Cat Pierro



“We had learned from hard experience that morphing can be extremely disturbing. Jake had morphed into a lizard and been almost overpowered by the animal’s fearful brain. The same had happened to Rachel when she’d morphed a shrew. She still had nightmares about the shrew experience–its fear and, worse, its hunger for bugs and rotting flesh.

“On the other hand, Jake had morphed into a flea, and according to him it was kind of a big nothing. Like being trapped inside a very old, very bad video game where you could barely see anything. The flea brain had been too simple to make trouble.”

The Animorphs series is consumer-friendly; no matter which book you start with, you get all the important background information. So the morphing process gets described over and over again.

First there’s the utter strangeness of feeling your body parts shrink and grow and move around, feeling your ears slide to the top of your head; not painful exactly, more like (we learn every time) a novocaine experience at the dentist. There’s also the strangeness of how your morphing friends look in the meantime; you may see familiar eyes behind a two-foot-long floppy gray nose–a horrifying freak show, but thankfully a brief one.

Then, once you’re in morph, there’s the strangeness of the animal you’ve become: you have cool powers, but you have new instincts too. You risk succumbing to those instincts. Sometimes you risk eating your friends. Luckily, after a few minutes, and less than that with practice, you remember yourself and gain control. < I am Catherine, Catherine, > you think. You remember your name and everything that comes with it. This keeps you tame.

Finally, there’s the usual mention of the two-hour time limit. You must morph back to your human form within two hours–otherwise you’ll be stuck in that morph forever. So the mission will have to be quick. Whenever someone points this out in thought-speak, the others all glance at Tobias to remind themselves. Tobias got stuck in morph. Now he is a hawk, forever. But usually he still remembers himself–remembers his old life, remembers who he is and what he stands for. Usually.

* * *

Metaphysically speaking, this bothered me a little bit. Middle school me, I mean. After the Animorphs morph, they’re animals. Right? Tobias is a hawk now. So that means he has a hawk brain. So where does his old self come in? Even supposing you somehow carry your memories with you into morph. Via magical Andalite technology. Why should you care that once, long ago, you wanted to stay human?

I imagined a tiger mind engrossed in tiger thoughts. It calculates how delicious this squirming human prey will be versus how dangerous. When Jake is in tiger morph, could his old name worm its way into that mental context? What could a name say about deliciousness OR dangerousness?

It was a question of how your past self could influence your future self, and why your future self should let it. But there had to be some way in. Maybe animal psychology would uncover a loophole, I thought. I imagined rewriting the passages where characters morph to make them more plausible. Maybe tigers have strong kinship bonds, and maybe certain memories would bring a tiger to recognize the other Animorphs as kin. The tiger would then wonder what it takes to protect such a weird family. A family that was trying to save the world from an alien invasion! This would obviously blow the tiger’s mind so hard that it would falter and succumb.

* * *

On December 31, 1998, I made a New Year’s resolution not to fall out of love with the Animorphs series.

I was starting to slip away.

I still dreamt about the Animorphs some nights. I still tried to send thoughts to any red-tailed hawk I saw, hoping it was Tobias (this was futile, though, as humans in human form cannot thought-speak). I still reassured myself every time I had to do homework or clean my room or deal with any other seventh-grade hardship that at least I didn’t have to save the world from an alien race of parasitic brain slugs. (“Self-pity is a pointless emotion,” Tobias says somewhere; I drew upon this for strength.)

But I was straining. Maybe I was a new person now. Or maybe I had just read too many of the books and gotten bored with the repetitions. The novocaine mention, but also fight scenes that happened the same way every time, characters that remained suited to the same one-line descriptions... I tried to block my irritation. < No. NO. I am obsessed with the Animorphs, > I would insist.

I closed my eyes and made myself remember. Here there will be spoilers. I remembered the moment when Marco discovers that his drowned mother is really still alive (“My mom. Visser One.”); I remembered when Jake’s enslaved brother Tom, trying to lure him into the aliens’ trap, actually flinches (“Tom–the real Tom, not the Yeerk slug in his head–had tried to warn me.”); I remembered when Tobias flies up toward the skylight at full speed, the hawk in him wanting the sky, the human in him wanting to die. It was easy for everyone to dismiss the Animorphs, too easy. They even made a stupid TV show out of it. But there were some very real things in these books, I thought, human things.

I signed up for a special thing on the Animorphs official website that was supposed to make me an elite fan. I think it cost money. They mailed me some things, I don’t know what, except there was a necklace, a little piece of metal on a string. It had an engraved letter “A.” Clearly unworthy of the Animorphs. I should have thrown it away immediately. It is probably indicative of the strain I was going through that I did not. Instead I wore it around my neck, under my clothes. I tried to tell myself it was some kind of good luck charm. I chained myself.

But the truth was that I wanted something more. I wanted to see something less shiny and repetitive and consumer-packaged, maybe something danker, something more like rotting flesh. I wanted the Animorphs to feel so out of touch with their own species, the species they were secretly saving, that they just couldn’t show up for gymnastics class anymore. I wanted them to morph the opposite sex and touch themselves in the bathroom. I wanted them to develop obsessions that they had to keep secret from each other. I wanted them to learn lasting things from the minds of the animals they morphed.

I tried. I really did. But my resolution didn’t last the year.

* * *

I don’t think it’s possible to just not commit to some form of continuity. It’s not like you can smoothly become what you newly are at every moment, and anyway, if you did you’d be inhuman. It’s human to be subjected to your past. But the past is a big and diverse place, and I’m not sure how to tell what to bring forth into the future. Or what it’s even possible to bring forth.

It’s weird: when you morph, your clothes morph with you, but your shoes stay behind.

The Hypocrite Reader is free, but we publish some of the most fascinating writing on the internet. Our editors are volunteers and, until recently, so were our writers. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, we decided we needed to find a way to pay contributors for their work.

Help us pay writers (and our server bills) so we can keep this stuff coming. At that link, you can become a recurring backer on Patreon, where we offer thrilling rewards to our supporters. If you can't swing a monthly donation, you can also make a 1-time donation through our Ko-fi; even a few dollars helps!

The Hypocrite Reader operates without any kind of institutional support, and for the foreseeable future we plan to keep it that way. Your contributions are the only way we are able to keep doing what we do!

And if you'd like to read more of our useful, unexpected content, you can join our mailing list so that you'll hear from us when we publish.