The titles of Animorphs novels might seem mundane, but they are always appropriate. The Change begins as another supposedly simple Animorphs versus Yeerks plot. It turns out to be so much more. Still, an alternative and equally appropriate title might have been The Hope.
Following the revelations from The Andalite Chronicles, Applegate finally returns to the perspective of the most marginalized Animorph, Tobias. Trapped in hawk morph, a nothlit, Tobias can’t exactly contribute to missions in the same way that the others do. The rest of the Animorphs have been good sports about pretending he’s an integral member of the team—and there are moments when he does save their bacon. But Applegate has bigger plans for him, so much so that for the second time in two books, the Ellimist intervenes and makes things get all timey-wimey.
You might have noticed, if you’re still reading these, I’m not flagging them for spoilers. That’s precisely because if you’re still reading these, thirteen books in, then either you’ve read the series at some point in your life, or you really don’t care about things being spoiled.
So Applegate offers us that rarest of all tonics, hope, in two forms.
Tobias totally gets his morphing powers back!!!!
Also: free Hork-Bajir! “Free or die!”
The Change has something else in common with the previous very-special-book: like The Andalite Chronicles, it highlights and humanizes an alien species. The previous book showed us the Andalites (and even the Taxxons) in a way we hadn’t experienced. Now we learn more about the Hork-Bajir. Despite their fierce appearance, they are herbivores. They have tight-knit family structures. They are peaceful creatures, for the most part.
They have names.
Until now, the Hork-Bajir have just been interchangeable foot soldiers for the Yeerks—the Stormtroopers of the Animorphs universe, if you will. They exist for the Animorphs to dispatch—without thought, because they aren’t human—and as imposing, physical barriers to plot advancement. With Jara Hamee and Ket Halpak, Applegate makes the Hork-Bajir—or at least, these Hork-Bajir—into characters. Into people.
We can take a couple of things from this. Firstly, this is yet another example of what the Yeerks do to you. They have enslaved an entire species, transformed a peaceful species into a warrior species, simply to serve them. If you weren’t already frightened of what the Yeerks have done and could do, then you should be frightened now.
More broadly, though, this is another facet of the war motif Applegate examines in these books. Civilians and soldiers alike are encouraged to view the enemy soldiers as Others. Some of the best moments in war stories—and I’m talking about non-fiction as well as fiction here—are the moments that remind us how the people on the other side are humans. They have families and hopes and dreams as well. In this case, the Hork-Bajir obviously aren’t humans. Nevertheless, they have all those other qualities. They are not the machines that kill without question that we have seen so far.
So Applegate introduces another layer of moral complexity. The Animorphs don’t just have to worry about saving the Earth. Now they’re responsible for the only free Hork-Bajir in the galaxy.
Meanwhile, Tobias can morph again. I don’t think anyone, with the possible exception of the Animorphs, was surprised when the Ellimist gave him his morphing powers back instead of just making him human. Perhaps the coda where he acquires himself in the past was a surprise, though. (Having read this book when I was younger, I remembered this vividly—I thought it was a great twist.) I still think it’s a great twist. Ordinarily, timey-wimey deus ex machinae are annoying. Indeed, the flashes of information Tobias receives would, in another context, rob the story of tension. Instead, they heighten the urgency: Tobias is now aware that he’s acting as the agent of this higher power, so something big must be on the line.
Next time, Animorphs go full horse.
You never go full horse.