‘Goosebumps’ author still chills today’s kids

  • Katy Waldman Slate
  • Sunday, October 28, 2012 3:40pm
  • Life

“Red Rain” by R.L. Stine

Here’s how Devin O’Bannon, one of the protagonists in the newest Goosebumps novel, knows the pumpkin farm he’s staying at is haunted. After a night of bad dreams, he wakes, stretches and lowers his feet to the floor.

“I expected to feel the hard floorboards,” he tells us. “But instead, my bare feet sank into something warm and squishy,” a “round puddle” of “drippy orange-yellow goo.” Pumpkin guts! A loony rewrite of Kafka! Classic Goosebumps: funny, icky and just a bit menacing.

R.L. Stine’s fiendishly popular children’s series arrived in 1992, with “Welcome to Dead House.” By 1997, Stine had produced 93 of the kiddie horror books, to be followed by scores more in relaunches like “Goosebumps 2000,” “Goosebumps HorrorLand,” and “Goosebumps Most Wanted.”

The novels are still around, delivering mild chills to anyone who hasn’t been lured away by boy wizards and dreamy Byronic vampires.

They have names like “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” and “Piano Lessons Can Be Murder.”

Stine said that he always begins with the title. His favorite to date is “Little Shop of Hamsters.”)

Once, they propagated through bookstores like an alien mold; now, the series is more like a dormant monster, sleeping quietly, biding its time.

The books are still paragons of children’s horror, ghoulish cartoons aimed at the sweet spot between alarm and delight.

In Goosebumps books, the monster’s powers were so diminished by goofiness and snark that at times it seemed his true role was to initiate you into the lifelong practice of stress management.

Skeletons kept losing appendages. Ghosts popped out of the closet with the predictability of a jack-in-the-box. The strange, subtle thing about being a kid, though, was that you never quite trusted Stine’s reassurances.

You feared that the playfulness, the safety nets, might vanish in an instant, leaving you alone in the dark.

They never did, of course, but the possibility glowed over every page like a will-o-the-wisp.

Relentlessly plot-driven, with fun, smart-alecky narrators my age or a little older, the Goosebumps novels were slightly transgressive (my parents hated them), as well as a hobby to share with friends.

(Those covers, queasily luminous, with the letters bulging like an inflammation, made great collectibles.) A new one rolled out every month or so and I’d gobble it up in a sitting.

Sometimes I’d flip to the last page first to make sure of the twist ending.

Only now do I realize what I was really scanning for: my fears, mostly stabilized and tamed. But not quite defeated.

More in Life

Expo in Stanwood can help you get ready for the country

The Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool is set for Jan. 27 at the high school.

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

Want to buy a house this year? Here’s how to start saving up

Here are five ways to help you put 10 percent of your income per year toward buying a house.

Beer of the Week: Scuttlebutt’s Night Circus

The Everett brewery’s head brewer had nightmares trying to dial in its new coffee and coconut ale.

A visit to the nursery helps put you in the mood to garden

Not ready to get back into gardening? January is still a fun time to poke around a garden center.

Plant of Merit: Hybrid oriental hellebores, Lenten rose

What: Oriental hybrid hellebores, with the common name Lenten rose, are a… Continue reading

What’s new this year for travelers in England, Ireland

The nations are improving tourism infrastructures and adding exhibits to well-known sights.

Long rocking bench with strange fence is for protecting baby

The settee is a furniture form that dates to the 1810s. It’s a lengthened Windsor or Hitchcock chair.

Home and Garden calendar for Snohomish County and beyond

“The Promise of Spring”: Plant sale and workshops by Northwest Perennial Alliance,… Continue reading

Most Read