Reading Goosebumps as a Grown-Up

Werewolf_of_Fever_SwampI was far too much of a chicken to read Goosebumps as a kid. I think I read most of one and decided it wasn’t my thing–I was more into The Babysitter’s Club and such. I did enjoy Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, so maybe I wasn’t really chicken. Or maybe Goosebumps was just super scary.

The last time we visited my in-laws, my mother-in-law sent us home a stack of Goosebumps books. I shoved them in the bookshelf and then forgot about them, saving them for the day when my kids would be old enough to enjoy them.

Last night, I was digging through my paperbacks in the hopes of finding a few cool, creepy titles to share with you–not thrillers or anything directly relating to Halloween, but stories with a strange or creepy vibe to them (Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, et al–I’ll do that blog post later) and I stumbled across the Goosebumps books. The first one I pulled out was The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. I thought, well. I have to read that.

I do not like horror movies. I’ve read one Stephen King novel and it was one of the less overtly scary ones–Insomnia, I think. I’m not even sure that I finished it. But I do like creepy things. I like a little spookiness. It’s the gore I can’t deal with. The movie Scream shocked my system so, I spent half the night over the toilet. Partly because of all the blood (I’d never seen anything like it before–I think I was twelve and watched it at a friend’s house because my parents certainly wouldn’t have let me) but partly because there are people out there who murder, sometimes in gruesome ways, sometimes for fun. The more realistic the horror seems to me, the less I can stomach it. Because for me, it’s not a cheap thrill. It gets me thinking about human nature and the brevity of life and things no one likes to think about.

But werewolves? Oh yeah. I love that stuff.

So I cracked open The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, eager to see what I’d been missing.

Okay, so I figured out the story line about twelve pages in. I wasn’t trying to, it just seemed obvious. But the book was still fun and of course I had to keep reading to see if I was right. And it brought back some of the elements of fiction I really enjoyed when I was a kid. Like scenes where kids hang around talking to each other, and make friends quickly, and go exploring without anyone whining that they’d rather be home playing video games. The world of middle-reader fiction is full of this kind of interaction and I have always loved it. Friends. I always loved books about friends.

Of course, this book also kept me reading to see what new ways the author would try to hook me. R.L. Stine is the master of the chapter ending–what’s going to happen next!?!?!? Cheap tricks, my grown-up writer brain kept saying–the kind of thing you can only get away with when writing for kids, but which works so brilliantly to keep kids reading, and isn’t that the point? It’s the kind of book you read with a flashlight, hiding under the covers, because your parents have told you to turn off the light and go to sleep already.

And the ending–I was right about everything, but there was one point I didn’t expect, and at the risk of being too punny, I howled with laughter.

So now, twenty years late to the party, I think I am a Goosebumps fan.

 

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