Nine-year-old me knew no more thrilling words than those. That phrase was the tagline for a beloved book series of my childhood: Goosebumps.
Every time I shelve a Goosebumps book, I hear that theme song.
I loved these books. I loved them more than Ramona, more than the Boxcar Children, even more than the American Girl books. Goosebumps introduced me to the world of horror, and I’ve never looked back.
Back in July, Newsweek had an interview with Stine, in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the first of the Goosebumps series, Welcome to Dead House. In it, Stine says, “One magazine called me ‘a training bra for Stephen King.’ I didn’t really like that,” says Stine, with a chuckle. “You don’t want to be called a training bra.”
While Stine has a point about the whole being called a “training bra” thing, it’s the truth. R.L. Stine is a gateway drug to the world of the macabre. He takes your elementary school mind and sets you up for Stephen King, The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, H.P. Lovecraft. Lots of other writers write horror for kids, but Stine stands apart. In creepiness, in outlandishness, in twist-ending-ness, and in all out prolific…ness.
Stine also has this to say: “These books are to scare kids and that’s it…There are no real problems; there’s not even divorce. My rule is they have to know it is a creepy fantasy and couldn’t really happen.” And you know, he’s right. There’s not much realism in his books, and of course none of these things could ever happen.
So there you go–one nice thing is that Goosebumps is devoid of adult content. No divorce, as Stine mentioned, nor graphic violence, swearing, blood, or sex. None of that. You know what there are, though? Crazy scientists who want to steal your hands. Towns where all of the residents are dead-zombie-vampire things. Grotesque, cursed Halloween masks that meld to your skin and take over your personality.
There are talking, moving, pea-soup vomit spewing, homicidal ventriloquist’s dummies. I refer, of course, to the classic Night of the Living Dummy.
Oh sure, ventriloquist’s dummies could never come to life. Sure. That’s very comforting. When I get irrationally creeped out in the library when all the lights are off, THIS is who I’m positive is peeking at me from behind bookcases:
I remember this being one of the better-written ones, and I think that’s why it was so scary. Along with the slightly melancholy The Ghost Next Door (which also boasts a pretty great twist!) this is one of the best in the original Goosebumps series. I mean, for subject matter alone–ventriloquist’s dummies are creepy enough on their own without being sentient and trying to enslave you. There is a reason Slappy became one of the most recognizable Goosebumps faces. He’s terrifying. If the comments on Shelfari, Youtube, Tumblr, and elsewhere are any indication, I was emphatically NOT the only one who felt that way.
As you can tell, I have fond memories of this series. These books influenced my writing voice when I was just starting to write little stories, and they opened up the world of horror fiction and dark fantasy to me. Most important, I learned that books can just be fun–creepy, scary, gross-out fun. And that there’s nothing wrong with that. No matter what the opinion of my fifth-grade teacher.
If you also have fond memories of Goosebumps (or if you’re ten and are just reading them now), you can find a great read-alike list on the CASA Library Media Center’s website. I’d also highly recommend Chris Priestley and Neil Gaiman to readers of all ages who are after twisty, creepy stories.
For a very funny and delightfully snarky walk down memory lane, check out this wonderful blog: Blogger Beware. The author has gone through and re-read both the original Goosebumps series and the re-boot series, offering reviews and critiques.
There’s an official Goosebumps website, for those of you who are on a total nostalgia trip right now and don’t want it to end. Play some games, watch some videos, and just generally pretend you’re in third grade again! See–I got into the spirit and came up with something for their picture caption contest (click on the picture for more):
…it’s not like I said it’d win or anything.
Thank you, R.L. Stine, for the accessible and entertaining introduction to what is now my favorite genre. Thanks for writing books that appealed to a nine-year-old who loved the grotesque, the creepy, the strange, and the morbidly funny. As a librarian, I like being able to talk to the kids who are just now discovering your books, and the world of horror fiction.
Seriously though…Slappy. Is in. Your closet.