When I was a kid, treasure hunting deep in the woods seemed like a completely plausible endeavor. I thought I could go on some grand fantastic adventure with wood nymphs and sprites. I quickly dismissed this idea because I lived (and continue to live) in Nevada, where we have more imported trees than any other state. Why do we have so many imported trees? Because we don’t have thick forests. We have sagebrush and ATV tracks. And frankly, the first I went camping, which was as an adult, I realized why my father never made us go camping – he knew it sucked.
This is not the case for the kids in the next Goosebumps installment I’m covering, Legend of the Lost Legend. These kids are out for adventure and treasure hunting – with their writer father. Yes, like Stephen King, writer R. L. Stine has added a writer character into his own novel, so let’s dive right in and see what exactly is the lost legend?
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book barely starts and we have a signature cliffhanger on page four. Our protagonists are a set of siblings – Justin and Marissa. They’re trying to find their father but are lost in a snowy tundra aided only by Balto and the rest of the Iditarod. The sled dogs go off on their own, taking Marissa along for the ride! Of course, at the very beginning of chapter two, Justin saves her and is fine. However, on page nine, we have another cliffhanger! They’re floating on a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland!
It doesn’t matter. It was just a story their father, master storyteller and treasure hunter, made up about his children. It’s going to be one of those, isn’t it? The children ask how they’re going to get off the ice block. The father replies, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story yet.” Well, Stine, you have 120 pages left, so you better get cracking.
They are camping in a fictional European country together while their father, “famous writer, storyteller, and story collector” Richard Clarke, is looking for the Lost Legend – which is a manuscript hidden away in a silver chest that has been lost for five hundred years. Justin reasons that if he were to find the legend himself, he’d win affection from his father as well as fame and fortune. In the middle of the night, a giant dog enters their camp with a note that says, “I KNOW WHY YOU’RE HERE. FOLLOW SILVERDOG.” There wouldn’t be a story if the children refused to follow the dog, so of course, they follow him deep into the woods.
There are some shenanigans while they follow Silverdog, including one where they get lost because they were following a deer instead. But the dog always howls and they get back on track. They also fall into a hole that they think is bottomless, but they easily climb out of it so I think it was more of a pothole than a bottomless pit. The dog eventually brings them to a house and when they enter, a woman yells, “I’ve caught you!”
The woman is the woman on the cover and she just has “a bad sense of humor.” Her name is Ivanna and she was the one who sent Silverdog and she wants to help the kids, but first, it’s time for lunch. After they eat, she tells them that she has poisoned them!
Just kidding. It’s that classic attempted murder sense of humor. Anyway, she sends them on a quest into the Fantasy Forest, apparently the only thing she doesn’t joke about. They’re told to follow another dog named Luka.
After they enter the Fantasy Forest, Luka proceeds to STAND UP LIKE A HUMAN!
If he shaved off all the fur, put on some clothes, and got a haircut, he’d look like a young man, I thought. As I stared at him, he started to wave and point.
This explains the emergence of furries in the millennial generation who read these books.
Ivanna leaves them with a note that says they should follow Luka and not lose him or they will be doomed. Of course, they lose him and fall into a pit of nuts. However, they’re not nuts. They’re rat eggs that start to hatch. Turns out the mice are just little wind-up toys. They get away and a tree falls on Marissa.
Marissa is fine, of course. It’s a fake tree, probably made out of styrofoam. They also run away from bats and find a river with a plug. And finally, they battle giant cats that try to eat them. Justin is swallowed but climbs his way out and distracts the giant cat with one of the wind-up mice from earlier.
So, we have furries and now the swallowing of a boy. This is some serious vore shit and this continues to explain my generation.
The siblings find they way back to Ivanna’s house and when they enter, they find her asleep and unresponsive. We have the triumphant return of Luka!
He was literally a dude in a suit. He takes off the suit in front of the children and expresses his congratulations. He proceeds to tell the children what has been happening.
“My family has lived in this forest for hundreds of years,” Luka explained. “It became our job to protect many of the treasures. And so we built a test forest, to keep out those who were unworthy. To stop the people who don’t deserve the wonderful treasures.”
Everything in the forest is fake, or a wind-up toy, or a marionette – like Ivanna. That’s correct. Ivanna is a puppet. The trial was to figure out what is real and what isn’t in the forest and our siblings have passed. They are given a chest and Silverdog, who is an actual dog – not a man, leads them back to their camp (not before getting lost for a second).
With their father, the children open the chest to receive their gift – an egg. The ungrateful family marches back to Luka’s house and demands an explanation. See, Luka thought they were in search of the Eternal Egg of Truth. If they want the Lost Legend, they need to find the Wanderers of the Forest. Luka will tell them where to find the Wanderers, but the Wanderers might not part with the legend.
The family finds the Wanderers and the second they ask for the legend, they gladly hand over a chest and leave. The family opens the chest and finds the manuscript. Excited, they unroll the piece of paper and read aloud the contents:
“WHOEVER OWNS THE LOST LEGEND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.”
The family looks around and realizes that they don’t know where they are.
Ha! How’s that for a twist ending!
I liked this one – although it took some reflection. While I was reading it, I thought of the words of the father, “I haven’t thought of an ending to the story, yet.” As the children were dealing with random women in the forest and man dogs and rat eggs, I wondered if R. L. Stine had an ending to the story. The children are always getting lost – while following Silverdog, during the trials in the forest, and even toward the end of the book after they pass the trials. Stine is telling us early on that it’s a legend about being lost, not a legend that is lost.
The idea of a legend about being lost makes up for most of the book. However, without the twist, this book is a seemingly disconnected set of random events. The twist is great and the kids’ constant direction mishaps are a wonderful bit of foreshadowing, but the man with a fake forest has nothing to do with being lost. I wish that aspect was incorporated more into the legend itself.
That being said, this book was a fun read and brought me back to those days when I was a kid, looking out the window and wondering if there was a magical creature calling out to me, if only I would look hard enough.
