Life isn’t a World Wrestling Federation Smackdown
An author writes to her disappointed readers
Enormous thanks to Jake for alerting me to this brilliant letter.
In May 2001, when the 54th and final volume of the Animorphs series was published, many of its millions of readers felt short-changed by its bleak ending and took to the internet to vent their frustration. Created by American author Katherine Applegate and her husband Michael Grant, Animorphs was a popular science fiction saga for young adults in which a parasitic army of slug-like aliens, called Yeerks, wanted nothing more than to invade Earth but were constantly thwarted by a group of teenagers who possessed the ability to morph into animals. A tale as old as time. To be completely honest, I have never read Animorphs, nor have I watched the TV adaptation, but that did not stop me from enjoying and admiring this refreshingly honest letter, written by Applegate for the attention of the saga's disappointed fans.
Dear Animorphs Readers:
Quite a number of people seem to be annoyed by the final chapter in the Animorphs story. There are a lot of complaints that I let Rachel die. That I let Visser Three/One live. That Cassie and Jake broke up. That Tobias seems to have been reduced to unexpressed grief. That there was no grand, final fight-to-end-all-fights. That there was no happy celebration. And everyone is mad about the cliffhanger ending.
So I thought I’d respond.
Animorphs was always a war story. Wars don’t end happily. Not ever. Often relationships that were central during war, dissolve during peace. Some people who were brave and fearless in war are unable to handle peace, feel disconnected and confused. Other times people in war make the move to peace very easily. Always people die in wars. And always people are left shattered by the loss of loved ones.
That’s what happens, so that’s what I wrote. Jake and Cassie were in love during the war, and end up going their separate ways afterward. Jake, who was so brave and capable during the war is adrift during the peace. Marco and Ax, on the other hand, move easily past the war and even manage to use their experience to good effect. Rachel dies, and Tobias will never get over it. That doesn’t by any means cover everything that happens in a war, but it’s a start.
Here’s what doesn’t happen in war: there are no wondrous, climactic battles that leave the good guys standing tall and the bad guys lying in the dirt. Life isn’t a World Wrestling Federation Smackdown. Even the people who win a war, who survive and come out the other side with the conviction that they have done something brave and necessary, don’t do a lot of celebrating. There’s very little chanting of “we’re number one” among people who’ve personally experienced war.
I’m just a writer, and my main goal was always to entertain. But I’ve never let Animorphs turn into just another painless video game version of war, and I wasn’t going to do it at the end. I’ve spent 60 books telling a strange, fanciful war story, sometimes very seriously, sometimes more tongue-in-cheek. I’ve written a lot of action and a lot of humor and a lot of sheer nonsense. But I have also, again and again, challenged readers to think about what they were reading. To think about the right and wrong, not just the who-beat-who. And to tell you the truth I’m a little shocked that so many readers seemed to believe I’d wrap it all up with a lot of high-fiving and backslapping. Wars very often end, sad to say, just as ours did: with a nearly seamless transition to another war.
So, you don’t like the way our little fictional war came out? You don’t like Rachel dead and Tobias shattered and Jake guilt-ridden? You don’t like that one war simply led to another? Fine. Pretty soon you’ll all be of voting age, and of draft age. So when someone proposes a war, remember that even the most necessary wars, even the rare wars where the lines of good and evil are clear and clean, end with a lot of people dead, a lot of people crippled, and a lot of orphans, widows and grieving parents.
If you’re mad at me because that’s what you have to take away from Animorphs, too bad. I couldn’t have written it any other way and remained true to the respect I have always felt for Animorphs readers.
Wow! I wish we could make this letter required reading for everyone over age 12. So much of the violence that goes on in this world (although by no means all) is because of the glamorization of war and killing in books, video games and the media. Add to it the unrealistic expectations of children raised with no disappointment or realistic sense and you have a mess! And boy do we have a mess.
I can't really imagine what it would feel like to be author of the Animorphs series, but I have so much respect for the confidence and gun-sticking. I feel like this would give me an existential crisis.