Where Did the Warrior Cats Go?
Reading Time: 2 minutes
If you’ve ever gone to a bookstore, you’ve seen them: portraits of cats staring into your soul with the titles, vague strings of buzzwords, plastered on in glossy foil and scenic foliage. They fill the shelves of your local library’s young adult section and make their way into every book fair, wedged between “Goosebumps” novels and the 2009 Guinness Book of World Records.
The smash hit fantasy series “Warriors” (more commonly known as “Warrior Cats”) is an enigma in the world of young adult books. While the popularity of series like “Harry Potter” or “The Maze Runner” can be attributed to a relatable cast of characters and exciting action, “Warriors” blew up for seemingly no reason. So how did this early 2000s series become the 70-book juggernaut it is today?
The saga began in 2003 when executives at HarperCollins Publishers asked writer Victoria Holmes to pen a fantasy book about feral cats, a concept that she was indifferent to. Consequently, the first “Warrior Cats” book, “Into the Wild,” was released under the pseudonym Erin Hunter. However, Holmes wrote more than she had anticipated. Working with other HarperCollins writers Kate Cary and Cherith Baldry, she began publishing “Warriors” books every three months to surprising success—soon, the writing team grew to six people as the series expanded to spin-offs such as “Survivors” (Warrior Dogs), “Seekers” (Warrior Bears), and “Bravelands” (Warrior Elephants and Lions), with accompanying graphic novels for each series. As of 2021, the “Warrior” team has collectively penned 248 books.
But despite being mass-produced and oversaturated with marketable offshoots, “Warriors” remains fresh and genuinely entertaining, with an active fanbase. Between all the geeky political terminology of the cat clans and vast world-building, there’s something special about “Warriors” that somehow resonates with a generation of Tumblr kids and cat lovers.
Like many young adult book series, “Warriors” found its success in creating a world that readers could insert themselves into. Many aspects of its lore, like the concrete naming system, assorted factions, and various archetypes, were made expressly to let the fanbase create its own characters and stories. In other words, the series was made to be stanned.
From all the collectible field guides and world-building kits to the official “Warriors” website, (which has personality tests and games based on specific characters) it’s not hard to imagine a HarperCollins board meeting, with executives searching for new ways to milk the franchise. It’s clear that “Warriors” is very manufactured—unlike other beloved YA (young adult) series that aim to be more self-contained in world and plot, “Warriors” knows its audience and prioritizes their desires for the series. The website even features pieces from fan artists and promotes creators in the community.
Fanfiction writers and animators are constantly creating alternative universes (or AUs) for the saga (often with their own cat personas), and communities on Facebook, Reddit, 4chan, and YouTube have produced endless amounts of content inspired by the series. While these communities have since been labeled as trivial 2010s obsessions, they have remained active as more volumes have been released—with the most recent addition being “Light in the Mist” in early November 2021. Manufactured or not, the “Warriors” series is a fantastic saga with a thriving community and no end in sight.