I get a variety of reactions when I tell people that the series I read throughout my childhood and early teens was one about cats. What’s so great about cats? How can you read book after book, thousands of pages about cats? What can the writer possibly still write about? I too wondered that after reading about twelve of these books. How could I still be hooked on them? How can they still be releasing books, over a decade after I started reading them?
The series I’m rambling about is named Warriors, written by several different female authors under the pseudonym Erin Hunter. The series came to be when Victoria Holmes, an editor, was approached by Harper Collins to write a fantasy series about feral cats. Not being a fan of reading fantasy, she went behind the scenes to supervise details and edit the novel, while Kate Cary was brought in to write the novels. Over time, five other authors joined the Erin Hunter team, all of them female, however not all of them work on the Warriors series.
Currently, there are six sub-series, each containing six books. Besides that there is a multitude of super editions, field guides, manga series, and novellas, totalling about 74 bodies of work in total. As a kid that read about a book a day, this was a dream. The first book (and consequentially the first sub-series) follows a domesticated house-cat named Rusty who decides to join a clan of feral cats who live in the forest right outside his backyard. He leaves his plushy home, where the food is abundant, and the crook of his owner’s knee is always warm, to live a life of hardships: he must learn to fight in battle, to hunt for his own food, and care for others in his clan, such as kits and elders. He must also learn to overcome the judgements of others: kittypets have always been scorned and never before has one been accepted into a clan. He must prove himself over and over — not only to the cats in rival clans but to those he calls comrades.
I think what is so compelling and nearly addicting about these novels is that it is such a wide universe, such a complex world that Erin Hunter has created, containing an extensive amount of characters. There is still so much to discover, which means rereads are almost a must. Admittedly, I haven’t reread any of these novels in quite a few years, but I can still remember the vastness of different themes. It dealt with things such as religion, death, friendship, politics, and racial intolerance, all through cats as characters, which makes everything seemingly less heavy. This is done in such an accessible way that children can understand and learn about topics that usually aren’t “suitable” for children.
Accordingly, the world-building of these novels is not gentle. The reader is thrown into the midst of it, following a kittypet (a domesticated cat) named Rusty who decides to join ThunderClan, one of the four clans of feral cats. The series has created its own society of feral cats, including different religions and its own set of laws named the warrior code. It also has its own vocabulary, referring to natural occurrences as Newleaf (spring), Sunup (dawn), Crowfood (dead animals that have begun to rot), and Twolegs (humans). The universe is continually expanding, the cats eventually being run out of their territories due to deforestation, forcing the clans to band together and find a new place to live. The clans encounter a tribe of cats with a different faith and different customs, which tests the clans’ tolerance and pushes their traditions.
Not only does the setting change, but there is a constant flow of new characters coming in, and old characters passing away or disappearing. Hunter has no mercy for the reader, slaughtering precious characters without care. I vividly remember crying over the deaths of several favourite characters. However, because of the immense amount of characters in the series, there’s always another cat to love.
The Warriors universe truly does mirror the real world, which in hindsight may have prepared me for some of the more serious things in life, perhaps not in a bigger sense, but in a nuanced manner. Warriors has without a doubt taught me about friendship, about love — not just romantically, but for friends and family as well, and loyalty. It has taught me about kindness to strangers and to different races and faiths. I think most of all, it has taught me that despite the darkness, there will always be another Sunup.