Next Time on Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight
Cultural osmosis is an interesting thing. I have this library of pop culture I can draw from and understand references to even though I haven’t interacted directly with that specific piece of pop culture. I have never seen Die Hard but if someone references Carl Winslow shooting a kid, I understand both of the references. (I have, however, seen every episode of Family Matters – even the bullshit ones that were on CBS. You know, the ones where Steve Urkel goes into space and then comes back to marry Laura – the girl he has been harassing for most of their lives.)
And that was the thing about Night of the Living Dummy – as I was reading it, I knew that Slappy has become the main antagonist in subsequent Dummy books. I spent the whole book noticing that 1) it’s more like nights of the living dummy and 2) Slappy is just as much a threat, if not more so than Mr. Wood. It’s time for a classic Goosebumps tale about twins, dummies, and competition.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Kris and Lindy are twins who seem to hate each other. One has short hair, one has a side ponytail. Other than that, they look identical. Even though they look similar, they are still two different people, but their parents also treat them as identical people. They are expected to play together and, as we later see, their parents don’t make an effort to have them distinguish themselves from the other or actively encourage them to partake in identical activities.
Their mother forces both of them to go outside and play, taking Lindy away from the book she was reading. Was it only our generation had parents that actively didn’t want us reading books? My father was different, though. He was a bookworm and I spent most of my childhood reading books and taking weekly trips to the library while other kids had parents who told them to go outside and play sports or whatever. I saw a study that said that Baby Boomers didn’t read as much as Millennials, so it makes sense that they would chastise us for reading too much. One time when I was a kid and I tried to check out a stack of books from the library and my father said that the library only allowed people to check out three at a time. I don’t think he was trying to curb my reading; I was a kid who walked up the counter with fifteen books and my father didn’t think that I could read all of them or keep track of them to return them to the library.
The girls don’t go to the library after they are kicked out. Instead, they go to the house that is under construction next door. In the dumpster, they find a dummy.
Lindy held the dummy up and examined his back, looking for the string to pull to make his mouth move. “I am a real kid!” Lindy made him say. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice through gritted teeth, trying not to move her lips.
“Dumb,” Kris said, rolling her eyes.
“I am not dumb. You’re dumb!” Lindy made the dummy say in a high, squeaky voice. When she pulled the string in his back, the wooden lips moved up and down, clicking as they moved. She moved her hand up his back and found the control to make his painted eyes shift from side to side.
“He’s probably filled with bugs,” Kris said, making a disgusted voice. “Throw him back, Lindy.”
“No way,” Lindy inisted, rubbing her hand tenderly over the dummy’s wooden hair. “I’m keeping him.”
“She’s keeping me,” she made the dummy say.
“But what are you going to do with this dummy?” Kris demanded.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll work up an act,” Lindy said thoughtfully, shifting Slappy [the dummy] to her other arm. “I’ll bet I could earn some money with him. You know. Appear at kids’ birthday parties. Put on shows.”
“Happy birthday!” she made Slappy declare. “Hand over some money!”
Kris didn’t laugh.
Tough crowd. I thought it was pretty funny.
Now we’re back to the cultural osmosis issue. I know that Slappy is the antagonist of the other dummy books and I know that he’s evil. I spent this whole novel wondering when Slappy was going to go all murder dummy. This book threw me for a loop with the introduction of another dummy.
After Lindy announces she was hired to do a ventriloquist act at a birthday party, Kris asks for her own dummy. Her parents come up with a ridiculous suggestion.
“Why don’t you both share Slappy?” Mrs. Powell suggested.
“Huh?” Lindy’s mouth dropped open in protest.
“You two always share everything,” Mrs. Powell continued. “So why don’t you share Slappy.”
“But, Mom-” Lindy whined unhappily.
“Excellent idea,” Mr. Powell interrupted. He motioned to Kris. “Try it out. After you share him for a while, I’m sure one of you will lose interest in him. Maybe even both of you.”
Kris climbed to her feet and walked over to Lindy. She reached out for the dummy. “I don’t mind sharing,” she said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea. “Can I hold him for just a second?”
Lindy held onto Slappy tightly.
Suddenly the dummy’s head tilted back and his mouth opened wide. “Beat it, Kris!” he snarled in a harsh raspy voice. “Get lost, you stupid moron!”
Before Kris could back away, Slappy’s wooden hand shot up, and he slapped her hard across the face.
First of all, wow, Slappy’s outburst was harsher than I expected in this child’s chapter book.
Now the biggest issue: HEY, PARENTS, IT’S LINDY’S DUMMY AND IF SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SHARE IT, SHE SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO SHARE THE DAMN DOLL!!! Lindy is the one who embraced the dummy. Kris thought it was disgusting and creepy. Now Lindy is excelling in her weird, creepy hobby and she should be encouraged – not forced to share. And Kris saying she doesn’t mind sharing is infuriating. It’s like standing by a vending machine, waiting for someone to buy a drink, and then saying, “I don’t mind sharing.” No, it’s not yours to share. And her parents justifying it by remarking, “You two always share everything.” This might be the root of the problems between the girls and it brings me back to an issue I brought up earlier. They aren’t able to cultivate a personality apart from each other.
Lastly, her father’s conjecture that one will lose interest isn’t a good metric for parenting.
We also learn there is going to be a school chorus, featuring Russain songs?
“Yeah. We’re doing all these Russian and Yugoslavian songs,” Kris said. “They’re so sad. They’re all about sheep or something. We don’t really know what they’re about. There’s no translation.”
What the fuck kind of school does Russan sheep dirges for the school chorus? The songs we sang during school recitals were nondenominational holiday songs and “Home Means Nevada.”
Anyway, despite all the rigamarole about sharing Slappy, Mr. Powell goes out to buy a second dummy at a pawn shop to give to Kris. She names him Mr. Wood, which is a way worse name than Slappy. Pretty soon, we get a dose of her stand up with her friend Cody.
Kris turned Mr. Wood to face her. “How are you today?” she asked him.
