Posts about HarperCollins
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Update This was a one day strike as a show of force and is now over. A one day strike brings attention to the issue without slowing down the production of books, which wouldn't be fair to the authors.
People were super supportive in person and with the lost wage fund since HC is holding the day's wages from anyone who participated in the strike. The fund is now closed and a big thanks to anyone who shared the info or contributed.
If you still want to show support, follow HCPUnion on all social media platforms for updates and more info!
Do NOT boycott HarperCollins books. This would hurt the authors the most. We love the authors and many HC authors were vocal about their support of the protest today!
[Warrior Cats] The time HarperCollins published baby's first romance novella about grooming for ages 8 and up: the ballad of Spottedleaf’s Heart
I was surprised to find no one’s done a write-up on this before amid the several other (very good!) Warrior Cats posts, considering the fact that it’s HarperCollins, but, also, it’s HarperCollins. I think you might understand why they'd want to bury this one a bit. More than anything, the Spottedleaf’s Heart controversy isn’t just about badly written books or the reactions of fan communities— it’s about the obligations of children’s authors to make sure their books are acceptable for their audience, and what happens when they shirk that obligation. For that reason, please note that this write-up heavily involves themes, implications, and direct quotes from fiction on the subjects of child grooming and abuse. Stay safe, hobby friends!
Great question! At this point, I genuinely don’t think anyone, including the authors, actually knows the answer. I’ve been reading and making fanworks for the better part of a decade, and this is the best I’ve got:
The Warriors Cats series, despite being children's literature, is largely popular to this day. Released consistently since 2003, it has been published in 27 languages, and garnered over 40 million books sold. For those unaware, it centers on a society that consists of 5 groups, or “clans,” of wild forest cats. These cats exist on a hierarchy of ranks within each clan, which they progress through depending on age from kitten/child, apprentice/teen in training, to warrior/adult general clan member. There are also medicine cats, who act as healers and are able to contact their ancestors, StarClan. These ranks have substantial power and influence gaps between them, which is important to understand for later. For the purposes of this post, however, you don’t need to know much more than that about the lore. The series itself is over 80 installments large, spanning novels, graphic novels, spin-offs, and novellas (also a movie that’s in development hell, maybe? Who's to say). Altogether, somewhere around 8 people author the books, under the collective pseudonym of “Erin Hunter.” I can't emphasize enough how long and convoluted the Warriors timeline is, some 7 years after the first book, spread across several authors and editing committees. It frequently contradicts itself, suffers from countless inconsistent retcons, and the writing... is not ideal. Here's a fun list of notable errors. It’s so extensive that it’s actually a list of links that go to more lists that cover individual books and arcs, many of which have over 70 citations per page. I love the good folks over at the Warrior Cats wiki dearly.
A personal favorite sampling plate of writing errors, just to illustrate: Here’s a reddit thread about the time they wrote an entire book where they retconned the entire inciting action of the first arc. Here’s a video from a popular WCtuber about how many times one of the protagonists has been described with different eye colors, repeatedly (2 gold, 21 blue, 33 green, if you’re wondering). The best modern parallel I can draw is the current state of the Marvel and D.C. comics industry, wherein a rotating crew of authors are all writing the same characters and not consulting each other about them or the general timeline whatsoever. As an older Warrior Cats fan, my exasperated amusement at the burning dumpster fire that is this franchise is the general consensus: they’re terrible, but, also, there’s cats. So that’s nice.
(They never are, but we can dream.)
In 2017, the Erins— as they’re colloquially and somewhat antagonistically known— announced a new novella collection: Legends of the Clans, a three-part anthology of multi-chapter short stories about the hidden histories of three secondary characters from past story arcs. The hype for this book was generally one of excitement. In terms of character choice, the Erins had seemingly listened to the fandom’s impassioned cries that they stop writing about the same three characters and family trees, and instead choose absolutely anyone else, at all. The stories were titled Pinestar’s Choice (centered around Pinestar, a background ThunderClan leader who became a housecat), Thunderstar’s Echo (on the first ancient leader of the imaginatively self-titled ThunderClan), and Spottedleaf’s Heart (about the childhood of the very first arc’s medicine cat).
