Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Twenty-Eighth: The Cuckoo Clock of Doom 06/24/2012

Tagline: “Keep your eye on the birdie!”

Synopsis: Michael hates his 7-year-old sister, Tara, and his hatred is completely justified; she’s a nightmare and hellbent on ruining Michael’s life. She blames her abuse of the family pet on him, causes his crush to see him in his underwear, and ruins his 12th birthday party in at least three different ways. So Michael exacts revenge on Tara by moving the bird on his father’s newly purchased antique cuckoo clock, making it look like it was Tara’s fault. At least, that’s his intention. As it turns out, moving around the bird takes Michael back in time at seemingly random intervals. Every time-warped day, Michael attempts to find the cuckoo clock and set it back to 1995 so everything will go back to normal (though “normal” was borderline insufferable, considering the Tara factor). Within a week, Michael regresses to babyhood and gets what he’s sure will be his last chance to change the clock as his mother and father bring him to the antique shop. As they argue over furniture, Michael vaults his 1-year-old body up onto a chair just so, reaches into the clock, and turns it back where it needs to be. Within a moment, he’s back to his 12th birthday, and everything’s the same. OR IS IT? As it turns out, the clock’s tiny flaw (which was mentioned earlier but never actually identified) is a missing notch on the year dial. There is no 1988, and thus there is no Tara. Michael doesn’t bother to move back in time to get her, as things are quite suddenly looking up for him, and really, who would judge him for that? Certainly not me.

Creepiness factor: This book isn’t scary but it’s about as suspenseful as a Goosebumps book can be.

Signature Stine moment: Truncated sentences abound, but they don’t sound stilted anymore. Come on, Stine, what happened?

This is from the book’s climax:

“I made it!

Cuckoo, cuckoo! Seven, eight.

I got to my knees. I got to my feet.

I reached up to grab the cuckoo. I stretched as tall as I could.

Cuckoo, cuckoo! Nine, ten.

Reaching, reaching.

Then I heard the shopkeeper shout, ‘Somebody grab that baby!'”

Accuracy of title: I wouldn’t change a thing.

Moral of the story: If your younger sibling is the single most deplorable person you’ve ever met, it’s not the worst idea to find an antique cuckoo clock missing the year he or she was born.

Overall rating: 8.75/10. Am I getting too generous here? I don’t think so, because from book 24 (my beloved Phantom of the Auditorium) on forward, the Goosebumps series is substantially more solid than before, dummies and the HorrorLand horrors aside. This book is remarkably clever, and when it’s funny, it’s being funny on purpose, something Stine never quite nailed till now. Here’s hoping Monster Blood III continues the trend of genuinely entertaining Goosebumps installments.


Book the Twenty-Seventh: A Night in Terror Tower 06/13/2012

Tagline: “It’s gonna be a L-O-N-G night!”

Synopsis: Sue and her brother Eddie are having a blast in London while their parents attend meetings. (What sorts of meetings? Not important.) Mom and Dad set them up with a tour group, and so the siblings eat bangers and mash, window shop in Harrods, and visit landmarks like Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey. You know, London things. What Sue and Eddie are most excited for is the final stop on their tour: Terror Tower. (For more on my confusion regarding Terror Tower vs. the Tower of London, see the post immediately before this.) The kids get to Terror Tower and take a walking tour through some torture chambers, groaning at their tour guide’s murder-related jokes and getting increasingly creeped out by the caped man lurking around every corner. Somewhere down the line, Eddie and Sue hear the tragic tale of Edward and Susannah of York, a pair of children who were (probably) smothered to death within the confines of Terror Tower. (Yup. Eddie and Sue hear about Edward and Susannah.Let that one sink in.) Shortly thereafter, they get separated from the group and hotly pursued around and underneath (there’s a sewer chase!) the Tower by the man in the cape who keeps clicking three white stones together. (The stones are for future-jumping and spells and stuff. Spoiler alert.) They manage to escape, but they’ve missed the tour bus and have to find a way back to their parents’ hotel. The children soon realize they can’t remember anything: what their parents look like, why their parents took them to London, or even their own last name. And quite suddenly (20-30 pages later), you find out why as Sue and Eddie are transported back hundreds of years and taken from the old city streets by the Lord High Executioner (caped man!), put in a cell, and visited in said cell by a wizard named Morgred. Hundreds of years ago, when the kids who we now know to be Edward and Susannah of York were on the verge of getting smothered, Morgred put a spell on them, attempting to get them far from the Tower as possible. In the distant future with a new set of memories seemed far enough. It wasn’t, they’re back in the past due to some stone-clicking and executioner-related trickery, and smothering seems inevitable. Morgred gives Sue and Eddie back their memories and claims he cannot help them, Eddie steals the stones from Morgred’s pocket (I’m admittedly quite fuzzy on who has the stones when throughout this entire book), and Eddie transports Sue and himself back to the 20th century, old-school monarchy memories intact. And Morgred’s there too, and they’re a family now, because why not?

Creepiness factor: I was really distracted by my own theorizing for a lot of this book, absolutely convinced the kids were ghosts and didn’t realize it. But Stine, sly dog that he was, totally fooled me and mixed it up with some wizardry, throwing in hundreds of rats, a number of torture devices, and a legitimately frightening antagonist in the Lord High Executioner. So let’s crank the creepiness factor up to a solid B+!

Signature Stine moment: There’s a battery of bad similes throughout, and this was the first awesomely bad one I found, only 37 pages in.

“We stared through the dim light at each other. Frozen like the dummies in the cells.”

I’m not giving you context. It’s for the best.

Accuracy of title: There are certainly bits and pieces of an evening spent in Terror Tower, and it’s really best to keep that time travel idea under wraps, so it was better to be vague. Nice title. Nice book.

Moral of the story: Is there one? Shoot. Well. How about this? Don’t be a prince or princess, because your parents are probably going to die and your evil uncle is probably going to try to kill you.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. Stine is just killing it these days, by which I mean the late 1994 and early 1995 Goosebumps books were pretty good.