against Cassie's conscience. Having to temporarily take up the leadership role for which she is in no way suited forces her to wonder, for the first time of many, whether she is a hypocrite.
“You could have been killed. It would have been my fault. This whole mission was my idea. Jake asked me if we should do it and I said yes.” …
“Oh, I get it. You don't like responsibility?”
I winced. Was that it? Was I afraid of taking responsibility? …
“If someone gets hurt. . . killed . . . just because I have these dreams - I can't make that kind of decision.”
“Yes, but can you decide to do nothing? That's a decision, too.”

 Marco, much like Neil Peart, is a smart cookie, and he pushes Cassie when she needs to be pushed. Whenever she is so torn up with moral decision-making that she risks total inaction, he speaks the uncomfortable truths she needs to hear. Well, she needs to hear them from the ruthless perspective of the war needing to be fought, but her goodness as a person will suffer severely. “I had lived my entire life without feeling hatred. It is a sickening feeling. It burns and burns, and sometimes you think it's a fire that will never go out.” MY HEART. Cassie is such a truly good person, and this war is destroying her.

Trans* Moments
In true 90s kid fashion, Tobias is learning to deal with his trauma through the use of humor.
<You know how it is. It's a hawk-eat-mouse world out there.>
I laughed, pleased to hear that Tobias was learning to be at peace with the fact that, at least for a while, he was as much a hawk as he was a boy.
Until Tobias' arc takes another interesting turn, in a number of books' time, he's likely to take a backseat in our analysis of trans* moments to a character even more unusual than he is. Ax is a true fish out of water, a young alien who knows next to nothing about Earth and humanity. He'll live in the woods most of the time, but whenever he needs to be out in public he morphs a human – a composite made up of DNA from all the Animorphs. I'm 85% sure it's canon that all of the Animorphs find human!Ax confusingly attractive (and it is 110% my headcanon), because he's a pretty boy who bears eerie ghosts of resemblance to all of them. “I chose to be-be-be-be-be male,” he says, stuttering over sounds that are fun to make with his unaccustomed mouth, “because I am male.” You and me both, Ax.

Hey, It's 1996! Pop Culture Reference Log
  • Marco's dreams are hilarious. “I've had weird dreams about falling from way up high and when I finally land I'm in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood talking to King Friday.” “I've had weird dreams about that woman on Baywatch.”
  • are we getting some kind of psychic message from the Little Mermaid?”
  • Psychic Friends

  • Well, as you know, we have six dolphins here. Joey, whom you've met, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Rachel.” AHAHAHAHA.
  • “Didn't you ever see The Hunt for Red October? Great movie.”

Next time: Marco blesses us with his first full-length snarkfest, Ax loses his shit over Cinnabon, and we are dealt a soul-crushing revelation.


  1. Bless you for doing this series! I didn't realize how much nostalgia I had until I was clapping my hands with glee as I read. I was aaaall about Ax as a kid, and I definitely remember him losing his shit over Cinnabon. Your thoughtful analysis makes me want to read 'em again.


  2. I love these analyses! I get so excited every time you post a new one. These are such a treat. Much love.