It’s important to note that Spottedleaf has always been something of a divisive figure. Her characterization is flat, she was fridged for the male protagonist within, like, three books, and suffers from general Erin Hunter Writing Women syndrome. (All female warrior cats characters tend to have one of three static personality types: temporarily rebellious teenager, inevitable bland mother figure, and woman who dies for plot reasons. It’s like a butterfly life cycle!) However, Spottedleaf is unique in that she’s one of the only ThunderClan medicine cat characters who has actively chosen, on screen, to be a medicine cat. Generally, medicine cat characters become as such only because they can’t be a warrior, and mainly because they’re inhibited or disabled in some way (blind, or paralyzed, to name a few). Putting aside the deeply problematic nature of that specific plot wrinkle for another time, even the most ardent of Spottedleaf haters could admit this was a redeeming trait. So, the news that we’d be learning more about her choice to become a healer and why she decided to be one was collectively well received.
Be a real shame if the Erins forgot how to write their own characters again.
Enter destroying angel and arch nemesis of Warrior Cats wiki mods everywhere, Victoria "Vicky" Holmes.
Admittedly, writing mistakes tend to be minor. Even when they end up as fandom in-jokes, they’re about character appearance inconsistencies, or background characters disappearing and reappearing between books, etc.— things that have very little effect on the actual plot. Even if Spottedleaf’s Heart was riddled with the absolute wildest timeline and description errors possible (which it was), that still wouldn’t have diminished its’ appeal entirely to the community. Plenty of books that don’t actually fit into the timeline well are beloved— for example, essentially every other novella on that linked page. The only way Holmes could well and truly ruin such a hotly anticipated book is if she changed it so that Spottedleaf didn’t actually choose to be a healer, negating her one of her only redeeming qualities in the eyes of the fandom. Or mischaracterized her even worse than she already is. Or gave the child protagonist of her wildly popular children’s book series a romance arc with a married adult man, edited that, and then willingly chose to publish it.
From a DeviantArt journal entry by a former moderator of the Warriors Wiki, commenting on Vicky Holmes:
“[…] she just makes her answers on the spot. She doesn’t care enough to check her own continuity. […] There’s so many plot holes. Such horrid character development. Either bad or no lessons to be taken away. And as someone that has spent so much time dedicated to this series it feels like such a betrayal that I can’t even begin to describe the feeling.”
That’s from 2014. On April 11, 2017, the fans would be desperately wishing that Holmes would go back to writing Warriors books with no lessons, because the lesson of Spottedleaf’s Heart was this: no one chooses to be a medicine cat, adult/child relationships are fine if they reeeeaaaally love each other, and if an adult you don’t know takes you on a date, you shouldn’t tell your parents. I understand if it seems like I’m exaggerating. Surely HarperCollins, publisher of such classic and acclaimed children’s literature as The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Goodnight Moon would have properly vetted this plotline before they just sort of flung it haphazardly into the abyss of the youth section at your local library? It’s a correct skepticism. Therefore, let me go through Spottedleaf’s Heart using the understood model for childhood grooming, often described in 6 stages, listed here.
(All page numbers cited from the mobile eBook version. Feel free to skip if you don't want to read direct quotes about this-- prior content warnings apply.)
Stage 1: Targeting a victim
“She followed her mentor through the gorse tunnel, screwing up her eyes as a thorn sprang back at her. Thistleclaw was just behind her.
'I haven’t seen you on a hunting patrol for a while,' he commented as they scrambled up the ravine side by side.
'Thrushpelt wanted me to get my technique right first,' Spottedpaw explained, puffing slightly.
'Your hunting skills looked good enough to me before your apprentice ceremony!' Thistleclaw meowed.” (pg. 24)
Stage 2: Gaining Trust
“The pale-furred warrior blinked at her, his expression earnest. 'But it was, Spottedpaw! I value your opinion, don’t you know that? I want to know what you think about everything! Tigerpaw, Sunstar, Tawnyspots, StarClan, the fresh-kill pile, whether the elders should deal with their own ticks . . .' […] “Thistleclaw leaned toward her until their cheeks brushed. 'I think a very great deal of you, Spottedpaw. Wherever I am, in my nest, in the forest, patrolling the borders . . . you are always beside me.' (pg. 49)
Stage 3: Praise/Filling A Need
"'Yes,' she whispered. 'But you’re a warrior, and I’m only an apprentice. . . .'
