Books

11 Freaky Facts About RL Stine’s Goosebumps Series

It’s been three decades since RL Stine first scared the pants off kids with his delightfully spooky Goosebumps series, now one of the best-selling children’s series of all time with more than 400 million books in print internationally. July 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the first book in the series, Welcome to Dead House; here are 11 facts to help you celebrate.

And at first, they weren’t very successful, largely because there was no advertising or marketing. A new book was released every two months, and after the first few, word-of-mouth among kids made them a hit. “It was kids discovering the books and kids telling kids. It was entirely the secret kids network,” Stine told The Boston Globe in 2015. It wasn’t long before one Goosebumps book was being released every month.

With Welcome to Dead House, a tale of undead children trying to recruit more for their ranks, Stine didn’t have his now-famous macabre humor quite nailed. “I didn’t have the right combination yet—it doesn’t have the humor,” he recently told Time magazine. “But by the second book, Stay out of the Basement, I got it. I just figured I don’t really want to scare these kids. So anytime a scene gets really intense, I throw in something funny. And of course there’s a punchline at the end of every chapter.”

RL Stine

Get Goosebumps! Scholastic 20th Anniversary Celebration / Slaven Vlasic/GettyImages

Stine wasn’t always scary: Before hitting it big with horror, he dabbled in comedy, writing for a humor magazine at Ohio State University and published more than 100 joke books under the pen name “Jovial Bob.” But the first horror book he wrote, Blind Date, was a bestsellerwhich caused him to switch genres.

Stine found inspiration for his scary stories in his own childhood. “I was always afraid of a lot of things, which later came in handy, of course, because I could remember that feeling of panic, that feeling of what it feels like to be a frightened kid,” the author told TODAY. “And I could bring that to my books.”

Stine’s wife, Jane, is the editor of the Goosebumps series—and she and her business partner, Joan Waricha, were the ones who convinced him to do it in the first place. “My editors, my wife and her partner, said, ‘No one’s ever done a series for 7- to 11-year-old, scary books. We have to try it.’ And I didn’t want to do it,” he told TODAY. “That’s the kind of businessman I am. Then, finally I said, ‘OK.’” (Jane and Waricha establishment Parachute Publishingwhich also published the Goosebumps and Fear Street series for a time.)

Having your partner as your editor sometimes means that no punches get pulled when it comes to feedback. “I got a manuscript back once and up at the top were two words,” he told The Verge. “It said, ‘Psychotic ramblings.’ That was it. Psychotic ramblings. … She’s a very tough editor. She’s really smart and she’s just too good, too good an editor. You don’t want an editor that good. I don’t get away with anything. I always say she’s like a hockey goalie. Nothing gets past her.”

Pinocchio

Pinocchio / Fototeca Storica Nazionale./GettyImages

One of the most famous Goosebumps characters is Slappy, an evil ventriloquist dummy that appears in a number of books. Stine says some of the inspiration for Slappy came from a bedtime story his mother used to read to him: Pinocchio. “There’s a chapter which I’ve never forgotten where Pinocchio falls asleep with his feet on the stove and he burns his feet off,” he once said. “There’s a reason why I write horror.” He has also attributed the idea to the 1940s horror movie Dead of Nightan episode of the Twilight Zone, and the William Goldman book Magic.

The 11th book in the series, The Haunted Mask, was inspired by Stine’s own son, who struggled with removing his Halloween costume one year. Unlike Stine’s son, however, the character in the book isn’t able to remove her mask at all and it starts to change her personality. Stine considers it his best Halloween-themed book, and says it’s the only one he’s written that was inspired by real-life events.

Back in its ’90s heyday, the Goosebumps series landed near the top of the American Library Association’s challenged books list. At no. 15, it was more challenged than Madonna’s Sex, The Anarchist Cookbook, and Private Parts by Howard Stern.

With more than 50 million Goosebumps books in print internationally, it’s not just kids in the US who love this particular brand of horror-humor. Fun fact: In Italy, the series is called Piccoli Brividiwhich means “little shivers.”

He sketched three 8-by-10-inch options for each cover before using acrylics and an airbrush on the final version. The work was so steady and so fast, he said, that there was no time for much creative back-and-forth—meaning that the publisher generally just accepted what he provided them. Jacobus also received less and less information about the books as Stine cranked them out, sometimes working from just a short plot blurb.

After dreaming up every conceivable creepy, yet kid-friendly plot known to humanity—everything from haunted cameras to deadly lawn gnomes—the author has stopped trying to come up with plots. “It’s too hard,” Stine told TIME. Instead, he thinks of compelling titles (his example was Fifth Grade Zombies) and then builds a story around that.

For about a year, the Goosebumps HorrorLand Fright Show and Funhouse was held at what was then Disney-MGM Studios. The live show took place on a stage that looked like a warehouse loading dock, where creatures from the books would appear. After each show, the audience was invited to a funhouse where the monsters lurked. Having his own experience at Disney was a career highlight for Stine. “I’m a big Disney person,” he told The Verge. “To have my own land, that was amazing.”

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