Goosebumps books | Agents of Fandom | Image Credit: Booktrust

Goosebumps Books: A Controversial Legacy of Monsters and Horror

The enduring legacy and controversies surrounding the iconic children’s book series.

‍For over three decades, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books have captivated young readers with their thrilling and terrifying stories. Since its debut in 1992, Goosebumps has become a cultural phenomenon, growing into a multimedia brand including movies, television series, and video games.

A new Goosebumps television series—the second, after the iconic 90s show that aired on FOX—is set to stream on Disney+ on Friday, October 13, 2023. As the frightful air date looms, we’re taking a step back to explore the history, impact, and enduring popularity of the spine tingling franchise.

The birth of a phenomenon

The Goosebumps books began with 1992's "Welcome to Dead House," which follows siblings who encounter the living dead in a creepy town | Agents of Fandom
The first book in the Goosebumps series, Welcome to Dead House, was published in July 1992. Image Credit: Scholastic/R.L. Stine.

In July 1992, Scholastic, Inc. published R.L. Stine’s first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House. The unsettling tale follows siblings Amanda and Josh Benson, who move to a creepy, old house in a new town, ominously called Dark Falls, where they have harrowing encounters with the living dead.

Welcome to Dead House leans more into horror than the lighter, funnier Goosebumps books that follow it. Supporting characters and a family pet die in the novel, which was almost unheard of at the time. Despite the dark themes and resulting backlash from parents, Welcome to Dead House sold over a million copies by 1996.

The controversial children’s book introduced young readers to a world of monsters, ghosts, and supernatural adventures. Little did anyone know that it would mark the beginning of a literary phenomenon that continues to capture the imaginations of millions of children to this day.

The Goosebumps books rise to popularity

Author R.L. Stine and one of several creepy Goosebumps books he wrote, "The Curse of Camp Cold Lake" | Agents of Fandom
The Goosebumps books exploded in popularity in the early and mid-1990s. Image Credit: Getty/Scholastic.

The Goosebumps books weren’t an instant success, however. The first few books went unnoticed for months, with no significant sales. The series eventually caught the attention of young readers, thanks to what Stine refers to as the “secret kids network.” Children discovered the books in bookstores and shared their excitement with friends, igniting a craze that spread like wildfire.

As young readers discovered the Goosebumps books, they fell in love with Stine’s unique blend of horror and humor. The series offered tales of living masks, evil ventriloquist dummies, abominable snowmen, cameras that predict and cause freak accidents, and more. Stine’s storytelling prowess and uncanny ability to understand and connect with his audience propelled Goosebumps to unprecedented success.

By the mid-1990s, the books were selling at an astonishing rate of four million copies per month. In fact, the series garnered such immense popularity that it was recognized as the world’s best-selling book series of all time in the 2003 Guinness Book of World Records. As of 2023, it’s currently the second best-selling book series worldwide after Harry Potter.

Stine attributes the series’ popularity to its universal appeal. “The secret of Goosebumps, and the reason it got so enormous in the 90s, was it was the first book series to appeal equally to boys and girls,” Stine told Reuters in 2012. “Everyone in publishing (assumes) girls read and boys don’t read. In fact, these books were originally done for a girl audience. And then the fan mail started coming in, and it was half from boys.”

The controversies

The covers of several books in the "Goosebumps" series, including "Night of the Living Dummy" and "Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns" | Agents of Fandom
Goosebumps, known for its frightening and garish covers, caused concern among parents and teachers. Image Credit: Scholastic.

Goosebumps, with its garish and scary covers, triggered mixed reactions among parents and educators. Some parents expressed concern over the series potential impact on their children, leading to attempts to ban or remove Goosebumps books from school libraries. However, other teachers, parents, librarians, and fellow authors recognized the series’ positive effects on children’s reading habits, and supported its presence in educational settings.

“Fear is at the heart of Goosebumps, a series that acts in the same way that immunizations do, and it’s just as mandatory for children’s health,” wrote author and television producer Alissa Nutting. “It gives them a small dose of scary and lets them produce needed antibodies towards fear, book after book, so that they slowly become less affected.”

Stine was aware of the controversies surrounding his books. While he acknowledged the concerns, he emphasized that Goosebumps was meant to be enjoyed as entertainment and not as school material. He wanted children to read the books for fun, under the covers with a flashlight, rather than turning them into assignments or book reports.

‘Goosebumps’ book adaptations

Ryan Gosling in the Goosebumps series | Agents of Fandom
A young Ryan Gosling starred in the TV adaptation of the popular Goosebumps book, “Say Cheese and Die!” Image Credit: Scholastic Productions.

Despite the controversies, Stine’s iconic series has grown and expanded beyond the original Goosebumps books following their debut. Since then, Stine has penned numerous spinoff series. The brand has also spawned board games, feature films, video games, and other adaptations. Arguably, the most popular is the 90s Goosebumps television series (1995-1998), which adapts many of the books into 30-minute episodes, as well as a handful of 60-minute two-parters.

The Canadian production cast a number of young, talented actors to portray its protagonists, including Barbie superstar Ryan Gosling, Star Wars favorite Hayden Christensen, Grey’s Anatomy star Caterina Scorsone, and future Supergirl Laura Vandervoort.

‘Goosebumps’ enduring popularity

Revamped covers of several popular titles in the Goosebumps series | Agents of Fandom
The Goosebumps books have been re-released with new covers due to their enduring popularity. Image Credit: Scholastic.

What makes Goosebumps so enduringly popular? The answer lies in its ability to tap into the fears and imaginations of its young readers. Stine’s stories resonate with children who may have their own anxieties and fears, allowing them to confront these emotions in a safe and controlled environment.

Stine doesn’t talk down to his young readers. Instead, he shows them that he sees and understands them. He taps into themes of children feeling ignored and misunderstood by authority figures, as well as children’s fears of things that go bump in the night.

Moreover, the Goosebumps books offer an entry point into the world of reading for many children. Its accessible language, relatable characters, and thrilling plots make it a gateway book series that sparks a love for reading in even the most reluctant readers.

The legacy of the ‘Goosebumps’ books

Goosebumps series | Agents of Fandom
The frights will continue on the upcoming Goosebumps streaming series on Disney+. Image Credit: Disney+.

Thirty years after the series’ debut, R.L. Stine’s beloved books continue to haunt and delight generations of children, as well as those who grew up reading them. The Goosebumps books not only entertain millions worldwide but also effectively changed the landscape of children’s literature.

The series paved the way for other suspenseful tales aimed at younger audiences. The controversial books also did what all art should do—spark important discussions. Its impact on popular culture and children’s literacy cannot be overstated. As Goosebumps gears up for its next chapter on Disney+, it’s clear that R.L. Stine’s spine tingling tales still have some scares up their sleeves.

The all-new Goosebumps television series debuts Friday, October 13, 2023, on Disney+.

What are your favorite Goosebumps books or television episodes? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on the Agents of Fandom socials!

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