“Pretty good. Knock [on] wood,” she made the dummy say.
She waited for Cody to laugh, but he didn’t. “Was that funny?” she asked.
“Kinda,” he replied without enthusiasm. “Keep going.”
“Okay.” Kris lowered her head so that she was face-to-face with her dummy. “Mr. Wood,” she said, “why are you standing in front of the mirror with your eyes closed?”
“Well,” answered the dummy in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. “I wanted to see what I look like when I’m asleep!”
It’s as funny as any ventriloquist act I’ve seen, and I’d rather watch an hour of this than a minute of Jeff Dunham. Still, Kris knows that Lindy is doing better than her.
Kris keeps finding Mr. Wood in weird positions, like wearing her clothes at one point and mid-choke of Slappy. Eventually, he calls Kris a jerk and is later found in the middle of the kitchen with the contents of the refrigerator strewn about with Kris’s jewelry in the food. Kris insists the dummy did it and Mrs. Powell threatens to take away the dummies if anything else goes wrong. Kris throws Mr. Wood into the closet, then she hears a voice, leading to this exchange:
“I wanted to see if I could scare you,” Lindy explained. “It was just a joke. You know. I can’t believe you fell for that voice in the closet just now! I must be a really good ventriloquist!”
“You really believed Mr. Wood was alive or something!” Lindy said, laughing, enjoying her victory. “You’re such a nit!”
Lindy did all these pranks after Kris got a dummy also and she did it “as a joke.” Everyone is Stine’s novels are always trying to play pranks on one another, like in Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?. What kind of weird pranks were going on in his childhood and why are they always so mean? Kids don’t still do pranks like this, do they?
Kris finds a piece of paper with some weird words on it and, like a dummy (a different kind of dummy), she reads the words aloud. Then the dummy spews green bile at the student body during an assembly.
This whole time I thought Slappy and Mr. Wood are switched because I knew that Slappy is the focus of future Night of the Living Dummy novels, including a whole series called SlappyWorld (we’ll see if I ever get that far). However, Mr. Wood gets up and starts actually attacking the girls. He wants them for “slaves.” The girls try to bury him, but the next morning he’s in the kitchen, saying they’re his slaves and he attacks their dog.
Mr. Wood meets his end when a steamroller runs over his head, a green gas cloud erupting from beneath the vehicle. The girls have become closer and they enter their room together.
They entered their bedroom to find the window wide open, the curtains slapping wildly, rain pouring in. “Oh no!” Kris hurried across the room to shut the window.
As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.
“Hey, slave – is that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”
I spent the whole book wondering when Slappy was going to reveal that he switched places with Mr. Wood and he was the truly evil one. This ending was fun but I do wonder if Slappy was even meant to continue the Dummy legacy, akin to the final scare of Friday the 13th. Jason wasn’t meant to continue onto to star in ten movies (he wasn’t the killer of Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning so that one doesn’t count (also, fuck a spoiler warning for that one – it’s the worst one and should be skipped (the best one is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives – it just is))), a television show, a couple video games, some neat cameos, novels I might read in the future, dolls, board games, and countless other things I have yet to own.
R. L. Stine tends to always use these endings that imply that while the characters have learned something, their problems are never really over, like Stay Out of the Basement!(which I covered). Stine may not have intended Slappy to have more books, but he did and I read this book through that lens. Maybe because I knew about Slappy and I expected the book to go a certain way, I was open to being surprised after Lindy says she did all those “pranks” or, more appropriately, “therapist fodder.”
This was a fun book but I wish I could have read this without any knowledge of Slappy. There’s no way I can take away the knowledge I have about these books. And, honestly, this is a series about looking back – we cannot judge these books without the knowledge we have, no matter how hard we try to maintain cultural relativism and ignorance. However, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing or hurts the integrity of the review. This is something we all have to contend with as we interact with popular culture, especially when we’re interactive with popular culture intended for children through the eyes of an adult.
Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Legend of the Lost Legend
My parents are not anti-vaxxers because they’re responsible parents. My sister and I are current with all our shots, no matter how hard it was to get us to sit down and actually take the damn shot. We used to cry and cling to our parents and engage in futile begging, but our tenacious parents still forced us to receive our shots. After it was all done, the pain a distant memory, we got a prize from the hospital.
That’s where I saw it – a green hand wrapped around a door. Leaves and vines grew around the hand as if something escaped the confines of the basement and was now poised to take over the upstairs. Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement by R. L. Stine sat on the highest shelf, most of which featured boys with dogs or girls with dolls. Maybe one or two with arm-crossed children rolling their eyes as their apron-clad mother held a rolling pin and chastised them. The hand stood out. The hand grabbed my attention. The hand scared me, but I needed to know what was happening.
Rereading this as an adult, I’m happy this one was my first Goosebumps book. My copy has the new cover that fails to live up to the original, but I’m still happy I own this scary book that holds up as fine children’s horror.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
Casey and Margaret Brewer are tired of their father’s excuses. They want to play Frisbee with him, but he’s always busy. And he’s been working every day since he moved his family out to California, a place that Margaret doesn’t like because it’s “the middle of winter; and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and Casey and I are out in jeans and T-shirts as if it were the middle of summer.” Oh no, how terrible it must be to have temperate weather in the second-best state in the union. (First is Nevada – don’t @ me.)
Margaret thinks that Mr. Martinez, their father’s boss, fired their father for some experiments that went “wrong.” She gets curious and encourages Casey to come with her to find out what their father is doing deep in the basement. When they halfway down the basement stairs, their father appears.
He glared up at them angrily, his skin strangely green under the flourescent light fixture. He was holding his right hand, drops of red blood falling onto his white lab coat.
“Stay out of the basement!” he bellowed, in a voice they’d never heard before.
Both kids shrank back, surprised to hear their father scream like that. He was usually so mild and soft-spoken.
“Stay out of the basement,” he repeated, holding his bleeding hand. “Don’t ever come down here – I’m warning you.”