'You won’t be an apprentice forever! I’ve watched you train, and I know you’ll pass your assessment with no trouble at all.' Thistleclaw straightened up. 'There is no harm in thinking about the future. Our future.' (pg. 49)
“Thistleclaw gestured with his tail. 'Look at those two clouds, side by side. And those crows flying over the trees—how many of them are there? That’s right, two! Down there beside the river, do you see those two dark stones? We’re meant to be a pair, Spottedpaw. StarClan says so.' He glanced at her, and there was a mischievous gleam in his eyes.” (pg. 50)
Stage 4: Isolating the Child
“Ah, Featherwhisker! Our mighty medicine cat!” Thistleclaw’s voice took on a sharper tone. […] “You sound as if you like him more than me! If he’s so precious, why don’t you go hang out in the medicine den for a few more moons?'” (pg. 50)
“'I want to be with you.'
Thistleclaw’s amber eyes burned into hers. 'Prove it,' he whispered.
Spottedpaw blinked. 'What do you mean?'
'Prove how much I mean to you. Come with me tonight.'
'Where? Are we going to cross the border?'
Thistleclaw twitched his tail. 'You’ll see. Go to your nest as usual, and I will fetch you. Tell no other cat that you’ll be with me. Do you trust me?'" (pg. 50)
Stage 5: Contact
"'There was a rapid thud of paws and Thistleclaw bounded out of the undergrowth, his pelt slick from the mist. 'You made it!'
Spottedpaw blinked in relief. She leaned close to inhale his scent, but somehow he didn’t smell of anything; the stench of earth and woodrot was too strong. […] 'I’m scared,' Spottedpaw confessed. 'It’s so dark and quiet here.'
'You’re safe with me, I promise,' Thistleclaw murmured. He rested his muzzle briefly on top of her head, then took off again.” (pg. 54)
Stage 6: Maintaining Control
“His eyes were hopeful, pleading, and Spottedpaw felt her pelt begin to lie flat. 'No, I don’t doubt you. But that doesn’t mean I agree with your training in the Dark Forest.'
'I’m not asking for your agreement,' Thistleclaw meowed. 'This is a part of who I am. I thought you would understand why I’m doing this. I just want to keep my Clan safe—to keep you safe. I would do anything for you, Spottedpaw. '
Spottedpaw stared at him, her mind whirling. How can I argue with that? I love you as much as you love me.” (pg. 68)
In case it wasn’t clear, Thistleclaw took Spottedpaw to the equivalent of Evil Cat Hell, the Dark Forest, where Evil Cats go to train in the best ways to be evil. Somehow, this shoehorned revelation is the least interesting thing about this novella. In fact, I would like to emphasize the thing that matters most about the reactions to these passages, and this specific drama at large: aside from Spottedpaw’s cursory argument on their age and power gap, it isn’t brought up at any point following that. Ever. Without any cultural context, it comes across easily as simply a part of their forbidden relationship, almost Romeo and Juliet-esque in sheer ignorance; Thistleclaw might be a bad boy who made a deal with the cat-devil, but his pursuit of Spottedpaw is written to the most harmless part of his character. The novella was titled Spottedleaf’s Heart, after all, and regardless of the author’s intent, one thing remained clear in any reading: Victoria Holmes had made a cautionary tale into a romantic one. The ability of the Warrior Cats target audience— usually around 8 and up, according to their Amazon pages— to tell those things apart in this situation would presumably be slim to none. In fact, the Legends of the Clans Amazon page is even more damningly specific: the book's intended age group is 8 to 12.
For older fans expecting a nostalgic romp through the eyes of a first arc character, she’d just stomped all over their beloved middle school library memories. For younger fans… see all of the above. I don’t know about you, but “critical thought on the lessons conveyed in their media consumption” is not a skill I tend to attribute to the toddler age group.
To say that all of this galvanized people would be something of an understatement.
