There have been some great animal stories written for children. Brian Jacques’s Redwall series invested woodland creatures with a valor and camaraderie straight out of Tolkien, and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows charmed with its odd blend of comedy and bittersweet nostalgia. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh are in many ways beautiful little stories of life and loss. Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel and Watership Down by Richard Adams (though the latter was written for older audiences) gave an entirely fresh vision of the world and of humanity. At its best, anthropomorphic literature can sublimate the mere novelty of the main characters being animals and by giving us a new perspective show us different ways of looking at what it means to be humans sharing the world.
Does Warriors: Into the Wild measure up? As I’ve probably given away by my long lead-in, not really. It’s a cute little book, clearly meant for quite young (or unambitious) readers, and in one sense I will say that it does exactly what it’s supposed to. That is, the book is fast-paced, violent, and exciting, basically guaranteed to entertain its 9-12 age group and possibly win over even reluctant readers. The suspense is omnipresent (if obvious), and so overall the book really flies along. Erin Hunter (actually the nom de plume of two authors working together, but for the purposes of the review, I’ll treat “her” as one person) does very well in making the text appealing. The trouble is that there really doesn’t seem to be much to say about the book beyond “gripping for kids.” There isn’t much subtlety at work here. Into the Wild certainly can’t be read on more than one level.
The story concerns young Rusty, a kitten who abandons his human owners to run off to live in the wild with the free woods cats (one almost wonders if this was meant to be the spiritual successor to something like Tolkien’s Roverandom, giving kids a fanciful vision of the adventures of cats that go missing). Rusty discovers that four warring clans of kitties live in the forest, locked in a seemingly constant struggle for hunting grounds. There are some elements of mysticism involving each Clan leader being gifted with nine lives by StarClan (the cat variety of ancestor reverence, apparently), but the magical elements really don’t come into play a lot. Rusty is renamed Firepaw to correspond with a prophecy that begins the book (“only fire can save our clan”), and even the 9-year-olds should be feeling pleasantly superior as Firepaw wonders vaguely what on earth the prophecy could mean, as surely fire is a great enemy?
The rest of Into the Wild is an endless muddle of kitty warfare. There’s a plot involving the villainous ShadowClan trying to throw its weight around, and a scheming cat trying to murder his way to the top, but for the most part it’s all an excuse for agonizing on Firepaw’s part, broken by frequent sections of raking claws and snapping teeth, with the occasional dead kitty dropping out of the whirling dustcloud every so often.
I’m still torn, however, on whether or not Hunter’s use of this form and style is actually a bad thing. Once again, I think that younger children (particularly those who aren’t big readers in a general way) will love this. There is suspense, constant action, and a few drops of destiny. It is, and apparently has been, a recipe for success. That said, Warriors: Into the Wild is artistically unimpressive, and thematically rather bland. There certainly isn’t much to instruct or emotionally resonate here. It’s pure escapism, with little in the way of deeper meaning. Some children’s authors drop in tidbits of adult style here and there, perhaps to make the novel accessible to the parents as well, perhaps merely to challenge their young readers. Hunter, for whatever reason, does not attempt this. She writes for a certain set’s entertainment and that’s about it. Even the deaths of the cats are rarely played for emotional reaction, but slipped by quickly so as not to affect the readership overmuch. Thus the book depicts, I suppose, just what will make the readership comfortable: lots of violence with few lasting consequences for the protagonist.
I didn’t dislike the book. It was sweet at times, and I could easily see how it would appeal to children. I do feel, however, that for all the necessity of writing novels that the audience in question wants to read, Warriors: Into the Wild could have done a bit better, reached a little higher, and become something truly impressive to any age group. As the novel stands, it is what it is: adequate and not much else.
Warriors — (Began in 2003) Ages 9-12. Manga editions are also available.
Warriors — (2003-2004) Publisher: Fire alone can save our clan… For generations, four Clans of wild cats have shared the forest according to the laws laid down by their warrior ancestors. But the ThunderClan cats are in grave danger, and the sinister ShadowClan grows stronger every day. Noble warriors are dying — and some deaths are more mysterious than others. In the midst of this turmoil appears an ordinary house cat named Rusty… who may turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all.
Warriors: The New Prophecy — (2005-2007) Publisher: Darkness, air, water, and sky will come together… The wild cats of the forest have lived in peace and harmony for many moons — but a doom that will change everything is coming. Strange messages from their warrior ancestors speak of terrifying new prophecies, danger, and a mysterious destiny. All the signs point to young warrior Brambleclaw as the cat with the fate of the forest in his paws. But why would the son of wicked cat Tigerstar be chosen to be a hero? And who are the other cats mentioned in the prophecy? All Brambleclaw knows for sure is that the strength and courage of the greatest warriors will be needed now, as the quest to save the Clans begins… and shake the forest to its roots.
Warriors: Power of Three — (2007-2008) Publisher: There will be three, kin of your kin… The wild cats have flourished in their new home on the banks of the lake for several seasons, and the Clans are growing strong and healthy with new kits. The time has come for three kits of ThunderClan to become apprentices. Hollypaw, Jaypaw, and Lionpaw spring from a strong legacy: children of Squirrelflight and Brambleclaw, two of the noblest ThunderClan warriors, and grandchildren of the great leader Firestar himself. All three young cats possess unusual power and talent and seem certain to provide strength to the Clan for the next generation. But there are dark secrets around the three, and a mysterious prophecy hints at trouble to come. An undercurrent of rage is rising against those who are not Clanborn, and the warrior code is in danger of being washed away by a river of blood. All the young cats’ strength will be needed if the Clans are to survive… who hold the power of the stars in their paws.
Warriors: Omen of the Stars — (2009-2012) Publisher: After the sharp-eyed jay and the roaring lion, peace will come… Four warrior Clans have shared the land around the lake as equals for many moons. But a prophecy foretells that three ThunderClan cats will hold the power of the stars in their paws. Jayfeather and Lionblaze know that they are two of the cats in the prophecy. Now the brothers must wait for a sign from StarClan to discover the identity of the third cat. Meanwhile, Dovekit and Ivykit — kin of the great leader Firestar — are poised to become ThunderClan apprentices. Soon one sister will have an ominous dream — and will begin to realize that she possesses mystical skills unmatched by any other cat. In the midst of a cruel season that threatens the lives of all four warrior Clans, bonds will be forged, promises made, and three young cats will start to unravel the secrets that bind them together.
Warriors Field Guide
Warriors Super Edition
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