I was going to read multiple Goosebumps books, but after rereading Welcome to Dead House (the first Goosebumps ever), I realized they’re all one and the same. At least, the first 40 or so books are.
You see, RL Stine’s writing is so wonderfully predictable that when you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. Almost! While each book is unique in its own strangeness (like how My Harriest Adventure isn’t your average werewolf book) they all have recurring descriptions, plot devices, and characters.
Here are examples:
- Character: the clueless parent
- Plot device: moving to a new house where the house/people/neighbourhood situation doesn’t feel normal
- Description: saying “carton” instead of “box”, and “den” and “rec room” instead of “living room”, “family room” or “study”
- Plot device: the chapter that ends in a cliff hanger
- Character: the prankster who is either an annoying sibling or comedic best friend
- Description: overused sensory details, such as crunching leaves underfoot in book 1
- Description: a feeling disconnect from reality when something frightening happens to the main character
- Description: author unable to explain a frightening quality about a villain
- Plot device: cliffhanger ending, even though loose ends were tied up at the end of the novel
While the above are not all in the first book, reading #1 reminded me of them. The latter three are the most important qualities of classic Goosebumps books.
Disconnect from reality
I’m surrounded by death, I thought.
Then, frozen to the spot, unable to breathe, the darkness swirling around me, the gravestones spinning in their own black shadows, I thought: What is he going to do to me?
What strikes fear into your heart more than not knowing what to do and feeling stuck in your spot? Stine uses this many times for his main characters when they first realize something frightening is happening to them.
In Let’s Get Invisible (#6; I can’t believe I know the number without having to look it up), this disconnect is the plot; the characters discover a magic mirror and light (in the house to which they’d just moved, fancy that) that turns them invisible. The longer you stay invisible, the more disconnected you become from the world.
Unable to explain a frightening quality
“We need new blood,” [ghost character] said, his eyes glowing red in the dim light. “Once a year, you see, we need new blood.”
Since when do ghost eyes glow? And they’re vampires now?
While the story of how everyone came to be ghosts is told, no one explains why they need blood.
Cliffhanger ending (SPOILER ALERTS)
The town seems to rejuvenate, greeting newcomers to the town in the same way the main characters were. There’s no explanation as to how the villains are able to rise again, and while the main characters escape, the indication that the villains are still at large is frightening.
Stine is good at this. He gives us a sense of completion and hope while keeping goosebumps on our skin.
This doesn’t always work. In Be Careful What You Wish For (#12), as soon as the main character escapes her curse, she’s turned into a bird and seems to be completely OK with this. Since I first read that book as a child, it has confused me.
Despite the above, Goosebumps are still entertaining depending on your villain preferences. Do you fancy a bloodthirsty hamster? How about an abominable snowman? A be-planted scientist? Really, the possibilities are endless. I mean, really. They keep coming out with more. Examples: Return to Horrorland, Fear Street, Choose Your Own Adventure, Zoo 2000, and ERMAHGERD there are too many.