Book piracy is generally fairly common in the older Warrior Cats community, seeing as a lot of college students aren’t super keen on spending their thin supplies on children’s anthropomorphic cat books, but the speed at which Spottedleaf’s Heart was ripped into a pdf and shared around Tumblr and other platforms is truly surprising. One rumor spread from the first readers as to what the novella was like, and then everyone wanted to get their hands on the pages to see how bad it actually was. The Warrior Cats community has disliked installments before, but never prior to this was there ever such a consistently shocked and unified response— in the eyes of many, Spottedleaf’s Heart wasn’t just bad, it didn’t deserve the title of “canon” at all. This, even today, remains the dominating view. It's the book-that-shall-not-be-named.
One of the most popular Warrior Cats animation and commentary YouTubers, Moonkitti, posted a video summarizing and then consequently tearing into the novella. It has over 600k views. Some of the comments concerning the effects it would have had on fans when they were children are particularly upsetting, and underscore the backlash far better than anything I could hope to say:
“honestly if i had read this book when i was being abused by a man who, by the way, acted very similarily towards me as thistleclaw does to spottedpaw in the book, i wouldve felt even more discouraged to speak out and tell someone. […] if your kids book is going to cover grooming and such material, you have an obligation to make sure its not teaching kids the wrong things.” (druid’s hollow via YouTube)
Amid the general chaos and shock, many pointed out with the air of weathered fandom elders that this was just the next in a series of both common sense and complex issues the Erins have written about with seemingly zero tact or critical thought whatsoever. Others argued that, even if they had went about it in the utmost respectful way possible, Warrior Cats was still targeted at very young children:
”it’s so dark and deals with something that I’m extremely cautious about being discussed in SERIOUS ADULT MEDIA. […] I’m not sure how much a kid would understand but I don’t think it even matters because this shouldn’t have existed in the first place.” (butchhollyleaf via Tumblr)
Of course, because this is the internet, some people didn’t care. Particularly on the official forums or Facebook, there was a subset of readers that argued the outcry was the result of “triggered tumblrinas” that forgot “they’re cats guys.” Most of these, you’ll see in the comments section of Vicky’s official response post, a Facebook status update that managed to simultaneously justify both the grooming plot and the bad characterization while also not addressing any facets of the main controversy at all. If anything, she doubled down. She was surprised by the “strength of reaction to Spottedleaf’s Heart,” “intrigued by the twin themes of criticism,” emphasized once again her decision to have Spottedleaf want to be a warrior instead of a medicine cat, and seemingly could not remember that the target readership for her novella did in fact remain elementary and middle schoolers. Well, at least there’s good news-- Spottedleaf’s Heart was only released as an eBook and wasn’t well advertised at the time, so it probably only reached those already in the community aware of the release. Except... it also got published a year after release as a paperback, despite the absolute shitstorm that followed the first time. Hm.
Oh, remember the thing about Spottedleaf wanting to be a medicine cat? How that was the main reason she stood out as a character? Well, if you liked her for that reason, you were suddenly and mercilessly out of luck, because Spottedleaf’s Heart canonizes that it was actually Thistleclaw’s doing all along. Spottedpaw wanted to be a warrior, but was so shocked by, in Vicky’s words, “cats with confusing, sinister motivations,” that she could not longer bear to pursue it. This is the detail that tends to be used to snub most “Spottedleaf’s Heart is an empowerment book for childhood abuse survivors” arguments— a mainstay in the comments section of that Vicky Holmes update— seeing as the outcome of Spottedpaw’s childhood abuse is that she gives up on her dream and decides to become the feral cat equivalent of a monk in order to escape the influence of her predator. For the small but apparently extant amount of fans who liked Thistleclaw prior to this, they found themselves suddenly trapped in a purgatory of character assassination. Spottedleaf’s Heart took Thistleclaw from “minor but entertaining antagonist of the first arc with a soft spot for his wife and kids” to “evil guy who abducts children and cheats on his wife.” The old Thistleclaw was about as close to morally gray as the Erins could get (which is to say not even a little bit), and Thistleclaw stans could only watch in horror as “Thistleclaw apologists do not interact” was added to many a blog description. To this day, I still see people clarifying with a fervor under every piece of fanart that they're a fan of the old Thistleclaw, lest they be torn asunder by swarms of anon hate mail.
A week later, Vicky retired from her role in the series.
For more Erins vs. Fandom content, the war as old as StarClan itself: