Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Fourteenth: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp 02/26/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 12:55 pm
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Tagline: “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?” (Props for age appropriateness.)

Premise: Grady and his family move to Florida after his scientist father begins studying the habits of swamp deer when transplanted to America. This means plenty of time to explore the swamp just beyond his backyard with his new friends Will and Cassie and the dog that shows up in the yard and becomes his own, Wolf. Every night, Grady hears howling outside his house. Cassie plants the idea of werewolves in his head, which Will and Grady’s family vehemently deny. Still, Grady is suspicious of the swamp hermit, convincing himself that the man could very well be a werewolf. Eventually, Grady decides to scope out the scene after hearing the overnight howls. That’s when he discovers the reason Will denied the existence of werewolves: he is one. Will attacks Grady and gives him a bite, Wolf defends Grady and takes down Will, and, in a lovely little twist, that bite doesn’t kill Grady, transforming him into a werewolf instead.

Creepiness factor: As high as ever. This book involves animals teared limb from limb, courtesy of Will’s midnight strolls, and classic monster movie tactics. It’s the first time Stine’s tackled a truly classic monster, and he does so very, very well.

Signature Stine moment: Some similes here, some abbreviated sentences, but what I like is the heavy-handed indication of things to come. It’s something that happens in nearly every book, something along the lines of “Little did Dad know what he’d find out about real monsters later.” Here’s this book’s offering.

“We had no idea that something was about to happen that night that might change his opinion about werewolves–forever.”

Accuracy of title: 100% accuracy right here. It’s about a werewolf in an area commonly referred to as Fever Swamp. Good show, Stine.

Moral of the story: If you believe your dog’s not a werewolf, don’t worry, he isn’t, despite what your family and friends might say. But your new friend probably is, so, you know, watch out for him.

Overall rating: 8/10. This is a genuinely creepy, engaging story. The idea isn’t exactly original, since all werewolf stories end up about the same, but it’s handled well here. Next up: You Can’t Scare Me!

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Book the Thirteenth: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder 02/17/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 7:52 pm
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Tagline: “Play it again, hands!” (Once you read the book, this proves itself to be a pretty clever reference, one that will completely lost on the children of America.)

Premise: After wildly unlikeable protagonist Jerry finds a piano in his new house’s attic, his parents sign him up for piano lessons with Dr. Shreek of the Shreek School, perhaps hoping it will distract Jerry from his obnoxious habit of, well, being obnoxious. It works, except for the part where Jerry keeps insisting he’s hearing piano music and seeing a lady ghost playing it. His lessons begin normally enough as he meets Mr. Toggle, the Shreek School’s janitor and master of machinery (lots of homemade floor sweepers and the like) and studies with the Santa Claus-like Dr. Shreek. But there’s something weird about the school. Jerry’s friend Kim says that students go in and never come out, Jerry can’t seem to find his way around, and he’s never seen a soul besides Toggle and Shreek. Soon enough, Jerry learns that Toggle has a habit of cutting off students’ hands and programming said hands to play pianos with the aid of robots, lots and lots of gray-suited, head-bobbing robots. (Also, Dr. Shreek is a robot, but this is highly irrelevant.) Fortunately, Lady Ghost from Jerry’s house shows up just as Jerry’s hands are about to get taken. She and a legion of ghosts reclaim their hands, overtaking Mr. Toggle and carrying him into the woods, never to be seen again.

Creepiness factor: Fairly low. “Disembodied hands operated by robots” is a cool concept, but not exactly spine-tingling.

Signature Stine moment: The guy uses “dry as death” again! It didn’t make sense the first time, nor does it here, but it is preceded by another delightfully clunky simile.

“Her gray eyes narrowed in sadness. ‘This is my house,’ she said. Her voice was a dry whisper, as dry as dead leaves. As dry as death.”

