Warriors Cats took over my life and now it will take over yours By Audra Dale
About the piece: I wrote this piece for my Advanced Writing class as a sophomore in college. I really loved the Warriors Cats books as a child, and still love them today, so I chose them as my topic. It was a really challenging piece for me to write, because I had to find the best way of conveying a topic that was so rich with confusing detail to an audience that might not be at all familiar with it. It was a really fun and interesting process, and I learned a lot about myself and my own writing. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
When I was a kid, I became absolutely obsessed with this book series that was about clans of cats that all lived in a forest and fought each other. Some of you who grew up in the early to mid 2000s might know what I’m talking about; but for those who don’t that’s fine because everytime I try to explain it to people who don’t know what I’m talking about it’s usually because they don’t like cats or they don’t care enough about cats to read an entire 24-part book series plus the super editions plus the short stories plus the manga plus the field guides. However, I recently started re-reading these books and they are just as good as I remember. So, I am going to channel my annoying fifth-grade self who could literally care less about how much you hate cats or how much you don’t care about them, and take you on a wonderful, whisker-filled journey on why this book series means so much to me; and why they are so wonderful at portraying complicated issues in a way that is digestible to children, without dumbing them down.
Why do most people read classic literature and poetry? I bet you are confused as to why I’m starting this long-winded rant about my favorite cat-books with a question about poetry and literature, huh? Well, to answer my own question, I think we read poetry and classic literature because they have some deep connection to the common human experience (love, fear, heartbreak, etc.), and portray it so well that we all collectively decide that it is good. It satisfies our need to ponder and feel things on a deeper level. That’s why things like Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein are still read and beloved by lovers of literature to this day. They scratch our itch to experience love1 and heartbreak, and talk so profoundly about human nature, and the highs and lows of life that they have survived for centuries.
These books captivated me as a child. Through Warriors I experienced things that broke my heart, and also things that made it soar. I experienced grief, anger, fear, love and heartbreak. They introduced me to the complexity of the real world while keeping me appropriately removed from it. I remember sobbing when one of my favorite characters died2, after watching him grow up from a kitten to a clan leader and enduring seemingly endless tragedy. It was sad, but I also connected to him in a way that I had never connected to a book character before.
Before any of you get ahead of yourself, I am not proposing that my beloved book series should be shelved with all of the classics as an example of fine literature. In my opinion they are that good, but a different kind of good that doesn’t fit with the dusty jackets of the classics. At the end of the day, they made me feel and think so deeply about life and all its tragedies and celebrations, that it is unfair for you to put it back on the shelf of the children’s section in Barnes and Noble because it is about cats.
Now, before we get into the rest of this paper, I just wanted to tell all of you that it is totally okay if the names are confusing. I will do my best to cut down on that confusion as much as possible, mostly by just cutting all the names that aren’t important and giving you all the information you need to know either here or in the footnotes. All I’m trying to say is, don’t get distracted by the details! I’ll let you know what’s important because I’m cool like that. Also, if you find yourself wanting to read this wondrous book series, the books themselves come equipped with maps and a list of all the cats that show up in the book organized by Clan and rank3!
For now, all you need to know is that there are four clans that share a forest, ThunderClan, WindClan, RiverClan and ShadowClan. Throughout the series, there are name changes associated with rank. If you are a kitten, you get the suffix of -kit. When you are training to become a warrior you’re a -paw. Then you get a unique name when you become a warrior. Finally, if you are lucky enough to become a leader, you become a -star. The entire Warriors story is actually composed of four separate series. They all follow the same overarching storyline and each series has six books. For example, the first series follows Firestar, the second follows Brambleclaw who is the son of the villain from the first series. The next series after that follows Brambleclaw’s kids and so on and so forth. There are also some spin-off “Super Editions” that follow characters that appear in the books that were not main characters in the main storyline. Simple right4!
One blow to the shoulder unbalanced Tigerstar. He fell on his side, exposing his belly, and Scourge’s5 vicious claws sank into his throat. Blood welled out as the smaller cat ripped him down to the tail with a single slash6. (Warriors: The Darkest Hour, 233)
I bet that excerpt freaked you out a little bit. This entire time I have been talking about cat books and you were probably thinking to yourself, “Oh it’s not that serious. It’s probably like a cartoon that has dark undertones but doesn’t really deal with those issues in any meaningful way.” Well my friend, you were wrong. How do you feel? I’m just kidding. I’m not trying to be mean or assume anything about you, dear readers, however, this is usually the reaction I get when I start talking and nobody ever expects anything like what you just read.
I don’t know if I should have been reading something this violent and gruesome as a fifth-grader. But I did, and I turned out fine! Besides, from what I can remember this is about as bad as it gets in terms of violence. I believe that it will be more effective to show you what these books are like rather than simply explain them.
Now, before we hop into this next excerpt, I should probably give you a little bit of context. I know, I know. I promise to keep it brief. This scene takes place in a Super Edition called Crookedstar’s Promise that is all about—you guessed it—Crookedstar! He’s the leader of RiverClan! The book is 490 pages long and I read the whole thing as a fifth-grader, that was how invested I was in these books. The Super Editions usually pack the largest punch emotionally and this one in particular did. It follows the life of Crookedstar, who appeared in the first series, from childhood until around the time the first series is supposed to start. Unfortunately, there are a few names you need to know. Stormkit refers to Crookedstar7, Rainflower is his mother, Oakkit is his brother and Shellheart is his father.
