| Serial Success |
K.A. Applegate is the Michael Jackson of series fiction; the pre-Harry Potter queen of Scholastic publications with a track record for longevity that kicks J.K. Rowling's ass. Applegate's break-through Scholastic series, Animorphs, aimed at middle-grade readers, soared in popularity in the late '90's, spawning a live action T.V. show on Nickelodeon. The premise: five young teens are given the power to morph into animals--and later, into other life forms--with the expectation that they will use this talent to halt an invasion of aliens with plans to enslave the human race. The caveat: each Animorph may only assume altered state for two hours; after the time limit, the morph is irreversable.
Applegate's descriptions of the morphs--recounted in first person narration--are riveting as the characters struggle to keep their "human" sensibilities while guesting in bodies ruled by instinct. The metaphor for adolescence here is inescapable. The Animorphs, themselves young teens with implied romantic leanings, are--in their altered states--symbollic representations of adolescent sexual crises; with newly found and largely untested [sexual] powers, the protagonists struggle to maintain control of instinct [sex drive] without losing the advantages of their altered form. The transition itself, described as mildly uncomfortable yet exhilerating, has pubescent overtones as the Animorph teens adjust to the real physical changes inherent in the morph.
Toward the turn of the century, Animorphs popularity began fading as the target audience outgrew the series and a new generation of preteens was lured away to the land of Harry Potter. Applegate, in a move reminsicent of R.L. Stine's simultaneous publication of Fear Street and Goosebumps, followed her aging audience with a new series in the fantastic sci-fi genre. Everworld, featuring older characters and settings familiar from years of mythology lessons, found its place on paperback racks and in the backpacks of maturing Animorph devotees.
For readers, the transition from Applegate's old series, Animorphs, to the newer Everworld is practically seamless. The structure of both series volumes are similar--if not identical--and Applegate uses similar literary devices in each. As in Animorphs, each installment of Everworld is told using the first person narrative voice of a different character. That is, each story is told from the unique point of view of a single character, with each volume representing a different character's voice. The books are episodic, with a complete adventure contained in each novel; however, the continuing struggle to understand and escape Everworld is present in each book.
Everworld, a world that has always existed in imagination, is the real setting of K.A. Applegate's new series for older readers. Four teens, associates only through their varied relationships with Senna, a beautiful but mysterious classmate, are sucked into an alternate realm from which there seems no permanant escape. This second plane, for which Senna seems to act as gatekeeper, houses lands and beings of myth and fantasy. Here, Sir Arthur and his knights live and fight in a land frozen in the Middle Ages while gods and goddesses argue and pose in an Athenian city. Fairies and leprechauns inhabit an Irish countryside while Aztec warriors prepare blood sacrifices on hot beaches.
Power struggles in the other world are as real as conflicts in the modern realm as each Everworld species fights for absolute power, riches, and control of the gateway to the human world. Enter Christopher, David, Jalil, and April, an unlikely band of heroes lured into Everworld and made prisoners in this land of myth and magic. As foreign and dangerous as Everworld seems, to Applegate's teenage protagonists this land of make-believe is in ways more real than the "real world". The lure of Everworld, explains David, is the absolute freedom and purity of a world thought impossible, a contrast to the high school landscape of "shiny malls and dark school hallways and narrow homes and T.V. blaring and smiley face email and don't do drugs, don't do sex, don't eat junk food, don't, don't, don't" (Applegate, Search for Senna, 1994).
Unlike the Animorph series, which continued though 40 plus volumes, Everworld is complete in 12 installments. The choice to end Everworld may be another shrewd publishing move as, at this writing, Applegate is premiering a new sci-fi/dystopian series for middle and high school readers.
Publishing house lure or creative license aside, the decision to end Everworld answers a question unique to series fiction: how will it all end? Sweet Valley High readers have been coaxed from junior to senior year series, and then to college and beyond. Everworld, which exists in its own time, is self-contained. Ultimately, the characters have an opportunity to continue to split their existences in the two realms, or to abandon life in the modern world. The choices the characters make are unique and surprising, though inevitable and satisfying.
Coming soon: an Everworld literary analysis!