Accuracy of title: Pretty accurate, actually. When Mr. Toggle takes away someone’s hands, it seems as though he must kill them. Otherwise, why would Lady Ghosts and all the ghosts she awakens be dead? Even if the deaths were unrelated, Piano Lessons Can Mean You Getting Your Hands Cut Off By An Amoral Mechanical Genius is a much clunkier title than what they came up with.

Moral of the story: I’m having trouble seeing a moral here. I guess I’ll go with this: if you hear scary stories about your music school, you should probably quit piano lessons, as those stories are most likely 100% true.

Overall rating: Would’ve been a 5.5, but I bumped it up a number for one page and one page alone. How hard did I laugh at this page? So hard. My laughter could be accurately described as uproarious. This reminds me of everything I love about Goosebumps, the sheer absurdity and silliness and eerie feel of it all. Full marks, Sir Stine. Full marks. Or, you know, 6.5/10.

 

Book the Twelfth: Be Careful What You Wish For… 02/10/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 9:12 pm
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Tagline: “It might come true.” (Seriously? The tagline finishes the sentence started by the title? My name is Christy Admiraal, and I do not approve of this idea.)

Premise: Samantha Byrd, an extraordinarily clumsy young girl, helps a crystal ball-wielding lady out of a jam. In exchange, said lady offers to grant Sam three wishes. Sam, who’s tired of being treated badly by resident mean girl Judith Bellwood, wishes to be the strongest basketball player on her team. Clearly, that’ll stop Judith from always saying, “Hey, Byrd, why don’t you fly away!” Unfortunately, the wish weakens everyone else and Sam remains a terrible basketball player. Sam’s next wish is that Judith would simply disappear. This causes everyone in the entire world to disappear. On her third go-round, Sam wishes everything would be the way it was before, except Judith will love Sam rather than hate her. This results in Judith developing stalker-like tendencies–showing up in Sam’s closet, cutting her hair to look like Sam’s, that sort of thing. THEN, seeing how unhappy Sam is with this, Ms Crystal Ball comes back and allows Sam to cancel her third wish and replace it with a new one. Sam wishes she’d never met Ms. Crystal Ball and that it had been Judith instead, Ms. Crystal Ball makes it so, Judith repeats her catchphrase, and Sam turns into a bird.

Yup, that’s right. The protagonist turns into a bird.

Outstanding.

Creepiness factor: Pretty low. Goosebumps titles tend to oscillate between scary and just plain weird. This one doesn’t ever really ratchet up the scare factor as much as it’s very, very silly–almost profoundly so, if a Goosebumps book can be profound. (Spoiler alert: it can’t.)

Signature Stine moment: Judith (intentionally) knocks the wind out of Sam at basketball practice. This is how it feels on Sam’s side.

“I uttered a weird, gasping noise, sort of like the honk of a sick seal–and realized I couldn’t breathe.”

Stine seems more self-aware than usual here, qualifying a pretty weak simile with “sort of like.” Hat tip, RL.

Accuracy of title: Accurate indeed, though the ellipsis is completely unnecessary.

Moral of the story: If someone offers you three wishes, don’t accept them. There’s no possible way it’ll turn out well for you.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. That’s right, I enjoyed Be Careful What You Wish For… just as much as I enjoyed The Haunted Mask. It strikes a great balance of goofy and compelling while putting a fun spin on the age-old concept of what one does with three wishes. Coming up: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder, which had perhaps the single most horrifying television adaptation I can recall. Exciting!

 

Book the Eleventh: The Haunted Mask 02/06/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 6:26 pm
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Tagline: “If looks could kill…” (Now there’s an ellipsis.)

Premise: 11-year-old–ELEVEN! NOT TWELVE!–Carly Beth Caldwell (which is such a solid name) scares easily. So on Halloween, she decides to ditch the duck costume her mother bought her and get a mask at the local costume shop. When she gets to the shop, she stumbles upon the hidden back room and the grotesque masks stored there. The shopkeeper is hesitant to sell Carly Beth a mask, but he relents after she gives him $30. Yes, $30 is all it takes to buy what used to be a living face that proceeds to affix itself to a child’s face. Carly Beth goes back to the shop to find out how to remove the mask and is told that the only means of removing it is with a symbol of love. Fortunately, Carly Beth’s mother recently made a plaster of Paris sculpture of her daughter’s head, a sculpture that Carly Beth is able to show to the masks (they all chase her around town because of course they do) and therefore remove what the shopkeeper called her new face. The twist? The mask can never be worn again, lest it attach itself to another face, which it does when Carly Beth’s little brother Noah decides to see how he looks in it. Dun-dun-DUH!

