Like a lot of teens, I was an adolescent who craved a bit of creepy mystery in my life. So Goosebumps was right up my alley. The series of young adult books played to my urge for excitement and intrigue without ever going too far. Just when my heart had gotten stuck in my throat, the story would take a turn and I could breathe a sigh of relief.
In honor of R.L. Stine’s birthday this weekend, I decided to sit down with my favorite series from my preteen years. I wanted to see whether they could withstand the test of time—and I was curious cannabis might help or hinder the experience.
Our staff accountant—the same guy, no surprise, who won our Thrift Shop Challenge—has a penchant for collecting nostalgic books. He brought in two shelves’ worth of the series for us to peruse and enjoy. The books are a breeze, and pages fly with hardly any effort at all.
I had finished Ghost Beach by the end of my bus ride home.
My first impression of the books was how formulaic they are. As an adult, I can recognize things like themes and plot devices, and R.L. Stine is a master of using all of these to his advantage. But it’s not exactly unexpected. Nearly every chapter, especially near the beginning of a book, ends in a cliffhanger—usually a false alarm. But it works. By the end of the book, you’ve become so accustomed to the false alarms that you don’t realize the real threat that’s coming to get you.
With Ghost Beach out of the way, I loaded a bowl of GSC (f.k.a Girl Scout Cookies) and settled on my back porch to continue my Goosebumps expedition. I cracked the cover of Welcome to Dead House and felt an overwhelming pang of nostalgia. It felt achingly familiar, transporting me back to my elementary school library and the awkwardness of adolescence. I didn’t realize until later that Dead House is the very first book of the series.
The combination of a heady high, a chilly night on the porch, and the books’ eerie settings made for a deliciously spooky combination. Reading the books while high, I realized, was allowing me to suspend my disbelief more easily and turn off the cynical voice in my head that normally would seize on every predictable plot point or too-obvious joke. I just sank deeper and deeper into the book, enjoying the ride.
After two back-to-back ghost stories (with nearly identical endings), I decided to switch it up entirely. I turned my attention to Deep Trouble. Let’s just say it was hard to suspend my disbelief for this one. And I want to believe in mermaids.
As I prepared for bed, I thought I’d wrangle one more book. So I cozied up with A Night in Terror Tower and a Blackberry Trainwreck vape cartridge. I vaguely remembered the book’s twists and turns, but enjoyed the story anyway. With time travel and sorcerers and London and executioners, the whirlwind story is less scary and more purely entertaining.
My final foray into the twisted tales of R.L. Stine was a return to one of my favorites, The Phantom of the Auditorium. I knew I’d read it, but I couldn’t recall the details. I ran a bath, slipped in with my vape and my book, and let the story wash over me.
It was even better than I remembered. Set in an old-school theatre, it’s pretty obviously inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, but there are enough twists to keep it fresh. A forgotten script is discovered in the school archives and performed for the first time in decades as annual school play. I saw the ending coming about a mile away, but that didn’t detract from the story, at least not for me.
Returning to a childhood icon as an (elevated) adult reminded me that they’re fairly formulaic and predictable. Are they still as fun as when I was young? More fun, if anything. R.L. Stine knows what he’s doing and he genuinely seems to understand and appreciate the nuances of a young reader’s mind—how to engage them and keep them interested up through the last page.
You don’t have to take my word for it.
Dust off your that old Goosebumps collection, sit back, and lose yourself in a favorite throwback. Add a pinch of cannabis for a little extra magic.