Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Twenty-Fourth: The Phantom of the Auditorium 04/25/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 10:24 am
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Tagline: “He’s out to stop the show…for good!”

Premise: Brooke and her best friend Zeke are thrilled when they’re cast in the two lead roles of The Phantom, their school play. The play hasn’t been performed in decades since last time around, a horrible accident killed the boy playing the Phantom. In fact, it’s rumored that the Phantom still haunts the halls of their school, living below the stage’s trapdoor. Teacher Ms. Walker and her cast decide to disregard this fact until Brooke, Zeke, and new student Brian begin seeing threatening messages in spiky red paint and cross paths with Emile, the creepy self-proclaimed night janitor–and prime Phantom suspect. Because Brooke, Zeke, and Brian keep getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ms. Walker assumes one of them must be responsible for the messages until it’s discovered that Emile is the source of the words “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME” appearing around the auditorium.  Unfortunately, this also means that Emile’s not their Phantom and simply a homeless man taking up residence beneath the stage. So who’s the Phantom, then? And how will they catch him? (And why do they need to? But that’s off the point.) All their questions are answered on opening night, when the real Phantom shows up onstage, telling his tragic story before disappearing forever. The play is a hit and Brooke and Zeke are headed to the cast party when they discover an old school yearbook. It features a picture of the play cast and identifies their phantom: a young boy named Brian.

Creepiness factor: This one’s not about scaring, it’s about creating suspense, and it does so terrifically.

Signature Stine moment: One of the reasons this book is so effective is because it’s mostly devoid of clunky similes and obnoxious foreshadowing.

The operative word there is “mostly.”

“The half-moon was covered by a sheet of gray mist. The mist looked like a ghostly figure floating over the moon.”

And I think we’re done here.

Accuracy of title: Perfect, and clever. For once, a pop cultural reference won’t get lost on the young audience, because literally everyone in the free world has heard of The Phantom of the Opera, from infants on up. (This is not an exaggeration. (Yes, it is.))

Moral of the story: The obvious suspect isn’t always the guilty party, so look to the second most obvious suspect.

Overall rating: 9/10. If Welcome to HorrorLand is a near-perfect Goosebumps book (and, according to me, it is), then so is this one. One is as compelling as the other, and both are simply much more fun than your average Goosebumps title. This book was my favorite as a child, and if I hadn’t read Welcome to HorrorLand this year, it still would be. For now, let’s call it a tie.

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Book the Twenty-Third: Return of the Mummy 04/22/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 5:29 pm
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Tagline: “He’s back…from the dead!”

Premise: Gabe, Sari, and Uncle Ben are back in the second Goosebumps book about archaeological exploration in Egypt. This time around, Uncle Ben and his research team are uncovering the tomb of Prince Khor-Ru, a tomb that’s potentially even more exciting than King Tut’s. (It’s never clarified why that is, but we’ll run with it.) They’re joined by Gabe, his cousin Sari, and a foxy reporter for the Cairo Sun named Nila. Uncle Ben’s research partner Dr. Fielding warns them against opening the tomb since there’s potential of getting cursed, but the team disregards this, and the tomb is indeed filled to the brim with jewels and all manner of generic tomb-filling curios. (I used that word correctly, right?) Gabe attempts to scare Sari by reciting the words that will supposedly bring Khor-Ru back to life, and immediately after, the two of them see Dr. Fielding drag Uncle Ben into the pyramids. When Dr. Fielding reemerges alone, Gabe and Sari find Uncle Ben knocked out in Khor-Ru’s coffin. Turns out Foxy Reporter is actually an Egyptian princess who’s been attempting to bring her brother Khor-Ru back to life for centuries. Wow! Fortunately, Khor-Ru’s not happy to see her, and Gabe gets rid of Nila by smashing her amber pendant, the very pendant she was using as her life force. (Or something like that.) Oh, and Dr. Fielding’s a good guy after all.

Creepiness factor: Not very high, considering the fact that mummies simply aren’t scary. There’s some good tension building, though, with Uncle Ben’s near-death coffin-bound experience.

Signature Stine moment: Since Gabe is 13, he’s officially allowed to find others attractive, and that’s what happens when he over-describes Nila’s appearance.

“Wow. She’s really pretty, I thought. She had long, black hair, sleek and shiny. She had bangs cut straight across her forehead. Beneath the bangs were the most beautiful green eyes I’d ever seen.

She was dressed all in white. A white suit jacket and a white blouse over white slacks. She was short–only an inch or two taller than Sari.

She must be a movie star, I told myself. She’s so great-looking!”

Accuracy of title: It’s not accurate at all, given that this is a completely different mummy from last time. Bad form, Stine.

Moral of the story: When you discover that someone you know is actually a centuries-old Egyptian princess hellbent on killing people for no clear reason, it’s best to smash her jewelry.

