Guest Post — ‘Returns to’ Goosebumps: a children’s introduction to horror
Guest Post by Benjamin Solah
My introduction to haunted houses, monsters and scary stories is credited to R.L. Stine and his Goosebumps series. One of my first memories of being excited by books was the pile of colourful novels with titles in dripping blood that sat stacked on my school desk in primary school. In fifth grade, our competing collections were a source of pride amongst our class. There were other fads throughout primary school, like Tazos, marbles and Yo-Yos but how rare were fads to do with books in the playground?
I remember gobbling up every book of Stine’s I could get my hands on. They were around $5 and I’d offer family members back rubs for money to buy more. I’d do anything to save money to buy another copy. I’d get a nice pile at Christmas time.
Written by R.L. Stine (described by some as the Stephen King of children’s books), each book would present a new set of characters, usually younger kids or early teens. They would confront a scary situation or a different monster ranging from vampires, zombies and ghosts, to monster blood, dummies, possessed snowmen, and haunted masks. They had funny titles like ‘Welcome to Dead House,’ ‘Say Cheese and Die!’ and ‘Piano Lessons can be Murder.’ I don’t remember being that scared though. Horror for kids our age was exciting. You would claim you read the most ‘scary’ books as a badge of honour, as though you’d actually confronted the said monster yourself.
Goosebumps prompted my first desires to write my own stories. The reliable style and themes gave me the springboard to test my own imagination and come up with my own monsters and scary situations. This was the beginning of my desire to write horror stories later in life. I came up with a story called ‘Couch Potato’ about a kid who walks into the lounge room to find a human-sized potato watching TV and eating popcorn. He was there to take revenge on the family for eating his fellow potatoes for dinner that night as mashed potato. I thought it was highly original.
As the Goosebumps fad got bigger though, the books branched out into Choose-Your-Own-Adventure titles that didn’t excite me as much. They became too much of a game, and I felt like kids cheated and didn’t actually read them. The second person point of view was a bit jarring too.
But, as an adult, it was nice to find that R.L. Stine is still around and still writing horror stories for kids. He is fairly active on Twitter and continues to release stories including his latest Goosebumps collection, the ‘HorrorLand’ series.
Looking back at the originals though, at the bright covers, with the blood-dripping titles, I’m surprised by how short they are. They’re perhaps just over 100 pages in large type. Even though I could sometimes devour them in a day or two if I was really into it, I remember thinking they were much longer. These books were my first ‘big kids’ books that prompted me to go further to read longer novels.
As I got older, my mum got me to pass on my collection to my younger cousin and I moved onto science fiction novels and Christopher Pike which made me feel much more adult. But I still have a couple left on my shelf today. I often find myself nostalgic for the Goosebumps craze, especially as a writer of horror fiction in a time when it hardly has the same popularity, unless you include paranormal novels such as the Twilight series that totally ignores the history of vampire fiction that went before it. It made me nostalgic for a time when Horror was popular and kids loved monsters.
I think Stine’s stories still have an enormous influence on me in terms of fun stories, reading for pure escapism and entertainment even though I often don’t write like that anymore. They gave me an essential education in the tropes and conventions of the genre that helped to shape my own stories. Often I think I might go back and write some young adult horror stories one day, to carry the torch of introducing horror to new and young audiences.
Benjamin Solah is a fiction writer, socialist, spoken word artist and blogger based in Melbourne. His latest horror story ‘Eliot’ appears in the Hope Anthology published by Kayelle Press and he blogs regularly at Blood and Barricades and Write Anything.