I read the first Warriors book with my two best friends in elementary school. And when I say "with" I do mean with — the three of us would all cram together, side by side, with the single book held between us. We all read at different speeds, and the owner of the book (not me) was fairly strict about who was allowed to hold it. Turning each page was an ordeal.
But we had to read it that way, because Warriors: Into the Wild was more or less the holy text of our friendship. Sure, we liked Harry Potter as much as all the other kids and yes, we played our fair share of Pokemon and Scooby Doo-inspired make believe. Our true passion, though, lay in pretending to be adorable animals in dire circumstances. One of our most beloved recess games was known simply as "The Cats Die." We'd enact characters from the Disney film The Aristocats valiantly struggling to climb a sheer cliff face (i.e. going the wrong way up the slide), before plummeting tragically to our deaths.
So when we found Warriors, it was like we'd dreamed it up ourselves. An entire book series about warrior cats? Cats with grand destinies going on spiritual quests? Cats who were frequently maimed or killed in the heat of battle?
It was all our most gruesome recess games cranked up to eleven.
If you were not quite so taken with visions of cat-Valhalla as a child, allow me to give you a brief summary of Warriors (and I do mean brief, because the original series currently has six sub-series, each containing six books, and a cast of characters that would give the Marvel movies a run for their money).
Basically, Rusty is a house cat who leaves his Twoleg owners to join Thunderclan, one of four tribes of feral cats living in the woods behind his house. He is given the name Firepaw, and ushered into a world of political intrigue and cat-based violence, where he learns that he just might be the prophesied savior of his new clan.
Over the course of the series, Firepaw works his way up from apprentice to Warrior (Fireheart) and finally to Leader (Firestar). Subplots include illegitimate kittens, clan betrayals, corrupt politicians, a refugee crisis, and a pack of wild dogs who rip off half of a kitten's face.
Were the plots original? No. And I say that with all due respect to the three to four authors who write under the name Erin Hunter. Warriors pulls heavily from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (but with cats). There are shades of Game of Thrones and Redwall and Shakespeare (but, again, with cats).
But it hardly mattered that the series was a re-tread of every other prophecy-based fantasy property out there. It didn't matter that the four clans of the forest were pretty darn close to the four Hogwarts houses. It didn't even matter that the books were silly — and they do seem pretty silly, especially from an adult point of view. The cats have names like "Bramblepelt" and "Sparrowflight" and they take their ancestor-based cat religion very seriously.
To us, though, these Machiavellian cat plots were new. To our third grade minds, there was nothing silly about a cat named Tigerclaw going against the sacred word of Starclan to betray his Leader, Bluestar.
To me and my friends, these books finally understood what we wanted as readers: we didn't want adorable chapter books about babysitters starting a club, or about tweens learning the importance of friendship. We wanted a multi-layer epic about housepets killing each other over land disputes.
We read Warriors so religiously, in fact, that our fifth grade teacher pulled us aside for an intervention. According to her, we had to start reading books with human protagonists. By then, of course, we weren't only reading Warriors; we had expanded to fantasy series about wolves, deer, and rats. We promised that we would knock it off with the animal books, and then promptly returned to our lists of potential Warrior Cat names for ourselves and everyone else we knew.
Of course, as we got older, we gradually introduced human-based literature back into our reading diets. I can confirm that nearly all of the books I read these days revolve almost entirely around human beings (although my cat will frequently place herself directly on top of the page I'm reading, regardless of the subject matter).
I think of Warriors from time to time, though, and not just when my cat stares wistfully out the window. Every time I sit down to write something that feels too niche, something that someone might consider silly, I think of Fireheart. Yeah, sure, he's a goofy cat messiah with a melodramatic name from a very specific series of books. But he meant something to me when I was a kid.
Like most adults, I'm a little embarrassed to publicly declare my love for silly things. I worry that my fiction writing is too fantastical, and that my nonfiction writing is too unabashedly passionate about books like A Game of Thrones and, well, Warriors. I wonder if I should reel it in, pretend not to care quite so much. But then I remember those three kids who were so flippin' excited to be reading a book about warrior cats that they all crowded around one singular copy. I remember feeling like Warriors understood me in a way that books about actual school children never could. And I remember that writing what you know is all well and good... but writing what you care about is better.
...even if what you care about is a clan of warrior cats.