I think the kids just slink away because the next chapter starts with Mrs. Brewer leaving to help care for her sister for a few days. She says she’s no worried about the kids, but is worried about Mr. Brewer, particularly that he will become so engrossed in his work that he won’t eat. The man himself appears, his hand bandaged despite it being a few weeks after he yelled at them. He takes their mother to the airport as Margaret’s friend Diane arrives for some adult-free childhood banter.
Diane is also the one who dares Margaret to go into the basement, because what’s a Goosebumps book without some kids daring each other to do some stupid shit. I remember being a kid. We always dared each other to do stupid shit. It’s the most realistic thing in the series.
In the basement, they find a “rain forest.” It’s so hot and humid that Casey decides to take off his shirt and drop it on the floor, just like an actual kid. That’s when they notice a tall treelike plant actually breathing. Casey touches it and he goes into convulsions!
Of course, it’s just a prank. At least the fake out is at the end of chapter three when I’m already invested, instead of the first chapter. The children think the plants are moving and they decide to go back upstairs. They think that their father will never know they were down there, but Casey remembers that he left his t-shirt on the floor.
Casey goes back into the basement to retrieve his shirt, but their father comes home. Margaret is standing at the top of the stairs, urging her brother to return before their father walks through the door. He grabs his shirt but some tendrils grab him. It’s not a trick. Actual tendrils grab Casey. They wrestle free, but not before their father catches them.
They insist they didn’t touch anything and while their father is disappointed, he is not stark-raving mad. They ask their father about the weird plants, but he refuses to explain their bizarre appearance and behavior to them. The next morning, Margaret finds a lock installed on the basement door.
Dr. Brewer is working so hard to impress his boss, Mr. Martinez, and prove that the university was wrong to fire Dr. Brewer. However, Margaret clings to her idea that something is askew, especially since she sees his research as putting his career ahead of his children, something he hasn’t done before. Her suspicions are exacerbated when she sees him devour something from a bag “greedily” and stash it under the sink before returning to the basement.
When she was sure he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know whather father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.
She pulled open the sink cabinet, reached into the trash, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.
Then she gasped aloud asher eyes ran over the label.
Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.
Oh, shit, Margaret! The call is coming from inside the house! Get out of there!
She tries to confide in Casey her findings, but, like every shitty man, he doesn’t take her concerns seriously. There are more frustrating scenes wherein others excuse Dr. Brewer’s neglect as something he’s doing for the sake of his career while dismissing Margaret. This whole book is like a metaphor for women’s struggles. A young woman is supposed to just accept a man’s egregious behavior for the sake of his own interests even to her detriment. I feel ya, Margaret. We cuz.
While Margaret is growing up with a distant father, Dr. Brewer is growing green hair. He is also skulking around the house and scaring his daughter and is sleeping in a bed that is covered in earthworms and wet, black clumps of dirt. Finally, he tries to feed his children a strange substance bearing a resemblance to dirt. This is the straw that breaks Casey’s back, so to speak. He is finally curious enough to investigate the basement with Margaret.
They get their opportunity when Dr. Brewer leaves. In the basement, they find a jacket belonging to Mr. Martinez. They come to the conclusion that plants may have eaten the big boss man (the character in the book, not the wrestler), but their father insists Mr. Martinez just got hot and left his jacket. A few days later, they also discover Mr. Martinez’s shoes and pants, hurting their father’s theory that he just got hot. You don’t just take off your pants in someone else’s house, even the house of your subordinate.
During another excursion into the basement (and after some heavy lock destruction), they peer deeper into the experimental jungle.
She took a deep breath and held it. Then, ignoring the moans, the signs, the green arms reaching out to her, the hideous green-tomato faces, she plunged through the plants to the back of the closet.
“Dad!” she cried.
Her father was lying on the floor, his hands and feet tied tightly with plant tendrils, his mouth gagged by a wide strip of elastic tape.
“It can’t be Dad!” Casey said, still holding her by the shoulders. “Dad is at the airport – remember?”
She reached downand tugged at the elastic tape until she managed to get it off.
“Kids – I’m so glad to see you,” Dr. Brewer said. “Quick! Untie me.”
“How did you get in here?” Casey demanded, standing above him, hands on his hips, staring down at him suspicisously. “We saw you leave for the airport.”
“That wasn’t me,” Dr. Brewer said. “I’ve been locked in here for days.”
“Huh?” Casey cried.
“But we saw you-” Margaret started.
“It wasn’t me. It’s a plant,” Dr. Brewer said. “It’s a plant copy of me.”
Holy shit! It’s a plant! Metaphorically and literally! The story continues with a classic, “I’m your real father! Shoot him!” “No, shoot him! He’s the impostor!” only with a little girl holding an ax, which is my new aesthetic.
Margaret figures out who her real father is when she stabs the father from the basement in the arm. He bleeds red blood, so she hands him the ax. Then her real father cleaves the impostor in two! Take it back. A father who was held captive by a sentient plant cutting his captor in twain with an ax from his daughter is my new aesthetic.
In the end, the Brewers destroy the plants and return the equipment to the university, but R. L. Stine isn’t finished.
It’s so peaceful now, [Margaret] thought happily.
So peaceful here. And so beautiful.
The smile faded from her face when she heard the whisper at her feet. “Margaret.”
She looked down to see a small yellow flower nudging her ankle.
“Margaret,” the flower whispered, “help me. Please – help me. I’m your father. Really! I’m your real father.”
Fucking perfect. This book was perfect.
I’m happy this was my first Goosebumps book. I’m happy this was the book I chose from all the other books on that bookshelf at the doctor’s office. Thank you to whoever put that book on that shelf. This book started my lifelong love of all things scary and creepy. I’m even happier that this book holds up. I like the punniness. I like Margaret. I like the mystery. Everything about this book is perfect.
Stay Out of the Basement was the second book of the Goosebumps series and, especially with Welcome to Dead House as the first, I can see why this series is revered in the Pantheon of Young Adult Fiction, exactly where it should be.