Overall rating: 5.5/10. This is much weaker than The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, though it is fun to catch up with Gabe and his family again. Next up is one of my very favorites, The Phantom of the Auditorium.

 

Book the Twenty-Second: Ghost Beach 04/13/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 1:44 pm
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Tagline: “No swimming. No surfing. No haunting.”

Premise: Siblings Jerry and Terri (yes!) Sadler are psyched to spend a month of their summer with their distant cousin Ben and his wife Agatha at Ben  and Agatha’s beach house. And when they hear rumors of a cave dwelling ghost that’s been haunting the beach for hundreds of years, things get really interesting. Jerry and Terri’s new friends, a trio of children who share Jerry and Terri’s last name, convince Jerry and Terri that they ought to trap the ghost in his cave so he can’t skeletonize the beach’s living inhabitants anymore. (That’s a thing he does, according to these Sadlers.) However, and this is twist number one, it turns out that Jerry and Terri’s new friends are the ghosts and the guy in the cave is trying to thwart their attempts to kill Jerry and Terri. He’s an expert on the occult and spirits, which is convenient, because it means he can explain to Jerry and Terri how to trap the dead Sadlers in the cave. Jerry and Terri succeed and tell Ben and Agatha about their triumph over the ghosts–and, in twist number two, it turns out that Ben and Agatha are ghosts, too. And then it’s over! Good ending! (Also, dogs can sense ghosts and Terri makes grave rubbings and the number of minute details this book includes boggled my mind. But that’s off the point.)

Creepiness factor: Low. It’s obvious from the first time Jerry and Terri encounter the alleged ghost that he’s very much alive, and obvious that something is up with those weird kids when Jerry and Terri see their gravestones. The kids claim those are the names of their ancestors, but that doesn’t hold water, does it? Is that a pun? I think so.

Signature Stine moment: Our favorite simile returns!

“Slowly he curled a bony, gnarled finger. ‘Come here.’ His voice was a dry whisper. Dry as death.”

What does that even mean? I don’t know, but I like it.

Accuracy of title: There are ghosts, and they live along this beach. I’ll buy it.

Moral of the story: When you see gravestones with your newest acquaintances’ names on them, chances are those are their gravestones and they’re ghosts, no matter what flimsy explanation they provide. And they’re going to want you to become a ghost, too. So, you know, avoid them.

Overall rating: 6.5/10. It would’ve been a 5.5, but I liked the second twist, which I actually didn’t see coming. And the protagonists weren’t unlikeable, and there were no worms in sight, so really, it’s a vast improvement over what came before it. You know what? I’m kicking this up to a 6.5. Kudos, Sir Stine! Keep up the great work!

 

Book the Twenty-First: Go Eat Worms! 04/05/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 5:43 pm
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Tagline: “Homework was never this gross before!”

Premise: Relatively unlikeable protagonist Todd is really into worms. He builds worm farms. He spends recess digging. He thinks of new and inventive ways to use worms as a means of grossing out his sister Regina and her best friend Beth. But after he cuts a worm in half in front of his sister and all the inhabitants of the worm farm, weird worm-related things start happening. Worms show up in his sandwiches, on his pillow, and other horrific locations. Naturally, it’s actually Regina planting the worms everywhere to get revenge on Todd for all his wacky worm antics. So Todd and his chubby sidekick Danny form a revenge plan of their own, a plan that starts with returning to their normal digging spot. They’re doing their worm thing when a giant worm bursts forth from the ground and attacks Todd. Fortunately, the worm gets scared off by a giant papier mache robin that Regina and Beth made for the science fair. A traumatized Todd becomes interested in butterflies instead, kicking the worm habit, as it were, and all is right with the world, perhaps even righter than before. In the inevitable twist ending, a giant butterfly shows up with a pin, clearly poised to make Todd a part of its human collection. Clearly.

Creepiness factor: This book is horrifying. But its horror isn’t based on fright so much as disgust. Todd’s unexpected encounters with worms are revolting, ranging from putting a capful of worms on his head to drawing a hot bath that steadily fills up with worms. Pretty sick stuff.

Signature Stine moment: They’re here in force! But since I haven’t used one of these in a while, here’s a string of questions that go unanswered.

“Who was it? Who was sneaking down to the basement?

Who was sneaking down to the worm tank?

Who?”

This, of course, would’ve been way better if the final “Who?” had been in all caps and italicized. But you can’t have everything.

Accuracy of title: Regina shouts this at Todd a lot. Accuracy achieved.

Moral of the story: Don’t antagonize your sister or engage in any hobby that involves harming insects. And definitely don’t do both at the same time.

Overall rating: 5/10. I’m not fond of worms, and unsurprisingly, Go Eat Worms! did nothing to endear them to me, nor did it endear me to Todd and his wormy weirdness, Regina and her bad catchphrase, or Danny and his science fair-winning balloon-based solar system model. Sad, I know. But hey, that’s what happens when a book is premised on worms and isn’t called How to Eat Fried Worms.