Story Study: Warriors by Erin Hunter

My favorite animal as a child was cats. It comes as no surprise, then, that my favorite book series as a preteen starred all feline characters: Warriors by Erin Hunter.

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My first encounter: The first three books of the Warriors series were initially bought for my brother. However, my brother isn’t much of a cat person, nor does he enjoy reading, so he didn’t touch them before I did. I needed a new book to read—a typical dilemma of my childhood, and one I envy today as I drown in my TBR pile—and my mother suggested Warriors. Cats? Say no more. I was all in.

I continued reading the series for a few years as books emerged in various forms: continuous six-book series arcs, “special editions,” manga trilogies, etc. Once the final book of the fourth series was published, I was fourteen and had already started to lose interest in the books. That was the last Warriors book I read.

Sadly, I don’t own the series any longer. I sold my entire collection a few years ago to earn some additional money to attend a writer’s conference. I don’t regret that decision, though. I’m grateful for the series captivating my imagination as a kid, but I had moved on from cats populating my stories to more interesting subjects: people, new worlds, and magic.

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What I love: The cats, of course. It was the perfect series for me as a kid.

The multi-generational stories, with rich narrative arcs for each character that built up across several books. Family ties are an important part of the series, and I enjoyed (and found inspiration) from that. Each member of the main characters’ families from the first six-book series plays an important role once they enter the story. It’s neat to see the ways they interact with each other. The family relationships add complexity to the plot as well, which I appreciated.

The world development was also fascinating and relevant to cats, like clan leaders possessing nine lives, problems caused by humans that the cats aren’t able to avoid or solve, and mythical lore about lions and  tigers. I geeked out over it as a kid.

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What critiques I have: So many inconsistencies. Granted, they were usually small, nitpicky ones, but even as a preteen they annoyed me. For as richly developed as certain parts of the world and characters were, other things like timeline errors or characters switching clans or genders were just irritating. Although, to be fair, these inconsistencies probably happened because “Erin Hunter” is a group of multiple authors, so it’s understandable that some minor details became muddied over the course of crafting the series.

The quality of story, in my opinion, decreased as the books progressed. Part of it could be that I was growing up, but I don’t think that’s the only reason I feel this way about the series. I still read, love, and am enchanted by some middle-grade books today. But my enjoyment of Warriors declined as the story got more complicated and darker. These books are popular; it’s probably made a lot of money for their publishers. But unfortunately, I never fell in love with the later books as I did with the originals. The heroic story and simplicity of the first six-book arc was never recaptured for me as the series progressed.

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My greatest takeaways: I was already writing books starring cats before I discovered this series, but Warriors did inspire me to consider multi-generational stories. Exploring second generation characters in their own narrative arc is a fascinating concept to me, and one that I consider heavily. But it’s also a story I only want to write if it works well and I feel like it’s a compelling plot. (Something I also feel convicted of after my experience with Warriors.) I’m not interested in writing books that only work as fan service or as a money-making enterprise.

Consistency matters. Readers notice inconsistencies and a decline of quality. Just because a reader’s a diehard fan doesn’t mean I can relax when I write and not pay attention to what I’m sending out into the world. I hope to be the kind of author that grips readers with each new story, staying faithful to the craft I’ve learned, and keeping my storyworld and characters consistent as I write.

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Erin Hunter’s Warriors will always be something I look back on and smile at. It was a meaningful reading experience for me as a kid. I won’t forget it, nor will I forget the lessons it taught me—both from its strengths and its weaknesses.

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