I want to say that I don’t remember these books being as dark as they seem now, but I think that would be a lie. Young!Kara recognized the darkness—but for me, at that age, that wasn’t even the draw. I was more about the adventure and the heroism of these young characters—the science-fictional elements were really the coolest thing. Now when I read Megamorphs #2: In the Time of the Dinosaurs I’m focusing more on how messed up these situations are.
So in this, our second blockbuster-style Animorphs novel, K.A. Applegate is all, “Oh, you want a longer book with a punchier plot so you can sell it for a couple dollars more and market the hell out of it? OK, then. Be careful what you wish for!” The Animorphs go back in time (again), 65 million years to be (more or less) precise. Indeed, they conveniently arrive just before the comet that triggers the extinction of the dinosaurs hits the Earth. (Well, whether the comet would have hit the Earth if the Animorphs hadn’t shown up is another question.)
It’s worth noting that there is not a Yeerk in sight in this book. The Animorphs go play superhero to help rescue people from a sunk nuclear submarine, and that precipitates their temporal incursion. (There is literally no debate about risking exposure by playing superhero like there has been in the past.) Once thrown back in time through that ol’ pal of theirs, the Sario Rip, the Animorphs scrabble to survive amidst dinosaurs and two alien species fighting for dominance of the planet.
Let’s be perfectly clear here: if I were an Animorph, I would not survive in this book. Can we count the ways I would not survive?
I mean, I always talk about how badass Rachel is, and that’s the common refrain among her friends. But she is literally swallowed by a prehistoric sea creature in this book, demorphs into a human, and then morphs into a grizzly bear to fight her way out of the creature’s stomach. While being dissolved by stomach acid.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Animorphs—who are still, let’s remember, kids—are forced to walk through a prehistoric jungle in bare feet, with just leotards and T-shirts and tight shorts, surviving without any technology or survival gear. I would not survive this. Unless you are Bear Grylls, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you would probably not survive this either. These kids are tough. Ford wishes their trucks were built as tough as these kids.
And that’s just the physical trauma. There’s also plenty of psychological trauma to go around in this book.
Tobias almost eats grizzly Rachel when he morphs a deinonychus.
Cassie gets overpowered by a T-rex morph and freaks out, kills a triceratops, and loses her shit.
Oh, and Tobias and Ax sabotage a nuclear bomb in order to preserve the future, even though it makes them all complicit in wiping out a sentient species that was kind enough to help them obtain the bomb in the first place so they could get back to their own time.
I love that whole doublecross and the way Applegate reveals it. The Mercora show up and ask for the bomb, and Jake asks them for time to make a group decision. The group votes to give them the bomb—and then Tobias reveals what he did. It is a betrayal of everyone. Until now the group has been united in how it proceeds—either by vote or by Jake’s leadership. Tobias acted unilaterally (albeit with assistance from Ax) because he felt it was “the right thing to do.” This was a dangerous, perhaps even reckless act, despite being necessary from the perspective of someone who wants to get back to their own time.
But it has such an element of classical tragedy to it. The whole idea of Tobias taking this guilt on his own shoulders, and the fact that the rest of the Animorphs have to live with the burden of this knowledge. There are definite, if unspoken, comparisons to Yeerk behaviour here. Applegate wants her readers to think about how our decisions affect other lives, and how very often we rationalize something as being “noble” or “right” when in reality it’s just preferable for our survival. Marco is more correct than he knows, earlier in the book, when he speaks the harsh truth about this being a struggle for survival.
Damn, these psychological scars are piling on faster than Lindsay Lohan’s court appearances. I sure hope it doesn’t cause one of the Animorphs to want to quit….
Next time, Cassie quits!