Those of a certain age who enjoyed the macabre as children are likely to recall R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. You probably remember those books with the multicolored covers and the horrific illustrations that came straight out of the wunderkammer imagination of a writer who appeared to understand children’s fears and delighted in frightening them. My school taught me to read and instilled in me a lifelong interest in the macabre by reading me Edgar Allan Poe as a child; when I was old enough to read on my own, I turned to Stine’s series, and I will be eternally grateful to the Goosebumps books. Stine’s greatest works evoke the mundane-turned-horrific style of Stephen King’s writing but with a child-friendly twist (more mischief, less mutilation).
#1 Welcome to Dead House
Welcome to Dead House, the first novel in the original series, unquestionably establishes the tone for the next 61 novels. After their dog escapes, Amanda and Josh have no choice but to explore the unfamiliar neighborhood in which they now find themselves. However, they eventually uncover the sinister truth of Dark Falls, which is best read with the lights on.
#2 The Girl Who Cried Monster
It’s one thing to invent occasional monster stories like Lucy, the heroine, but when your librarian starts devouring flies, that’s just too much. That’s a tale for another day (and it’s called “The Girl Who Cried Monster”). It’s a story that only gets stranger as it progresses.
#3 The Ghost Next Door
The Ghost Next Door tells the story of Hannah, who, in keeping with the fashion of the era, wears a lot of Day Glo green, and spends the Summer exploring her neighborhood and doing what she can to have fun. It is one of the scariest stories in the series, and also one of the saddest. During her travels, she meets her new neighbor Danny, whose vanishing acts lead her to believe he is a spirit. The reality is far more depressing than she had anticipated.
#4 The Haunted Mask
Carly Beth, the protagonist of The Haunted Mask, is relentlessly tormented by her classmates Steve and Chuck, to the point that she decides to get right by purchasing the most horrifying Halloween costume she can find and scaring the living daylights out of them on Halloween night. But what if the mask isn’t only a mask but something… more? The Goosebumps canon should definitely include this one.
#5 Piano Lessons Can Be Murder
Maybe you’d be willing to take piano lessons from a guy named Dr. Shreek, but not us. The protagonist Jerry in Piano Lessons Can Be Murder isn’t deterred by his piano teacher’s title (even though he should be) and signs up for lessons right away. Obviously, this is a disastrous oversight.
#6 The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight
What better moment than midnight for a scarecrow to break away from his position and begin scurrying around? Despite the “corny” nature of the title, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight is an unsettling story about a horde of living scarecrows who follow Jodie and Mark at all hours of the day and night. The only risky option for stopping them is to use force.
#7 The Haunted Mask II
In the sequel The Haunted Mask II, the bully-turned-hero Steve is back for more Halloween-themed mayhem in a terrifying mask. The mask he picks this time, though, is that of a hideous old guy covered in spiders. Unlike Carly Beth, though, he isn’t emotionally invested in the mask; rather, the mask is invested in him.
#8 Monster Blood IV
You can usually judge the quality of a Goosebumps book by looking at the cover. Whatever the case may be, the finest volumes have the best covers, as if cover artist Tim Jacobus had a direct line to the excellence of Stine’s stories. The ugliest, slimiest slug monsters ever, complete with bizarrely sensuous lips and a toilet full of their sticky intestines, are depicted on the cover of Monster Blood IV, the fourth and last installment in the original series. That sums up the novel, which is unrelated to the other books in the Monster Blood series save for the fact that its protagonist, Evan, appears in all of them. Monster Blood no longer makes things enormous or terrible; instead, it changes you into a blue slug that turns into a gremlin when it gets wet, like in the movie Gremlins. The original series’ conclusion was a letdown.
#9 The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena
When I saw this book as a youngster, I immediately thought of chocolate cakes. The dark coating and the snow that glazes the edges like frosting… Maybe it was because I was a hungry youngster, but I’d rather have frosted cupcakes than this forgettable piece of work. A group of youngsters travels to Alaska, where they are devoured by the film’s namesake monster. At the conclusion of the novel, when things get really spooky (even more strange than awful snowmen), the snowman finally makes his way to sunny California. It’s like Jason Takes New York, only with a snowman in L.A.
#10 Why I’m Afraid of Bees
Even though it’s pretty early in the series, it already has the goofiness that’s characteristic of the later episodes. A bullied youngster visits a local “body-swap doctor” (?) in hopes of being transplanted into a more suitable physical form. Instead, he is transformed into a bee, despite his extreme aversion to insects. It’s odd for a Goosebumps book to be a lesson on why bees aren’t such bad animals when it might have been a Vincent Price-style monster thriller.
#11 Let’s Get Invisible
Boredom is the worst possible outcome for a horror novel. The book is a snoozefest. The twist is more of an inevitability than anything else, and is neither shocking nor memorable. Some of Stine’s titles, especially his later ones (How I Learned to Fly), are quite straightforward, while others, like his Mummy series, expand on the notion. In the story of Let’s Get Invisible, a group of youngsters discover an invisibility mirror and light switch. They make the most of a bad circumstance until that bad situation starts making the most of them. It’s apparently a narrative about social pressure, and it has all the makings of a fantastic Goosebumps novel, except that it and its characters are quickly forgotten. This is by far the weakest of the series’ first dozen or so volumes.
Goosebumps Books Ranked: Scary Books Loading!
Goosebumps by R.L. Stine is surely the most nostalgic (and terrifying) children’s book series of the ’90s. It’s clear that the scary set has endured over the years. Just about everyone who has read these fantastic works can choose a few favorites. Perhaps they didn’t visit an amusement park until they were adults because Monster Blood gave them nightmares or A Shocker on Shock Street scared them away.