Rainflower paused mid-lick. “That’s your new nest,” she meowed.
“My nest?” Wouldn’t he be sleeping in her nest with Oakkit? Like before?
“You’ll need your own space,” Rainflower told him. “Your jaw must be sore. You’ll probably fidget in your sleep. I don’t want Oakkit disturbed just because you’re injured,” (50).
This is around the moment that my blood begins to boil. I get so angry even just writing it now, but trust me, it gets worse.
Stormkit blinked at his mother. “It doesn’t hurt now,” he mewed, “I won’t fidget, I promise.”
“Still, it’s better if you have your own space.” Rainflower returned to her washing.
Volekit nudged Stormkit’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go and play.”
Stormkit stared at his mother. Was she angry because he’d worried her by being so ill? (50).
How heartless do you have to be to make your son who just got horribly disfigured due to an accident sleep by himself in the corner while you dote on your other son. But really, this is the most heartbreaking part:
Shellheart poked his head through the entrance. “How are you settling in?”
“I’ve got my own nest.” Stormkit mumbled.
Shellheart narrowed his eyes. “Have you got your own nest, too, Oakkit?”
Oakkit stared at his paws.
“Rainflower,” Shellheart’s mew was more like a growl. “I’d like to speak with you outside.”
The fur along Rainflower’s spine bristled as she hopped out of the den.
“His own nest?”
“He has to grow up eventually,” Rainflower answered.
“But Oakkit can stay in your nest?” Shellheart hissed.
“Stormkit must be used to his own nest after so long in the medicine den.”
Shellheart snorted. “At least you’re still calling him Stormkit.”
“And I’ll keep calling him that till Hailstar changes his name formally.”
“So you’re still determined to rename him Crookedkit?” (50-51).
Is your heart breaking too? It’s about here that I begin to actually cry. Crookedstar’s mother was so cruel that she wanted to change his name from Stormkit to Crookedkit. A name that directly reflected a disability that was new to Crookedstar at the time, and one that he was already self-conscious about and struggling with. He could barely eat at first because of the way his jaw healed, and here was his mother making sure he felt even worse about himself. Basically, Rainflower goes on to blame Crookedstar for his accident and that she shouldn’t have to deal with it.
Shellheart’s voice was a little more than a whisper. “I never knew you could be so heartless, Rainflower,” he growled. “If you insist on Hailstar going ahead with the renaming ceremony then we are no longer mates. I will never share a den or a piece of fresh-kill with you again.”
“Very well,” (52).
I think it is safe to say that we all want to murder Rainflower for this. Also, go Shellheart for not putting up with her. But this is the kind of adult-centered content I mean. Crookedstar not only had to endure the abuse from his mother, but he also had to witness his parents fight and blamed himself for their fighting. Remember that he is a child at this point. Imagine a 7-year-old having to watch their parents fight because he broke his arm and can never use it again. Imagine a 7-year-old child being told by his mother that because his arm is broken, he will never be her handsome little boy again and therefore they should change his name to broken-arm because that’s all he is to her.
I know this essay is for the most part lighthearted, but I am serious when I say that these books changed my life and taught me not only good values like honor and respect and also exposed me to the hard parts in life. Sure I probably won’t see someone getting sliced open on the street (I really hope not), but war exists and men come back from it having witnessed the deaths of their friends. I may not be a child of divorce or really witnessed more than a little spat between my parents, much less a full-blown argument about how ugly I am and whether I am deserving of my mother’s love. But I know so many kids who are children of divorce and become depressed and withdrawn. These books present very real and relevant issues all tied up in a neat little children’s-book-about-cats-themed bow.
So even if you “can’t think about cats without flinching8,” I hope that you can at least realize that these books hold so much value not just for children, but adults as well. They are genuinely well-written and intricate novels where the clans within them live by a code of honor and strive to take care of their clanmates with everything they have9. Cats like Crookedstar and Firestar must endure incredible hardships in their lives and still lead their clans with courage and dignity. I think we can all learn from these books, and I really hope that you, dear readers, will give these books a chance just like I did.
- *English major voice* Well, I wouldn’t say Frankenstein delves very much into the subject of love (except to show the severe lack of it) but that is a conversation for another day.
- Who you will be introduced to later in this paper. Aren’t you excited??
- You’re confused already aren’t you?
- Don’t worry, I had as hard of a time trying to condense all of this information down into something semi-digestible as you did reading it. I suppose there is just no way around the inevitable info-dump, is there?
- If anyone is remotely interested, the reason Scourge and Tigerstar are two distinctly different vibes name-wise is because Tigerstar is from the clans that the books are about, and Scourge is an outsider to those clans, called a rouge.
- Another little bit of trivia for you, Tigerstar was a leader when he died, which means that cat-heaven gave him nine lives. So, he didn’t just die once. He woke up eight more times and died all over again. Pretty gruesome right?
- In short, Crookedstar broke his jaw as a kit, hence the cruel name-change.
- If that’s the case this must have been a nightmare for you to read.
- Unless you’re Rainflower or Tigerclaw.