Review: “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine

R.L. Stine is well known for his horror fiction for young adults and children, but it is his Goosebumps series that will be best remembered by first-time elementary school readers.  Published between 1992 and 1997, the series has sixty-two volumes of horror novellas in total, some sequels or trilogies and others stand-alone books.  Perhaps it is true that Goosebumps consists more of entertainment material than mind-blowing fiction, having nothing to really offer the genre of horror literature except for some original ideas about the supernatural world and some really creepy stories.

In fact, every volume that belongs to the Goosebumps series seems more like the author’s attempt to continually tease the reader with new takes on familiar realistic scenarios and fantasy creatures while veiling a dark sense of humor that echoes throughout each short storyline.  Some volumes are lighter in tone than others and have decidedly happy endings, like a boy’s success in self-aviation in How I Learned to Fly.  Others have Stine’s signature twists and ironic climaxes, e.g. Welcome to Dead House, Be Careful What You Wish For…, One Day at HorrorLand, and The Ghost Next Door.  The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, one of the best Goosebumps books, is in some sense a good example of a parody on common horror tales (e.g. myths about werewolves).

However, most volumes in the Goosebumps series have original content that exudes the essential nature of evil very strongly.  These books descend from being “safe” horror fiction for children into the abyss of serious, mature horror novellas.  A few of these are Night of the Living Dummy, the first in a disturbing trilogy about a truly evil dummy that comes to live and torments his owners; Piano Lessons Can Be Murder, which features another of Stine’s twisted endings and a chilling school where learning how to play the piano is deadly;Ghost Beach and The Headless Ghost, both of which emphasize how evil ghosts could be when around living humans; How I Got My Shrunken Head, an Amazonian adventure complete with magical artifacts; and The Beast from the East, which rethinks fantasy settings and parallel universes.

In fact, the Goosebumps series contains almost every horror creature and setting imaginable in its countless pages, from infamous beings like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts to cursed camps, haunted houses, and a formidable theme park.  Stine has a cornucopia of characters that a reader can sympathize with, which only makes the Goosebumps series that much closer to being a journal of real life encounters with horror and therefore even more frightening.

For example, Say Cheese and Die has a normal boy accidently find a cursed camera and take pictures, Ghost Camp is the summer vacation of murderous spirits who want new human victims, and evil lawn decorations try to overtake an innocent family’s home in Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes.  Drawing from reality and fantasy is not an easy task in such novels, and no matter how “entertaining” and “uneducational” all sixty-two volumes of the series may be, Stine mastered the art of capturing a reader’s attention with a simple, uncomplicated beginning and the life of one complex character, not to mention detailed environments and numerous landscapes.  From Egyptian history in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and its sequel Return of the Mummy to a satirical retelling of a popular horror situation in The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight, monster advice in How to Kill a Monster, and dangerous sea creatures in Deep Trouble and Deep Trouble II, Stine’s series is diverse and shocking in every way possible.

Goosebumps is not full of impressive writing but it does make a lasting impression with all its mysteries, its satire, its collection of supernatural myths and legends, its sly deliberation on science fiction, and the author’s own creativity in blending reality and inescapable nightmares within one world.  And, naturally, every volume in the Goosebumps series is just right for midnight reading on Halloween night.

Original review: Part 1: R.L. Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series is not just horror fiction for kidsPart 2: R.L. Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series is not just horror fiction for kidsPart 3: R.L. Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series is not just horror fiction for kids,


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