When I was eight, during the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took my sister and me halfway around the world to the Philippines. The trip was my first venture outside the United States, my first plane ride, and my first time in a country that spoke a completely different language. It wasn’t a random trip to a random country – my mother is Filipina, and we had (and still have) extensive family out there. I spent most of my time running around, exploring the countryside where my family lived on the slope of the Mayon Volcano. My favorite haunt was a dilapidated church and the adjacent graveyard. I was obsessed with the cracked gravestones and the icon of Mary with the faded paint and a chipped hand. Unlike Gabe in Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I never came face to face with a supernatural creature, but I like to think I had an adventure, albeit a safe one.
R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was an absolute delight to read. This is what I came to Goosebumps for: kids my age (or slightly older) overcoming scary situations with a little dash of humor. While on a trip to his ancestral home of Egypt, our protagonist, Gabe, explores the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gabe a sweet kid and his uncle, scientist Ben Hassan, is a likable adult who helps his nephew. Gabe adversary is his cousin, and Ben’s daughter, Sari, who is charming in her own way. I’m looking forward to exploring this book – this reminder of why I loved these books so much as a kid.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book starts at the Great Pyramid and a thirsty child. Gabe asks his parents for water.
“We can’t you a drink now,” she answered, staring at the pyramid. “Stop acting like you’re four. You’re twelve, remember?”
“Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,” I muttered. “All this sand in the air, it’s making me gag.”
“Look at the pyramid,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “That’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to get a drink.”
Hey, Mom, you can drink and look at pyramids at the same time. The end of the first chapter surprised me. Instead of a danger that is revealed to not be a danger at all, we have an ominous passage:
“I’m afraid you’ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,” Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.
“I’ve already appreciated it,” I told him glumly. “Can we get a drink now?”
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it – probably forever.
I’m in. I’m interested. I want to know where the story is going, and I’m happy the first chapter’s cliffhanger wasn’t some fake out.
Gabe’s dismissive parents are quickly ushered away from the book and our protagonist is left with his Uncle Ben Hassan, an Egyptologist with a daughter, Sari. Gabe has an adversarial relationship with Sari. She treats him like a child despite their identical ages. She has a strained relationship with her cousin, but she has a great relationship with her father – one that sometimes forces Gabe to look at them through an invisible barrier. The father and daughter have inside jokes and play pranks on Gabe. He gets frustrated with them, but, as a reader, I never felt the jokes were too malicious, and I have the notion that Uncle Ben has played these pranks on his daughter and that the source of their inside jokes. He’s trying to pull his nephew into a relationship the only way he knows how – jokes.
Uncle Ben has discovered a new burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and he invites his nephew on a tour. This is where we have our classic horror warning.
Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. “Clip them into your jeans as we go in,” he instructed. He gazed at me. “You don’t believe in curses, do you? You know – the ancient Egyptian kind.”
I didn’t know how to reply, so I shook my head.
“Good,” Uncle Ben replied, grinning. “Because one of my workers claims we’ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we’ve activated some curse.”
This is classic horror. The characters were warned. The strange old man told the teenager to avoid Camp Blood. The fortune teller told the young jock not to enter the abandoned funhouse. The cheerleader read the stories about the escaped convict who targets babysitters. They were warned, but they continued deeper into the pyramid.
Uncle Ben goes down a rope ladder first, followed by Gabe, who falls off. Sari catches him. She teases Gabe, but she would never let him get hurt.
They reach the bottom of the pyramid and Uncle Ben introduces us to his excavation team – Ahmed, a taciturn man who is obsessed with the curse, Quasimodo, which is a nickname, and Christy. It’s nice to see a woman among the archaeologists. Thank you for the representation, Stine.
Uncle Ben forbids the children from exploring on their own, but the kids do it anyway in typical kid fashion. Sari gets ahead of Gabe and he gets lost trying to find her. He stumbles on a “mummy case.”
Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.
The lid raised up another inch.
I took another step back.
And dropped the flashlight.
I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back into the mummy case.
The lid was now open nearly a foot.
I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.
I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.
The lid creaked and opened another inch.
I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.
From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.
This is a fun, scary passage, even though the single sentence paragraphs make the passage look like a poem. The mummy is just Sari, but I wasn’t mad. I just thought, “Oh, that Sari, always with the pranks.”
Uncle Ben finds the children and admonishes them for running off. The next morning, Uncle Ben leaves the children behind at the hotel after two workers come down with a “mysterious illness.” Sari and Gabe get bored and decide to go to the museum. Gabe goes over the mummification process, complete with brain pulling and intestine yanking, much to Sari’s chagrin. We see that Sari is not impervious to everything around her. Her father is an Egyptologist and she has no problems spelunking in a stuffy pyramid, but she cannot listen to her cousin say things like, “The brain had to come out first. They had this special tool. It was like a long, skinny hook. They’d push it up the corpse’s nose until it reached the brain and then wiggled it back and forth, back and forth, until the brain became mush.” Sari is complicated. Just don’t talk about guts and she’s fine.
They see Ahmed in the museum and after a brief chase scene, Ahmed tells them that Uncle Ben sent him to get the children, so the children get into his car with him. They realize they aren’t heading back to the hotel – they’re being kidnapped! That’s terrifying! Fun fact! When I was a kid, someone tried to kidnap my sister and me, but that’s a story for another review.
The kids jump out of the car and run back to the hotel. Uncle Ben returns and they tell him about their experience with Ahmed. Uncle Ben believes them. He doesn’t imply that they didn’t understand what was happening, he doesn’t dismiss the children. He actually listens to them. Thank you, Stine, for having at least one adult actually listen to a child for once.
Uncle Ben wants to leave the children in the hotel, but Sari and Gabe convince him to take them with as he returns to the pyramid. He gives them beepers in case they get separated, and, of course, they get separated. If they didn’t get separated it would be the end of the story. The floor gives out from beneath Gabe and he falls on his beeper, breaking it, but he’s in an undiscovered section of the pyramid.
