Reader Beware – you’re in for a scare!
So my latest weird little crush on a vast bloc of extruded youth ephermera is, you guessed it, Goosebumps, the horror series for kids. I never got that into them when I was young – I was actually a bit scared to read them because of the spooky covers and the fact that I was a very very wimpy child. So you can imagine the anticlimax when I ran across a few of them recently (as well as summaries and commentary for many, many more, thanks to the wonderful Blogger Beware) and discovered that they really weren’t scary at all. For the most part they were simply youth adventure or fantasy novels up until the last page, at which point the happy ending would be undermined by a crazy twist where someone randomly turns out to have been a werewolf the whole time and eats the protagonist — or something equally bizarre.
They’re enjoyable little nuggets of crazy, though, due to being short and falling squarely in the “MST3K Habitable Zone” – that area on the quality graph where enough interesting things are happening that it’s not boring, but it’s goofy enough that it’s impossible to take it seriously. (Sort of a hard concept to get across, made harder by the fact that due to the level of movies they got stuck with many classic MST3K episodes, such as Manos: The Hands of Fate, actually far fall outside the zone on the “crappy” side. Maybe the “Rifftrax Habitable Zone” would work better?)
Taken as a whole, the series becomes more inscrutable when you realize how intensely formulaic the setup was. The main characters are virtually always a girl and boy pair who are within a year of age 12 and are either related or platonic friends. I’m a big booster of heterofrienduality, so it’s nice to see such a matter-of-fact stand against cootiephobia, but it is a little odd that the same sort of pairing is used in almost every book. Also done constantly: cliffhangers at the end of every single chapter, by force if necessary. Nancy Drew does this too. You will quickly lose track of how many time someone screams at the sight of a hideous monster, and then you turn the page and oh, it was just the cat/my brother in a costume/a shadow/a tree/nothing.
And as a member of the never-maturing Generation Axolotl I’m delighted to find out that the damn things are still going.