Goosebumps 21-25

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20

It’s time to take a look at the next five Goosebumps books. In case you’re unfamiliar with these books, Goosebumps was a middle grade horror series which was written by R.L. Stine. The original run was published between 1992 and 1997 and ran for sixty-two novels. Since then, there have been a number of spin-off series, video games, movies and television adaptations. For the purpose of this review, I will be looking at books 21 to 25 (in the order that they were released in the UK). Oh, and there are going to be a lot of spoilers. You have been warned.

In Return of the Mummy, Gabe returns to Egypt to spend another vacation with his archaeologist uncle. This time, Uncle Ben is exploring a newly discovered pyramid in the hope that it is the final resting place of Prince Khor-Ru. When Gabe discovers an ancient chant that supposedly wakes the dead, he is sure it is just a hoax. However, it’s not long before he hears something stirring in the depths of the tomb…

In The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight, Jodie and Mark have been sent to spend the summer on their grandparents’ farm. While Jodie normally loves these holidays, something does not seem to be right. Her grandparents seem to be scared of something and there are far more scarecrows in the fields than she remembers. Could it be something to do with Stanley the farmhand’s newfound obsession with his “superstitions book”?

In Attack of the Mutant, Skipper is an avid collector of comic books and pours scorn on anyone who does not share his hobby. His favourite comic is about a villain called the Masked Mutant, and it comes as a real surprise to him when he finds a building that looks exactly like his secret hideout. Skipper knows that he has to find the truth about the building, but when he finds himself appearing within the pages of the most recent issue, he realises that the lines between fiction and reality may be fainter than he first thought…

In My Hairiest Adventure, Larry has started growing hair in very unexpected places. It all started after he and his friends used an out-of-date bottle of insta-tan. Now, fur keeps sprouting from his hands and he is struggling to keep it hidden. However, when his friends start to disappear and his parents seem oddly unconcerned, Larry realises that something even stranger is afoot. What is really happening in their town, and how can he possible find a cure for his embarrassing condition?

In A Night in Terror Tower, Sue and Eddie are excited to go on a guided tour of London’s infamous prison, the Terror Tower. However, things start to go wrong when they are separated from their group and chased by a sinister man in black. The stranger tells them that they will never leave and, when they do escape, the world outside is not how they remember it. What is going on and how can they possibly get back to their parents?

In my last review, I commented on the amazing variety of these stories. In this selection, it is more true than ever. Although Goosebumps has a reputation as being a horror series, that’s actually not always the case. Some of the stories can be surprisingly frightening, but there are just as many that are adventure stories, or humorous, or just plain weird.

Even within the horror stories, there is an immense variety of themes and settings. Return of the Mummy and A Night in Terror Tower move the action from suburban America to more exotic locations. The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight and Return of the Mummy are monster stories, while My Hairiest Adventure focuses more on body horror. Attack of the Mutant and My Hairiest Adventure both strong science fiction elements, while A Night in Terror Tower and The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight are both more traditional horror stories. There really is something for everyone and, as the stories largely stand alone, the reader has the opportunity to just pick up whichever sounds most appealing.

However, I do still feel that the books vary wildly in quality. Let’s take a little look at these five in more detail.

Although Return of the Mummy is a direct sequel to The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, you could easily overlook this fact. Despite the title, the mummy in this story is a completely different on to those that appear in the prequel. In fact, the novel only makes a few scarce references to Gabe and Sari’s previous adventure. This immediately struck me as odd. I mean, in Gabe’s previous trip to Egypt he was almost mummified as part of a ritual sacrifice. You would have thought that this experience would be preying on his mind a bit, especially when Uncle Ben immediately marches him into another undiscovered tomb…

This aside, I did find Return of the Mummy to be a bit of an underwhelming instalment. Its plot was a carbon copy of the first book, featuring similar scenes in which Gabe gets lost inside an ancient tomb and finds himself face-to-face with the living dead. Still, despite the over-familiarity, the story was still interesting enough to hold my interest throughout and was certainly never boring. As with the previous instalment, the mummy doesn’t feature much in the proceedings as it does not reanimate until the climax, leaving much of the story as simply build-up to this inevitable moment.

