Animorphs #4: “The Message”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1996
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: It all started with the dreams. But Cassie didn’t pay much attention to them. She and her friends had all been having weird dreams since they’d first learned to morph. Maybe it was just some crazy side effect.
Plot: Cassie and Tobias have been having strange dreams of the ocean. And when the Animorphs begin to see signs that the Yeerks, too, are showing interest in a specific part of the ocean, they decide they’d better check it out. They morph dolphins, and with the help of their whale friend, they discover a piece of the Andalite home ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And even more importantly, there’s an Andalite on board, but not the adult warrior who could lead their team that they’d been hoping for, but a kid, Elfangor’s little brother, Ax. Many ocean hi-jinks ensue including another desperate escape from Visser Three. This book is important because it introduces Ax for the first time, a main character who will be part of the Animorphs team going forward. I always forget how much he brings to the tone of the books and how much is missing in the first three with his absence. But he’s finally arrived! Yay!
Peace, Love, and Animals: This is our first book from Cassie’s perspective. And while Cassie isn’t one of my favorite characters in the series (in all honesty, usually her books are my least favorite), she does get one of the best books of the series. I liked this book so much that as a kid I picked it for a bookclub book (we had a family bookclub with another family and everyone got to pick a book, and I picked this one!)
As Cassie’s little section title implies, most of what we get from her in other books has to do with her pacifist take on the war and her role as the one with the animal connection. Diving into her viewpoint, we get a lot on both of these aspects of her personality. She struggles when she finds herself in a decision maker/leadership role in this book as one of only two Animorphs dreaming of Andalites; she’s clearly much more comfortable as the supporter of the group. But she does rise to the occasion which speaks well of her ability to do what needs to be done to save her friends and other creatures, even if it goes against her own nature.
Secondly, because the morph they use in this book is dolphins, we hear a lot about Cassie’s perspectives on animals. Specifically, here she is concerned that the Animorphs are not any better than the Yeerks in that a large portion of morphing has to do with taming the wild mind of the animal they become, so is it the same, especially when the animal is very intelligent, like dolphins? While I’m impressed that this short little book in this ridiculous sci fi series is tackling deeper issues like this, this same dilemma of Cassie’s is what makes her frustrating for me as a character. There seem to be large holes in her reasoning here, in that they are not taking over the minds of animals that exist independently of the Animorphs themselves. The morphed body is her own body and it does not exist on its own.
Further, we’ve been getting into each Animorph’s personal reason for fighting in each of their books. And here she finds her motivation after learning from Ax that the Yeerks not only arrive on a planet to take over the minds of the primary sentient species, but that they also terraform each planet to resemble their barren home world, destroying the natural flora and fauna. Yes, it’s horrifying what the Yeerks have planned for Earth itself, but it makes me question Cassie that her tipping point was its destruction not, say, the human race being killed and enslaved.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a nice little scene with Cassie that reminds us all why he’s such a great leader. She’s in the midst of a mini crisis about having to make decisions for the group, and we get some lovely thoughts from Jake about the way he handles this same pressure constantly. While he is not the decision maker behind this adventure, he is a leader all the same, providing the support needed for a teammate who is struggling. It’s these behind-the-scenes moments of strength and support that really show why Jake is such a natural leader.
Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s not up to much, though it is interesting hearing about Rachel and Cassie’s friendship from Cassie’s perspective. They’re such oddball best friends, but it is clear how they balance each other out. Rachel has the confidence to challenge Cassie and get her moving when she could get stuck over-thinking every decision. But Cassie also brings reserve and caution to Rachel’s impulsiveness.
A Hawk’s Life: While we learn that the Animorph’s believe that Cassie is having these dreams due to her morphing powers (that she is so much better at it and thus more closely connected to Andalites in general), Tobias’s connection seems to only be that he had a deeper connection with Elfangor before he died (foreshadowing!!) Poor Tobias once again gets left out of much of the action due to the obvious: hawks don’t do water.
The Comic Relief: Poor Marco has a rough time, but we’ll get to that in “Body Horror”…But the fact that he can’t swim is a big problem in a book that involves the ocean. His close calls in this book only further cement his wariness about his future involvement in Animorphs missions. He’s still worried about leaving his father alone. But he does concede that after watching Elfangor heroically die trying to distract Visser Three from them, if there is an Andalite in need, he’ll be there.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Yay, Ax is here! We only get a bit of him when he shows up in the final third of the book. But his introduction does bring in a bunch of recurring things that will show up in later books. First, the running gag that he calls Jake “Prince Jake” since that is how Andalites address their war leaders. Second, his wealth of information on the Yeerks and space history. And third, the fact that he creates a new morph by combining the DNA of all of the Animorphs. It’s super wacky. It’s like his morph is their group-child or something.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco gets bit in half by a shark! Marco gets bit in half by a shark! It’s as gross as it sounds. As dolphins, the group sees a whale being attacked by sharks and get into a scrap saving it that results in the horrifying image of Marco floating in the ocean with his dolphin tale only hanging on by a few threads of skin. But it does present an important concept about morphing going forward: any wounds that they get while in morph are healed when they de-morph/re-morph since it is all dependent on DNA which isn’t affected by this type of physical damage. Also, the Animorphs discover that the whales can sort of kind of speak? And the whale saves Marco here and the whole group later on.
Couples Watch!: Man, I really forgot how blatant she makes these couples right off the bat! While Cassie and Jake aren’t my favorite couple, they do have several very sweet moments together, including the scene I described earlier where Jake is boosting up Cassie’s confidence. They also have some nice “shared looks” and all of that.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: There’s a scene that’s described here that we never see but I want it now! Apparently, due to his Andalite host body, Visser Three is also having these weird dreams and they’re making him grumpy. So much so that at one point he shoves a Hork-Bajir out of an airlock when he disturbs him. So essentially he’s like Darth Vadar, and you’re going to get Force strangled or shoved out airlocks at any moment if you catch him at the wrong moment.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Poor Ax! The guy’s been stuck at the bottom of the ocean for a month or so now and then when people finally show up to save him he learns that his brother is dead. Stuck on a lonely planet as the only one of his kind, forced into a war he’s not prepared for with a bunch of kids who he doesn’t know and are a different species. Sad times.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It turns out that the Andalite ship is wrecked out in the ocean quite a ways from the shore. So far, in fact, that one 2-hour dolphin morph won’t get them there. So they decide to first morph seagulls (this is a hilarious morph, by the way, in that they all become food obsessed while in it).
Then they scout out a ship heading in the general direction they want to go and hop on board, de-moprhing to human and hiding out. Then when they get nearer, they jump off the side (forgetting somehow that Marco can’t swim, so he has to half morph a dolphin then get tossed over). Then swim the rest of the way as dolphins. Which…already this is a bad plan. But the biggest problem is HOW ARE THEY PLANNING ON GETTING BACK?? There’s no discussion of this and as it turns out, they end up needing to be rescued by the whale who carries them a large portion of the way back. Pure luck.
Rachel: “First we morph into something like a seagull.”
Marco: “I hate plans that begin with the words ‘first we morph.'”
Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2
Another win for the Animorphs! Managing to swipe Ax out from under the Yeerks’ noses counts as a major win for the team. While they didn’t hurt the Yeerks directly, they gained a friend, comrade, and a team member who knows a whole heck of a lot more about the Yeerks and space history than any of them do! Currently the Animorphs are winning the scorecard, let’s see how long this lasts!
Rating: One of my favorite books that introduces our last main character, Ax!
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!