There were mummies leaning against the wall. Mummies lying on stone slabs, arms crossed over their chests. Mummies leaning at odd angles, crouched low or standing tall, their arms straight out in front of them like Frankenstein monsters.
I realized that I had made an incredible discovery here. By falling through the floor, I had found a hidden chamber, a chamber where mummies had been made. I had found all of the tools and all of the materials used to make mummies four thousand years ago.
That’s creepy – a room full of dead bodies. Sari catches up with Gabe, but Ahmed is close behind. He reveals that the chamber is the “sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala” and Ahmed as trying to prevent anyone from trespassing on it. Then he the true identities of the surrounding mummies.
“They were all violators of the Priestess’s chamber,” Ahmed revealed. The thin smile that formed on his face could only be described as a proud smile.
“You mean – they’re not from ancient Egypt?” Sari cried, raising her hands in horror to her face.
“A few of them,” Ahmed replied, still smiling that frightening, cold smile. “A few of them were ancient intruders. Some are quite recent. But they all have one thing in common. They all became victims of the curse. And they all were mummified alive!”
Then he points out the one he did himself! This dude is insane and scary as shit. Uncle Ben finds them and tries to reason with him “scientist to scientist.” Ben, boobala, the man threatened your assistants by showing them what it would be like to be boiled alive. He’s not a scientist. He’s a crazy man with a knife who is threatening your daughter.
Ahmed knocks Uncle Ben out and forces the scientist into a coffin with the children. There’s a little crying and suspense before Uncle Ben wakes up and reveals that every coffin has a trap lever. That’s a little deus ex machina – I wanted the children to figure out a way out for themselves and save their Uncle, or maybe the kids could have observed the trap lever during their trip to the museum. I guess the book can’t be perfect.
The kids and Uncle Ben escape and are forced into a final confrontation with Ahmed. Gabe pulls out a mummy hand that he keeps with him. (This isn’t a deus ex machina – it’s been mentioned.)
Maybe I thought the mummy hand would distract Ahmed.
Or interest him.
Or confuse him.
Or frighten him.
Maybe I was just stalling for time.
Or maybe I was unconsciously remembering the legend behind the hand that the kid at the garage sale had told me.
The legend of why it was called The Summoner.
How it was used to call up ancient souls and spirits.
Or maybe I wasn’t thinking anything at all.
But I spun around and, gripping it by its slender wrist, held the mummy hand up high.
Ahmed stared at it.
But nothing happened.
I waited, standing there like the Statue of Liberty with the little hand raised high above my head.
It seemed as if I were standing like that for hours.
The thought of this kid holding up a mummy hand while everyone around him is just staring at him and shrugging is a hilarious. I laughed out loud. If there’s an episode of the television show based on this book, I hope that’s played with a comedic beat. (I just checked – there is no television adaptation of this book.)
But the mummy hand does something eventually – the mummies come to life and chase Ahmed out of the pyramid, allowing Uncle Ben, Sari, and Gabe to escape. Ahmed should have been run into the tar pit, but that might be too gruesome for a kid’s book, even if the book is a horror book.
It ends with the three of them sharing a moment, including a silly pun that will probably be an inside joke between them.
“We’re okay,” Uncle Ben said gratefully, throwing his arms around Sari and me. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”
“We can go now!” Sari cried happily, hugging her dad. Then she turned to me. “You saved our lives,” she said. She had to choke out the words. But she said them.
Then Uncle Ben turned his gaze on me and the object I still gripped tightly in front of me. “Thanks for the helping hand,” Uncle Ben said.
I see what you did there.
Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was a delight. It was scary, funny, and I loved the dynamic between Gabe, his cousin, and his uncle. This is what Goosebumps is all about: a kid overcoming a scary situation with gumption and humor. I had an adventure to an ancestral homeland when I was a kid and, while it didn’t involve any mummies, I keep those treasured memories in a special part of my brain. Gabe’s experience was scary, but he became closer to his uncle and cousin, and now he has a great story to tell. And I enjoyed reading it.
Next time: The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs
Most of my teachers had some kind of twenty minute quiet time after lunchtime recess. At around 11:30, my entire class and I piled into the hallway and stood in line (if you wanted hot lunch). We paid the lunch lady our $0.75 each at the front or used one of those punch cards the kids with pre-paid lunch had. We grabbed our food, sat down, and ate as fast as we could so we could get outside and run around like little idiots as quickly as possible. After a full thirty minutes of mindless laughing and cavorting with our fellow classmates, the bell rang and forced us back into the green walls of the school, away from the sun and into tedium. Then our teacher made us read. At least we got to choose the book.
“Read one chapter of a book,” she demanded.
We had a book. We had a popular book. It wasn’t cool to read unless you read R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps.
“Read one chapter of a book.”
I see why these books were popular – there are 128 pages in Monster Blood and 29 chapters. That’s an average of four pages a chapter.
“Read one chapter of a book.”
That was easy and only took a minute.
Of course, I wasn’t that child. I had cold lunch, so I had to sit by myself on the other side of the cafeteria. The school separated “hot lunch” students (those who paid money) and “cold lunch” student (those who brought their lunch from home). All my friends brought money to school (eventually, I started asking my mother for money just so I could sit with my friends), and we had to sit in specific seats that a fifth grader designated for us (it wasn’t a bully situation – the school lunch ladies bestowed onto them that power). I enjoyed the thirty-minute recess because I could read whatever I wanted, instead of what my teacher wanted me to read. When the bell rang, it was more of a relief for me. It was time to get up from the ground, brush off the dirt, and read inside – a minor location change. I didn’t mind a long chapter and I never stopped reading after only one chapter. I read until I was the last one still reading and my teacher had to ask me to come back to the boring real world.