Still, while the story is mostly just focused on adventure and exploration, it goes a bit off the deep end over its climax. The villain’s secret (that she is a woman who has survived for thousands of years by transforming into a scarab beetle every night and hiding inside an amber necklace) is quite bizarre and the method of defeating her is not even really hinted early in the story. The closest we get is a very heavy-handed scene in which she actively draws attention to her pendant, which ultimately proves to be her Achilles heel. The final sting of the story was surprisingly dark for a Goosebumps book, hinting a sudden and undeserved death for Gabe, which as far as I can tell will never be addressed as there are no further “mummy” stories in this series.

In terms of characterisation, there is also very little to report. As all characters seem to have entirely forgotten their previous adventure, they don’t really develop at all beyond the way they were in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Gabe is still a likeable enough protagonist, but Sari is pretty insufferable. She seems to be even more determined to prove that she is superior to Gabe in every way. This constant one-upmanship gets tiring very quickly, making me really start to wish that something bad would happen to finally shut her up. Unfortunately, this was not be.

Although Return of the Mummy was decidedly average, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight was a return to form. The novel is a joy to read, forming a creepy and effective horror story. It isolates two children in a remote area and is quick to set the scene, making it clear that something is not quite right and showing that the adult characters are not going to be able to protect them.

While the plot is a bit of slow burner, the whole story is surprisingly eerie from the outset. While it is initially unclear how much of the uncanny strangeness is simply due to Jodie’s overactive imagination, it is obvious that there is something off due to Stanley’s weird turns of phrase, the fields full of scarecrows, and her grandparents’ nervousness. The story escalates smoothly from here, helped out by the sense of isolation that the remote farm creates which was certainly enough to keep me on edge until the climax.

While we don’t exactly find out what kind of magic is at work due to the fact that the reader is never given a clear look at Stanley’s book of superstitions, I didn’t feel as though this impacted the story much. My only real problem was the climax. The defeat of the scarecrow army was incredibly quick and oddly straightforward. In fact, one could argue that setting the scarecrows on fire was something that either Jodie’s grandparents or Sticks should have tried a lot earlier, but at least they got there in the end.

In terms of characterisation, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight was actually fairly strong. Jodie was a fairly typical Goosebumps heroine and her relationship with Mark felt very natural. While he was a bit whiny, he wasn’t as horribly annoying as the likes of Lefty in Let’s Get Invisible. Stanley was also quite interesting for a villain as he was present throughout the story and never really acting out of malice. You could certainly feel his resentment due to the way that people made fun of him, and due to this his actions were actually surprisingly understandable.

Attack of the Mutant was a very different kind of story. It did stand out from all previous instalments, however I’m still not really sure that this is a good thing. It’s not really a horror story at all as it’s much more of a science-fiction adventure, focusing on a young comic book nerd who discovers that his favourite series is actually real.

The structure of this novel was very strange. While I did quite enjoy the early chapters, as Skipper discovered the Masked Mutant’s lair and slowly picked up the courage to explore it, the climax of the story was a little lacklustre. As Skipper came face-to-face with the villain, the story started to get truly weird. Its final twist, in which Skipper discovers that he now bleeds ink (and therefore is a comic book character) didn’t really make any sense at all. There was no adequate explanation for how this happened and so this final sting felt tacked on. This made the last couple of chapters just feel rushed. The novel hadn’t really built to anything before it was all over.

Yet the thing that I found weakest about Attack of the Mutant was its ending. Speaking as a life-long lover of comic books, I loathed Skipper. He embodied every negative stereotype of a fanboy; overweight, arrogant and patronising. He looked down on everyone else as he truly believed that his hobby trumped all and that no one could understand comic books on his level. The most galling thing about this is that he never gets any comeuppance. I mean, the final twist basically turns him into a superhero. He is rewarded for being obnoxious to everyone he meets, which was pretty frustrating. Characters have met horrible fates in Goosebumps books for far less!