Creepiness factor: Comparatively high. There’s a mask that gets stuck to a girl’s face, and the mask is made of actual skin created by a costume shop owner/mad scientist. Then some masks follow said girl down the block until she shakes a sculpture of her real face at them and shouts about how it’s a symbol of love. Harrowing.

Signature Stine moment: Abbreviated sentences are really this guy’s ace in the hole.

“Her hot, green face.

Her monster face.

The monster face she could not remove.”

This segues into another Stine trope I’m getting used to: a battery of rhetorical questions in a single paragraph. Here’s a stellar example, of which I’m sure there will be many more:

“What was that sound? That deep, gurgling sound? That low murmur that seemed to be following her?”

RL Stine doesn’t need your literary devices, he’s got his own.

Accuracy of title: I suppose the mask is haunted in some sense. I’d more just call it alive. But The Living Mask doesn’t sound as catchy or scary as The Haunted Mask, so I understand the motivation here.

Moral of the story: Next time, just wear the damned duck costume.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. This one’s a classic for a reason. It’s a fun and eerie idea with a twist or two along the way leading to a satisfying conclusion and a delightfully contrived twist.

 

Book the Tenth: The Ghost Next Door 02/01/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 1:51 pm
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Tagline: “There’s a strange new kid on the block…” (Four periods in this ellipsis, which is the worst–everyone knows a proper ellipsis has three.)

Premise: Hannah wakes up in the midst of a nightmare about a horrible fire and, later that day, meets her new next door neighbor, Danny. Danny possesses some odd qualities, including disappearing and reappearing out of nowhere. This leads Hannah to believe that Danny may be a ghost. But when push comes to shove, and Danny’s hand goes straight through Hannah’s stomach with no ill effects, it’s understood that the fire wasn’t a nightmare. Five years before, a fire actually killed Hannah, her parents, and her two younger brothers–and she’s been brought back to save Danny’s life from an equally destructive fire. Meanwhile, Danny’s future ghost is lurking around, just waiting for Danny to die so he can become corporeal. Hannah prevents that from happening by saving Danny’s life; since she can’t die again, she can run straight through that fire and come out unscathed with Danny in tow. She saves Danny, his ghost is gone, and she travels back to the netherworld of ghosts. Or something.

Creepiness factor: Pretty low. Once you find out your protagonist, a generally pleasant tween, is a ghost, nothing can really get to you. Danny’s potential ghost searching for the opportunity to become corporeal is somewhat eerie, though.

Signature Stine moment: This could very well be the best one yet. It happens on page 22.

“Dry as death.”

It seamlessly combines clunky simile with sentence fragment. Outstanding!

Accuracy of title: Perfectly accurate. It’s about a guy the protagonist thinks is a ghost, then SHE turns out to be the ghost, and they’re neighbors! Genius.

Body count: Although by some standards it could still be two, I’m going to raise it to seven with the early death of Hannah and her family.

Moral of the story: If you think your neighbor is a ghost, you’re probably the actual ghost. (This conflicts with the moral of Welcome to Dead House, but no matter.) And you’re probably hanging around so you can save your neighbor’s life. So, you know, get to it.

Overall rating: 7/10. Although I actually had a strong recollection of this book and knew Hannah was the ghost, I didn’t remember the horror of Danny’s ghost. I love a double twist when it doesn’t feel contrived, and this one doesn’t. Next up: one of the seminal Goosebumps titles (and one with a killer TV adaptation to go along with it), The Haunted Mask.