I don’t remember the small chapters of Goosebumps, but I remember the cliffhangers. For a while, I was convinced that every horror book had to have a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter and each book. Some writers haven’t grown out of this, as evidenced by adult novels with knives and guns and scantily clad women victims on the covers. R. L. Stine’s cliffhangers are on full display in Monster Blood. There are some good ones with genuine danger – mostly at the end of the book. However, the most prevalent ones are the frustrating ones where it turns out to be a someone making a sandwich (really) or a dream sequence. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t going to like this one until I reached the end. Everything goes bonkers. The cliffhangers involve actual danger, and the short chapters are a minor inconvenience, rather than a jarring interruption.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
We start with Evan Ross and his dismissive mother. Mrs. Ross is dropping off her son at his Great Aunt Kathryn’s spooky house. Aunt Kathryn is a deaf septuagenarian who raised Evan’s father. Evan doesn’t want to stay with her because he thinks she’s “weird.” That’s no reason to not want to stay with someone, but I guess Evan’s apprehension is not unfounded – she does pose a danger to our young protagonist. What this book says about weird people is not particularly hopeful, especially for weirdos like me. (I didn’t call myself a weirdo. I accepted my weirdness. I was proclaimed a weirdo when I wanted to read instead of play tag and enjoyed the quiet time after lunch recess.)
At the end of the first chapter, a mere seven pages later, we have our first cliffhanger:
And as she said this, facing Evan with her back to the house, the front door was pulled open, and Aunt Kathryn, a large woman with starling black hair, filled the doorway.
Staring past his mother, Evan saw the knife in Kathryn’s hand. And he saw that the blade of the knife was dripping with blood.
End of chapter one. Even a child wouldn’t be fooled by this obvious cliffhanger. Stine is not going to kill off the protagonist and his mother in a brutal stabbing at the beginning of page eight. Although, if that did happen, it would be surprising.
“I was slicing beef,” she said in a surprisingly deep voice, waving the blood-stained kitchen knife.
I’m reminded of a slasher flick from the early aughts whose name escapes me in which a yellow-haired lady was spooked by a coat rack. She literally bumps into a coat rack and screams. I don’t remember anything else about the movie, but I remember that coat rack. I think I audibly cried, “Oh, come on!” when it happened. I felt the same way at the end of these fake-outs. As bad as the beef slicing is, there is another one later that made me want to put down the book and go back to the Baby-Sitters Club, where Martin doesn’t try to fake me.
I don’t see as many fake-out scares in horror movies anymore. The fear comes from an actual threat. I just want to take a moment and tell modern horror movies that don’t do bullshit scares that I appreciate their efforts.
While Mrs. Ross speaks with Aunt Kathryn, the old woman grabs Evan’s arm and jerks it around. Evan complains that she hurt him and Mrs. Ross completely dismisses her son’s concerns. I get that Evan is a whiny kid, but if he thinks the woman was rough with him, she should listen to him and admonish Aunt Kathryn. If Aunt Kathryn is worth anything, she’d apologize and promise to try to be softer with her nephew.
Mrs. Ross doesn’t do anything. She’s a terrible mother. There. I said it. She drops her kid off with this woman she barely knows so she and Mr. Ross can look for a house. I think Evan should have some say in the house they choose – after all, Evan is going to live in it also. Of course, if she were a better mother, we wouldn’t have this book.
She leaves and Evan explores his temporary living quarters. He finds a library of science books and assumes Aunt Kathryn was once married (hey, Evan, women can like science, too, buddy). Then a demon attacks him at the end of the chapter. No. Not a demon. No actual danger. It’s a cat – Aunt Kathryn’s cat named Sarabeth. At first, I read that as “Scarabeth.” I wish it was “Scarabeth.”
Evan takes his dog (Trigger) out for a walk and a hand touches his shoulder. End of chapter. The hand belongs to a neighborhood girl named Andrea, but she hates that name and prefers “Andy.” I liked that she went by Andy and liked to joke around. Evan quickly sexualizes her and describes her clothing every time he sees her, but as a character, I found her bravery and sense for adventure interesting. This stark difference between the two made me wish the book was about her instead of Evan. Intrepid Andy and her new-kid-in-town sidekick Evan.
Andy takes Evan to a toy store run by a misanthrope who seems to especially hate children. Hey, guy, if you hate children, don’t open a toy store. When a child expresses interest in something, he won’t sell it to them. Evan finds a container with the words “Monster Blood” on it. He is willing to buy it, but the owner says it’s “not good” and won’t sell it to the boy. If he knew there was something cursed with the monster blood, that would make sense. It would force Evan into theft or some other plot point. However, the owner acquiesces and sells the container to him without much coaxing. I don’t know why the man didn’t just sell it to the kid. I don’t know why R. L. Stine spent some much time with this man. The store closes later in the book and we never see this guy again. It’s no surprise to me why the store shut down.
Evan takes the monster blood and Andy to Aunt Kathryn’s house. He shows his old Aunt the container. She rolls it around and gives it back to him without any troubles. They pop it open and it falls out like Flubber. It bounces around and they take it outside to play with it some in a charming scene that ends with Trigger swallowing a large chunk of it. They wonder if it’s poison.
The next chapter starts three days later, so I guess Trigger is okay and the monster blood isn’t poison. Evan brushes his hair and thinks obsessively about a phone call he received from his parents sometime between when Trigger swallowed monster blood at the end of chapter eight and nine. I honestly thought his parents weren’t going to return and used “house hunting” as a ruse to lose the kid and start new lives in Europe as jewel thieves.
Later, Evan meets the neighborhood bullies – two hulking twins named Rick and Tony. Andy intervenes before the twins can attack Evan, but they steal her bike. They go back to his house and find Trigger suffocating. He rips off the dog’s collar and the kids notice that Trigger has doubled in size.
Chapter thirteen starts with Trigger running after Rick and Tony as Evan tries to catch up with his dog.
Suddenly, as Evan watched in horror, the dog raised up on his hind legs. He tilted his head to the sky and let out an ear-piercing howl. Not the howl of a dog. A creature howl.
And then Trigger’s features began to transform. His forehead burst forward and enlarged. His eyes grew wide and round before sinking under the protruding forehead. Fangs slid from his gaping mouth, and the uttered another howl to the sky, louder and more chilling than the first.
