Archive for May, 2015

Without spending a thought for why, I recently woke up with the notion that I would like to go back and revisit some of the books that defined my childhood reading experience. I have incredibly vivid memories of the Buckhorn elementary school library and its row of Hardy Boy mysteries, Boxcar Children, and The Prydain Chronicles of Lloyd Alexander. Each of those will be receiving visitations this summer, but the Goosebumps series has a unique place in my memory that made it the natural starting point for this endeavor. The chilling novellas of R.L. Stine where not to be found on the shelves of the library because they were in the process of being released during my elementary school years. This gave this series the lofty position of being purchases from the hallowed shelves of the bookfair. Getting the newest edition, and collecting them in order, was vitally important. Even now, as I’m recreating the collection that has been lost to time, I’m thoroughly enjoying the nostalgic sensation of stacking them neatly in order on my newly dedicated children’s literature shelf. Lengthy introductions aside I think it’s time I set about the business of visiting my seven year old self in the works of the only name in children’s horror, R.L. Stine.
Welcome to Dead House is not one of the first titles that came to my mind when I think of the Goosebumps series as it fades in the history against its more memorable counterparts like Night of the Living Dummy or Piano Lessons Can Be Murder. I am not even entirely sure this isn’t my very first reading. (In fact in the interest of being honest I only have detailed memories of The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, One Day at Horrorland, and My Hairiest Adventure, though I’m sure I read many more) With that in mind I had very fresh eyes to read with though I will say my knowledge of the trademark series twists affected my suprise when it inevitably came, but such is the cost of going back.
Josh and Amanda are a pair of preteen siblings that feel very much like Stine’s intended audience. This is a wonderful device for drawing the reader in. As for the plot it is hard for me not to look at the seemingly generic ghost story framework and not cringe ever so slightly, but the fact that the setup is so universallly recognizeable is perhaps what gives it its charm. The family inherits a large house from an unknown uncle, the parent figures in the story are particularly dense, in a town called Dark Falls four hours away.
Upon arriving, Amanda immediately begins to see the ghostly presences that would haunt her days in the new house. The family dog refuses to adjust, her younger brother’s chronic stubborness, and strange sights and sounds plagueing every moment. As is stereotypical for the genre, the parents refuse to believe any of what Amanda claims to have seen.
As the days progress Amanda and Josh meet Ray Thurston and a bevey of local children who all act strangely from the outset and have a unique aversion to the brightness of midday. The only other character is the young realtor Mr. Dawes who shows himself to be more than eager to have the new house occupied. Ulitmately the whole town is revealed to be the living dead remnants of a community that had been cursed by the chemical fallout of a nearby plastics factory to always need new blood in the Dead House.
On its surface this explanation seems a bit thin, but in the context of the novella it feels right to just shrug it off. There must have been pressure for Stine to explain what was happening, but I think it would have served just as well to go without an explanation leaving the reader to wonder. In the end the living dead tenants of Dark Falls gather to sacrifice Amanda’s parents at the amphitheater attached to the local graveyard. The disaster is averted when Josh and Amanda manage to knock over the mostly uprooted tree that protected the amphitheater from the morning sun causing all of the dead to dissolve in an Indiana Jones-like climax.
The story does have some genuinely creepy moments and despite the fact that the characters feel a bit shallow and the world a bit hollow there’s no denying the charm. It’s no easy feat to take a book written for young children and analyse it objectively because I am not the work’s intended audience. I will say that it drew me back to 1992 in a way that has not been achieved since beginning to rewatch Saved By The Bell, and that is a feeling upon which no price can be fixed. Though I must give the book a score of 2/5, I am no less enthusiastically prepared to dive into Stay out of the Basement.