Goosebumps for Adults

Reading between the lines.
Oct. 5 2012 11:18 PM

Giving 11-Year-Olds Nightmares Since 1992

Now R.L. Stine is writing horror for adults.

(Continued from Page 1)

True, Stine’s descriptions of the haunted isle have a lush eeriness. A ritual that purports to raise the dead is odd and hallucinatory, and the hurricane hits with more-than-natural fury. The biblical names of the twins, Samuel and Daniel, ladle on the cosmic resonance, as does a plague-like blood rain that sweeps down over the first scene like a curtain. (“Showtime,” I can imagine Stine whispering.) But this dense, mythy atmosphere evaporates when the action moves to Long Island. A few lurid passages might feel more at home on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest website. (“She made a hoarse choking sound, grabbing frantically at the waterfall of shiny wet organs spilling out. Spilling out of the deep slit across her belly. A gusher of pink and yellow sausage oozing through her fingers.”) And I was disappointed that no one, least of all the author, seemed interested in the most menacing thing about twins: their uncanny doubleness.

Author R.L. Stine.
Author R.L. Stine.

Courtesy of the author.

By contrast, the newest Goosebumps book, Wanted: The Haunted Mask, is a joy. Spunky Lu-Ann Franklin puts on an enchanted mask and goes on a rampage. Meanwhile, her best friend Devin is spending Halloween at a pumpkin patch his father recently bought to make some extra money. The gourds seem possessed of a strange animation; vines twist like serpents and scratch at the windows. It turns out that the earth beneath the fields houses the bodies of hundreds of Civil War dead, who send their wrath up through the creepers and into the squash.

Angry pumpkins: perhaps, not so scary. And yet Stine makes it work. His vision of the fields by moonlight, of pumpkin leaves that “slap against one another” with a sound “like hands clapping,” collapses two meanings of funny: funny-peculiar and funny-ha-ha. Which is exactly how Horror for Kids should operate, provoking and assuaging fear all at the same time.  


I say provoking because, no matter how whimsically or sarcastically Stine handles them, the themes in Goosebumps pulse with native power. Inanimate objects turning malicious are creepy. False faces are creepy. They threaten the integrity of the self, and sometimes, as with Lu-Ann, they blur the line between monster and victim. When I read the first Haunted Mask in the 1990s (the motif figures in at least three Goosebumps books), the idea that I might originate the forces most deadly to me held an aching suggestiveness. It was not an epiphany that seemed immediately relevant, so I stored it away. And then adulthood hit, and I was just a little more prepared than I might otherwise have been.

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 flipping 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.  


Red Rain by R.L. Stine. Touchstone.

Goosebumps Wanted: The Haunted Mask by R.L. Stine. Scholastic.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 23 2014 10:55 AM This Isn’t the Syria Intervention Anyone Wanted
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google CEO: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.