“He’s a monster! A monster!” Evan cried.
Oh, boy, this is getting good!
And woke up.
A harmless dream. Except that something still wasn’t right.
The bed. It felt so uncomfortable. So cramped.
Evan sat up, alert, wide awake now.
And stared down at his giant feet. HIs giant hands. And realized how tiny the bed seemed beneath him.
Because he was a giant now.
That makes sense. The monster blood made Trigger larger, so, logically, it would make him bigger. I see wacky giant-child shenanigan afoot.
Because he had grown so huge, so monstrously huge.
And when he saw how big he had become, he opened his mouth wide and began to scream.
Oh man! A cliffhanger! Is Evan now going to wreak havoc on his crazy aunt? Will he get revenge on the bullies? I can’t wait for the next chapter.
His screams woke him up.
This time he really woke up.
Oh, fuck off! Slams book down. Walks out the door. Leaves her life free from dream sequences. Starts a new life book-free in the mountains of Oregon. Is a lumberjack now.
I was livid. Something interesting was finally happening and I was interested to see how Evan deals with his new demon dog. It was all a dream. Fine, whatever. Then I wanted to see how Evan acclimatizes to his new size in what would be a wonderful, yet obvious, allegory for puberty. Maybe he could overcome the neighborhood bullies and stand up to his mother (“how could you leave me with a crazy woman and not ask for my input regarding a house – I live there, too!”) – it’s all part of growing up.
No. I get a dream fake out.
I wanted to give up. I wanted to put the book down and give my review without having read the rest of the book. But I kept going. I kept reading. I recently read the first Goosebumps book Welcome to Dead House (long before I decided to write these, I’ll get around to it).I loved Welcome to Dead House. It was the kind of spooky book that got me into horror as a child. I had to give him a second chance. And, well…
The ending is okay. It’s an improvement over the dream fake outs, but my expectations were pretty low. Let’s get to the ending, but first, we have some quick events to get through.
Evan and Andy take Trigger to the veterinarian. I don’t know who paid for the visit. I can’t imagine the kids footing the bill and there wasn’t a scene where they abscond with the dog – like a vet visit and dash. Aunt Kathryn has nothing but disdain for Trigger, so she’s not paying. The vet says that Trigger is healthy, but he is a little large for the breed. Nothing to worry about.
The monster blood gets bigger and spills out of its container. The twins actually beat up Evan. Andy helps with Evan’s injuries. They knock over the monster blood. Andy goes home. Evan stumbles around the garage. He falls into a bathtub filled with the monster blood. Andy shows up. They haul the monster blood in a garbage bag back to the toy shop. The toy shop is shut down. They drag the monster blood back. Trigger is the size of a pony.
Got it? Now we’re at the end.
The monster blood spills out of the garbage bag and turns into a huge ball. It starts to move like it has a mind of its own and consumes everything it touches. As it bounces around, it swallows the bully twins, and corners Aunt Kathryn. We are treated to this twist:
Andy’s hands tugged at the sides of her hair, her eyes wide with growing fear as the seething green blog made its way steadily closer to Evan’s aunt.
“Get out!” Kathryn repeated shrilly. “Save your lives! I made this thing! Now I must die for it!”
What a twist! Although, if she made it, why didn’t she stop Evan when she rolled the monster blood container in her hands? Evan believes that’s when she cast a spell on the monster blood, but Aunt Kathryn points at Andy and says that the young girl made her do it. End of chapter.
She wasn’t pointing at Andy, but Sarabeth, the cat. Then something batshit happens.
All eyes were on the cat as it rose up, stretched, and grew. And as it grew, it changed its shape.
With shadowy arms and legs in the eerie darkness.
And then the shadow stepped away from the darkness.
And Sarabeth was now a young woman with fiery red hair and pale skin and yellow eyes, the same yellow cat eyes that had haunted Evan since he’d arrived. The young woman was dressed in a swirling black gown down to her ankles.
She stood in the doorway, staring accusingly at Kathryn.
“You see? She’s the one,” Kathryn said, quietly now. And the next words were intended only for Sarabeth: “Your spell over me is broken. I will do no more work for you.”
The fucking cat had control of Aunt Kathryn and was trying to kill Evan with her spell on the monster blood. Sarabeth orders the blob to kill the children, but the large and in charge Trigger pushes Sarabeth into the blob. It shrinks, throwing up the twins and the robin it swallowed.
The mother returns. I thought she was going to leave him there. Frankly, with how dismissive she is, Evan might be better off with his new and improved Aunt Kathryn. Then we are treated to this after Evan and Andy vow to keep in touch:
“Could I ask one small favor?” Andy asked.
“Yeah. Sure,” Evan replied, curious.
“Well, it’s going to sound strange,” Andy said reluctantly. “But can I . . . uh . . . can I have the little bit of Monster Blood that’s left? You know. Sort of as a memento or something?”
“Sure. Okay with me,” Evan said.
They both turned their eyes to where it had come to rest on the carpet.
“Hey-” Andy cried in surprise.
It was gone.
There are three more Monster Blood books in the Goosebumps series.
Most of the end of chapter cliffhangers are ridiculous. I understand making smaller chapters to accommodate a child’s attention span, but Stine does this in Fear Street also. I haven’t read his venture into adult novels, but I can’t imagine he’d stray from his unnecessary cliffhangers. Just make longer chapters, dude.
Despite the frustrating cliffhangers, I’m happy I finished the novel. Even though the ending comes out of nowhere, I enjoyed the fast pace and crazy twists. This isn’t as good as Welcome to Dead House, the first in the Goosebumps series. (Again, I promise I’ll get around to that one, which will be a glowing review.) I’m still looking forward to reading all the Goosebumps books, even if some of them aren’t the caliber of children’s literature that I remember.
And speaking of Fear Street, next time will be my first review of my favorite post-Goosebumps horror series. I’m reading Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine.