Goosebumps Is Seminal Horror
Goosebumps cannot be ignored for the power it holds in modern culture. An entire generation of children grew up with a love of horror and monsters because one man decided to be absurdly prolific and produce 62 original books, and then many more as the years passed.
And, upon rereading some of these books, I’ve discovered a few things that mark why the series did so well and why it resonated with children.
So, let’s talk Goosebumps.
First off, and I’m so pleased to find this is still true with the modern releases: the covers are incredible. The art might be the best aspect of Goosebumps—no offense intended to Mr. Stine—as they get across a pulp horror esthetic, along with comic book pop, without utilizing gore. They are shocking and vivid, and yet not objectionable in most cases.
And, for a kid, that feeling of reading a “real” horror book that looked like a horror movie’s cassette cover was something special. Those covers sparked the books’ popularity, I’m sure of it.
And then, once kids did read them, that’s where the true genius is. Now, let me get one thing straight: most of these books are not scary to older readers, most of the time. My memories are skewed by nostalgia and I’m betting yours are too. But what Goosebumps is, is respectful to child audiences. The child characters are in danger, they are menaced, and there are real stakes to what is happening. I think so much so that it’s reduced in places. Any time the story feels too goofy or cartoonish, at least from the few I’ve read, it seems right around when things would otherwise be too intense.
Like, in Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, the gnomes talk about essentially torturing and mutilating the child characters—but use words like “dribble” and “fold” to describe it.
In short, R.L. knows how to skirt the censors.
But just because they are skirted, it does not mean the dangers and situations are not implied or stated enough for a child to find scary. There are real childhood fears presented—and not just monsters and the dark. The adults are never around when danger is present and the parents rarely believe them anyway. Characters are also often stuck in embarrassing situations, and there’s a lot of destruction of toys/prized possessions.
And sometimes, just sometimes, something messed up comes out of nowhere. Still milder than adult works, but not without an edge—not without a thrill for the reader. A Night in Terror Tower was genuinely disturbing and explored torture methods. The Girl Who Cried Monster has moments of tense peril—and quite the ending. There’s just enough darkness, legit, harsh darkness, that the books never feel too safe or too sanitized for budding horror fans.
It’s a balancing act. Sometimes it’s not done well, there are duds, and some of it has assuredly aged poorly since the ’90s, but it’s lasted as long as it has for a reason. I cannot imagine a world without Goosebumps. Like Stephen King and Bram Stoker, R.L. made horror what it is today—and I thank him for it.
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