Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Twenty-Sixth: My Hairiest Adventure 05/15/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 6:08 pm
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Tagline: “It keeps growing…and growing…and growing…”

Synopsis: One day after band practice (and nearly being mauled by a pack of dogs), Larry Boyd finds a bottle of INSTA-TAN in the trash outside his friend Lily Vonn’s house. Larry, Lily, and fellow Geeks (that’s the uniquely terrible name of their band) Manny, Jared, and Kristina decide to give the stuff a try, even though it’s long since expired. Unsurprisingly, no one develops a deep suntan in minutes as promised. Instead, Larry begins growing dark, bristly hair, first on his hands, then on his neck. All his friends make fun of him when he asks if they’re growing hair in odd places (wouldn’t you?), so Larry goes about his hairy way (ha!), teaching himself to shave and wearing gloves when he probably doesn’t need to. Then two of his closest friends disappear in quick succession, first Manny, then Lily. Down two Geeks and with the Battle of the Bands on the way, Larry, Jared, and Kristina decide to perform anyway. Larry thinks his hairy days are over when suddenly, mid-“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” his coat comes in all over. (They win the Battle with their “great special effects.”) Shortly thereafter, Larry finds out he lives in a town of no children, just dogs getting shots every once in a while to look and act like children. Larry returns to dog form, joins up with fellow dogs Manny and Lily (and the ones that once nearly mauled him, aw!), and makes sure to visit Mr. and Mrs. Boyd, who now have a baby that was once Jasper, Larry’s cat. The end!

Creepiness factor: This might be the least scary Goosebumps book, unless the idea of hair growth horrifies you (in which case it is probably a bad idea for you to read a blog post with “My Hairiest Adventure” in the title).

Signature Stine moment: This is a long one, but it’s great chunk of hypothetical questions that I refuse to pare down.

“Sprawled on my stomach on top of the bed, my knees throbbed as I thought. Why did my knees grow hair? I asked myself. I didn’t spread any INSTA-TAN on my knees. So why did the ugly black hair sprout there?

Had the INSTA-TAN worked itself into my system? Had the strange liquid seeped into my pores? Had it spread through my entire body?

Was I going to turn into some kind of big, hairy creature? Was I soon going to look like King Kong or something?

Questions–but no answers.”

Accuracy of title: Even if it wasn’t accurate (and it is, for this is one hairy adventure, perhaps the hairiest I’ve witnessed!), My Hairiest Adventure is just a great title. Full marks.

Moral of the story: Sometimes you don’t even have to do anything for something crazy to happen.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. I have a lot of affection for My Hairiest Adventure. So far, it’s the Goosebumps book I most clearly remembered from childhood, right down to which song Larry and the other Geeks are playing when his coat really starts coming in. It’s not the best Goosebumps book, but it’s fun and goofy and clever, and the lack of scares is pretty refreshing. Next up: A Night in Terror Tower, a book I don’t recollect in the slightest!

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Book the Twenty-Fifth: Attack of the Mutant 05/04/2012

Tagline: “He’s no superhero. He’s a supervillain!”

Synopsis*: Bradley “Skipper” Matthews is obsessed with comics. They’re the single most important part of his life, more important than math homework, orthodontist appointments, or looking at his best friend Wilson Clark’s stamp collection. Skipper aims to keep all his comics in mint condition, unless they belong to his favorite series, The Masked Mutant, which chronicles the tyranny of a molecule-shifting supervillain. Whenever a new issue of The Masked Mutant comes in the mail, Skipper reads it cover to cover, so the eponymous supervillain is on his mind at all times–including when he’s riding the city bus and passes a building that looks exactly like The Mutant’s headquarters. Skipper convinces his new fellow bus-riding friend, Libby Zacks, to investigate the building. They do so, it looks a bit like a typical comic distribution HQ, and that’s when things start to get really strange, as the events occurring in The Masked Mutant begin mimicking Skipper’s daily life. His likeness is in the comics now, and according to the comics, only he can save League of Good Guys member The Galloping Gazelle from certain death at the hands of The Mutant. Skipper returns to the building and does indeed save The Galloping Gazelle, who cuts and runs, leaving Skipper alone with The Mutant. Libby appears and destroys The Mutant with a Molecule-Melter, then reveals that The Mutant (twist number one!) is actually The Magnificent Molecule Man, The Mutant’s part-time stand-in. So who is The Mutant? Why, Libby, of course! (That’s two twists.) Libby, er, The Mutant informs Skipper that he’s part of the comic now and no longer a real boy (twist three, kind of). Skipper improvises, saying he’s Elastic Boy (twist four?) and the only way he can be destroyed is with sulphuric acid. The Mutant transforms into sulphuric acid and attacks, Skipper dodges the attack, and, having tricked The Mutant into turning into a liquid–which the Mutant can’t do (twist five, I guess)!–Skipper has effectively destroyed the greatest supervillain in history. Then Skipper goes home, cuts his hand, and bleeds ink rather than blood. Six twists, all of them awesome, and we’re done here.

Creepiness factor: This is another title that relies on suspense and, to a greater extent, action to build its story. The scares aren’t there, and that’s OK.

Signature Stine moment: Every signature Stine moment (or SSM, colloquially) somehow works beautifully in Attack of the Mutant, from an entire paragraph of hypothetical questions to a number of similes comparing Skipper’s current situation to the powers of different comic book heroes. As per usual, my favorite SSM is a bit of blatant foreshadowing, so blatant that I’m not sure it can even be called foreshadowing anymore. It’s only 16 pages into the book, and as you’ll soon see, it’s absolute gold.

“I turned and ran full speed to the bus stop.

The driver was a nice guy. He saw me running and waited for me. Breathing hard, I thanked him and climbed on to the bus.

I probably wouldn’t have thanked him if I had known where this bus was going to take me. But I didn’t know that it was carrying me to the most frightening adventure of my life.”

Accuracy of title: 100% accurate. There are attacks, and they are, in fact, carried out by The Mutant.

Moral of the story: If you happen to see the headquarters of your favorite fictional character, do yourself a favor and don’t visit them, unless you want to become part of that character’s story. In that case, by all means, make yourself at home.

Overall rating: 9/10. As a kid, I didn’t love this book, most likely because all those thinly veiled critiques of Archie Comics stung. (Fun fact: my mother collected Archie Comics as a child, and thus my brothers and I did the same. I still have a special place in my heart for them.) Now, as a comic book-reading pseudo-adult, I think it’s one of the cleverer, most original titles in the series up to this point. Goosebumps books, at their best, entertain with a combination of humor, creativity, suspense, and killer twist endings. Attack of the Mutant does all of that, and its narrator’s name is Skipper. You can’t mess with that kind of quality.

* – These have basically been full synopses from the get-go, so I figured a name change was in order.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Book the Twentieth: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight 03/31/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 3:36 pm
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Tagline: “It’s a field of screams!” Once, at my elementary school, we had the choice of watching Field of Dreams or Fly Away Home. I chose the latter and I stand by my decision, but I will concede that Field of Dreams is, for once, an age appropriate movie to allude to.

Premise: Jodie and her brother Mark visit their grandparents’ farm every summer to indulge in chocolate chip pancakes, scary stories, hay fever, and moonshine. (OK, not the last one. But sometimes it’s fun to pretend.) But this time around, things are different, as Grandma and Grandpa’s caretaker Stanley recently acquired a book of superstitions and followed its instructions in how to make living scarecrows. In order for Stanley to keep the scarecrows in line, he forces Jodie and Mark’s grandparents to only behave as he wants them to, meaning no pancakes, no stories, and still some hay fever. (This, we don’t find out till the end of the book, but it’s contextually important for summary’s sake.) However, the scarecrows have other plans, and while Jodie and Mark are convinced the scarecrows’ actions are Stanley’s son Sticks’ doing, it has nothing to do with him. They’re moving of their own volition, and they’re no longer under Stanley’s control. So naturally, every character in the book comes together and the scarecrows bear down on them (despite some misdirection on the part of Mark dressed as a scarecrow–don’t ask), ready to attack, when Sticks decides to set them on fire. That works, they’re gone, and everything’s OK again. That is, until we reach the twist of Stanley reading some passage from the book that reanimates the dead stuffed bear in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room, because of course it does.

Creepiness factor: I’m not of the belief that the scarecrows could’ve seriously harmed Jodie and the others, but the idea of inanimate objects coming to life and posing a threat to a previously peaceful location is a good one. It’s not horrifying, or even particularly scary, but it’s a bit chilling.

Signature Stine moment: Oh, so many. I’ve become really attached to this trope lately–the “little did we know” concept.

“I nodded. An evil grin spread over my face. ‘I think so,’ I told my brother. ‘I think Sticks is in for a terrifying surprise.’

Little did I know that we all were!”

Accuracy of title: It’s a repeated mantra of Stanley’s and sounds ominous. So, yeah. Pretty accurate.

Moral of the story: Don’t read chants out loud from a book of superstition-related spells, or just don’t visit your grandparents’ farm and hang out with their creepy caretaker.

Overall rating: 6.5/10. It’s built on a fun concept, and it’s a satisfying read as far as Goosebumps books go, but it’s not particularly memorable. As far as I know, neither is Go Eat Worms!, which I’m not really looking forward to, but hey, 20 books down!