In 1992 I was raised on a steady diet of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and Goosebumps. Add this to my second favorite story as a child, the original Little Mermaid (yes, Mom, Katie the Kitten was my first literary love) in which the Little Mermaid decides not to commit a double homicide and kills herself, and you have a problem. I loved all things dark and morbid. I hoped for unhappy twist endings. I much preferred the mermaid who decides to become sea foam over the mermaid who has a talking fish for a best friend. This should have been the first indication that I was going to be a strange child with a fucked up sense of humour.
I am happy to say that I am now a strange adult with a fucked up sense of humour. I still love unhappy twist endings and all things dark and morbid. And I can credit a good deal of this to the man who led me on the path to getting a degree in English, R.L. Stine.
My obsession with the printed word started on the school bus, during which time I would ignore the nonsensical jabbering of my school chums (yes, I was also a well-to-do British boy) and read Goosebumps. The opening of The Girl Who Cried Monster horrified me, and I couldn’t leave my toes unattended for weeks lest they get eaten by a slithering toe chomping monster. The Haunted Mask made me worry about curses placed on inanimate objects. Night of the Living Dummy made me fear ventriloquism (but who doesn’t). Reading on the bus led to joining a Goosebumps club, our first book being The Shocker on Shock Street, in which an amusement park based on horror movies turns out to be real. Which led right back to solitary reading, because The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight just isn’t the same when you’re listening to some kid who has problems reading out loud ruin all the ambiance of the narrative.
In time, the Goosebumps series spun off into an equally amazing series called Give Yourself Goosebumps. As mentioned in Cassie-wa’s post about penguins and hell, I also loved these choose your own adventure novels. For those of you who don’t remember such books you’re either too old or too young and you missed out. At certain points in the narrative you would be asked to make a decision and that decision would affect the course of the story. Basically, the format went as follows: Regular prose, regular prose, regular prose. If you want to investigate the scary noise in the haunted woods even though it’s Halloween AND Friday the 13th, turn to page 197. If you want to turn around and call the police, turn to page 45. At this point you would choose an option and turn to that page to see what would happen next. Inevitably you would die and the fun would start over from the beginning.
In short, I was hooked- and not on phonics. But on reading. As William Butler Yeats would say, “All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born.”
As silly flick chicks like Serendipity have taught society, small things build up to larger things, and women find John Cusack attractive for some reason. One small instance in our lives will effect the whole of our lives. For example, Ashton Kutcher starring in The Butterfly Effect will forever associate his awful acting and a shoddy plot with a poignant quote about the flapping of a butterfly’s wings setting off various disastrous events. For me, Goosebumps was my butterfly effect. It sparked in me a love of reading, which in turned sparked my desire to devour books for the pure love of it, and led to me declaring and completing a Bachelor’s Degree in English.
Goosebumps defined my childhood. They were horrifying, they had adventure, and they gave me an immense sense of schadenfreude. They were like the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone”.
Desensitized as I am from various horror movies throughout my life, not a lot scares me these days (with the exception of death, closet monsters, under the bed monsters, Republicans, and tentacle rape), but Goosebumps perpetually terrified me. In much the same way that the twist in To Serve Man still frightens me after hearing my Uncle tell it to us in the form of a bed time story, and after watching the actual Rod Serling version, so too does Goosebumps still scare my inner core to this day.
This love of being frightened, combined with my love of the written word led me to where I am today: a college graduate with an English degree that no one seems to care I have. But that’s okay. As everyone keeps telling me and you would have to live in a box not to notice, it’s hard to find work. Hopefully one day I will get to work in publishing, or some other field that will allow me to surround myself with literature, but I will have to be patient. For now, I am stuck in a dead end job for a giant corporation who pretends to love books in the way that I actually love books.
Unfortunately, my Goosebumps collection disappeared and I can’t even recall what might have happened to them. They were probably sold at a garage sale along with my original Super Nintendo system, which I’m also still kicking myself for because I could using a rousing game of Yoshi’s Island now and again.
I recently went on Amazon to see if I could re-purchase my childhood, only to be depressed by the new rebooted “modern” covers decked out in neon that the publishers chose, probably to resonate with a newer, hipper set of children. I also learned that the series is now referred to as Classic Goosebumps, which makes me feel incredibly old despite the fact that I am in my mid-twenties.
Thankfully, that’s what eBay is for, and now I have the entire original Goosebumps series (with the exception of book numbers 53, 57, 58, 61, and 62). I can’t wait until they arrive from Canada and I can run my fingers over those raised bumps, turn on all the lights, protect my chomp-able toes, and relive the horrors that shaped my life.