For many, Goosebumps is a name that they’ll know well. Depending on your age it will be books that you saw around in your childhood, but were perhaps a bit too old for, or they’ll have been books that you’ll have memories of reading; possibly even being the thing that helped you to discover horror at a young age. Either way, Goosebumps is a book series that is still near unmatched for its popularity, its cultural reach, and for making its author one of the highest selling horror writers of all time.
A middle-grade horror anthology series, Goosebumps would feature a brand new story, with new protagonists, in each volume released. Series author R.L. Stine, who is allegedly one of the few children’s series authors from the 90s not to use ghost writers, has said that he drew inspiration for his series from having grown up reading Tales From The Crypt comics as a kid, and wanting to produce scary stories to inspire future generations of horror fans.
The first book in his series is Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House, and focuses on two young teens, Amanda and Josh, as their family moves to an old house in the small town of Dark Falls after their father inherits the home from a long-lost uncle. Whilst Josh is dead-set against moving to the new home, Amanda is at least trying to make a go of it, but when she begins to see strange, ghostly children around the house she begins to think that there might be something wrong with their home. She hears whispering coming from her closet at night, and her curtains billow and move despite there being no draught. That, coupled with the strange nightmares about her family being dead, leads to Amanda feeling pretty on edge.
There are also very few people in town, with the two kids walking through Dark Falls and not seeing a single adult out and about, no cars on the road, and most of the houses curtained up and closed. However, they do meet a group of kids who they start to play with. But something doesn’t feel right to Amanda about her new friends. They seem strangely intense at times, look really pale, stay out of the sun, and their dog seems to hate them. And why do they all say they used to live in her house, when it’s impossible for them to have all lived there? With Amanda being the only one who seems to suspect that there’s something strange going on in Dark Falls, will she be able to convince her parents before the strange happenings turn deadly?
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Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House is definitely one of the more stand-out entries in the series, and not just because it’s the first book. This is probably one of the more intense, and frightening of the kids series due to the fact that much of Stine’s trademark silliness and comedy that makes up a good part of the series just isn’t present here. Many of the Goosebumps books have scary moments, but they tend to come coupled with some lighthearted scenes so that it ends up not being too frightening. Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House doesn’t have these lighter moments, and so feels a lot more oppressive and scary. Reading this book again, I was surprised at just how different the tone felt from the others.
Despite this, Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House became a smash hit, selling a huge number of copies for Scholastic. Even though Stine had other books already lined up, ready to release just a few weeks later, this first entry helped to cement Goosebumps as a brand to keep an eye on. The book was popular enough to receive multiple printings, being the most re-released book in the series, and was even part of the Classic Goosebumps line in 2008, where it received a new cover, and several small text updates. It also had two different audio book releases, one read by Stine himself, which was adapted into two-part story in the second season of the Goosebumps television series. The story was even considered for adaptation to film in the 90s, with classic zombie movie director George A. Romero having written a draft of the script.
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Goosebumps is the second biggest selling children’s book series of all time behind Harry Potter, and R.L. Stine has sold an estimated 400 million books, 50 million more than Stephen King; making him the highest selling horror writers alive today. Horror is a genre that sells, and sells well. It’s easy to bring people together with scary stories, and being scared is something of a rush a lot of the time. Introducing kids to horror at a young age can be really good for them, and Goosebumps is a perfect vehicle with which to do that. So, if you grew up reading and enjoying the series, why not try passing it on to your own kids; especially now that the series has turned thirty years old.