The secondary characters in Attack of the Mutant were all rather forgettable. The fact that Skipper’s father hated him reading comics never came to anything, and his long-suffering friends and sister also slowly faded from the story once Skipper discovered the Masked Mutant’s hideout. The whole story really was the Skipper Show, which made the fact that he was not a very compelling protagonist all the more noticeable.

Yet Attack of the Mutant was fortunately followed by another excellent instalment. My Hairiest Adventure has easily been one of my favourite Goosebumps books to date. Seriously, it’s right up there with The Haunted Mask and Welcome to Camp Nightmare. The plot escalates at a steady pace, rapidly drawing the reader in as Larry starts to uncover a conspiracy in his town. While his early worry about his friends discovering his sudden body hair is amusing, this soon builds to an engrossing mystery as children start disappearing and it becomes clear that Larry’s parents know more than they are letting on.

While My Hairiest Adventure is far from being the most frightening of Goosebumps books, it does build to my favourite twist ending of the series to date. While there are a number of hints throughout the story as to what is happening to the children, you do have to think outside the box a bit to guess why Larry is suddenly sprouting fur. The insta-tan is a very effective red herring, as it seems as thought it should be really significant until very close to the end of the tale. The actual ending was incredibly satisfying, not being entirely happy but not being quite as bleak as some of the previous instalments either.

In terms of characterisation, My Hairiest Adventure was also rather strong. While it was purely Larry’s story, I did quickly grow attached to him. His desire to avoid embarrassment is certainly something that any young reader can relate to. His friendship group played heavily into the story and were similarly likeable, especially Lily, and it’s always nice to find a Goosebumps book that is free of annoying siblings or thuggish bullies.

Unfortunately, A Night in Terror Tower was not quite as strong. This was the first Goosebumps book to be set in England, which was something that I initially found quite appealing, yet I was ultimately left disappointed. As an English reader, I found it odd how Stine went to such great lengths to not root his story in reality. Not only does the novel rename one of our most famous landmarks – the Tower of London – but it clearly takes its inspiration from the unfortunate fates of the Princes in the Tower, while changing almost every detail of this legend. My main question here is why. Why was it necessary to make these changes? Why did Stine even feel it necessary to change the gender of one of the princes? I really don’t get it at all.

The story starts well, clearly getting across the isolation of the kids during their escape from the tower and their terror as they return to the hotel to find their parents missing. However, it lost it for me in the second half. As Sue and Eddie find themselves suddenly transported back in time, it becomes clear that the story is just one extended chase scene, ultimately relying on nothing more than Eddie’s heavily exposited pick-pocketing skills to save the day.

The twist was a lot easier to guess this time around, as the fact that Sue and Eddie’s names are uncannily similar to those of the legendary children who were murdered in the Tower is pointed out very early on. The finale of the novel felt oddly cut short after the truth was revealed. It surprised me that there was no face-off with the executioner, given how predominantly he featured over the rest of the novel.

In terms of characterisation, the story this time was simply okay. While all the adults encountered were thoroughly unpleasant (even by Goosebumps standards), both Sue and Eddie were likeable enough and easy to relate to. Although they weren’t given many chances to work together as Eddie saves the day on his own, you did feel their bond and it was nice to have a pair of Goosebumps siblings who didn’t just fight all the time.

Well, I think I’ve probably rambled for long enough. Once again, this selection of Goosebumps books was very varied, in both tone and quality. While some of theme were a little disappointing, I would certainly add The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight and My Hairiest Adventure to my list of essential reads. Tune in next month to read my thoughts on the next five instalments!

Return of the Mummy can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

Attack of the Mutant is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

My Hairiest Adventure is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

A Night in Terror Tower can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 26-30 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 31-35 | Arkham Reviews

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