Second only to J.K. Rowling, R.L. Stine is number two on the list of the world's best-selling children's authors. (Maybe it's something in the initials first names.) He's certainly one of the most prolific, particularly when it comes to his children's and teen horror novels.
Stine started out his career as a comedy writer — if you can believe it — under the pseudonym Jovial Bob Stine. And remember the Nickelodeon show Eureeka's Castle ? He was the co-creator and head writer. So it was quite a turn to become known as the Stephen King for children. Beginning in 1992 with Welcome to Dead House, his Goosebumps series totaled 62 books and spun off numerous other series totaling hundreds of novels.
Stine was always careful in his Goosebumps stories to never get too graphic. Yes, young girls had masks stuck to their face and there were always creepy things lurking in the basement, but he made sure that no one ever died in his stories. Even if there were ghosts, they always died before the story began.
That was not the case with Fear Street.
Stine's Fear Street series took place in the fictional, and terrifying, town of Shadyside. Like, Goosebumps, there were numerous spin-offs, but the original series totaled 52 books, starting in 1989 with the eerily simple title The New Girl.
What was so great about Fear Street?
Many Fear Street readers started out as Goosebumps readers. But Fear Street had the same terrors with the added bonus of boys and kissing and "grown-up" teenagers. And as a preteen, older teenagers were just the coolest.
Once we got a taste of Fear Street, we left Goosebumps behind.
In the series, there were loads of ghost stories, but I always liked the more "realistic" (well, relatively) ones best — like Double Date, in which a guy had to figure out which of the twins he was secretly dating simultaneously was the cold-blooded murder.
Look what a stud he is. "Two's company, but three can be murder."
Then there were the ones with the saucy covers I read from the library because I was too embarrassed to purchase them at the bookstore in front of my mom.
Fear Street readers were for the kids who went to sleepovers to curl up in sleeping bags in the dark and watch Pet Semetary, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street.
Though they may be campy now, the totally worked as a kid. (Incidentally, his Goosebumps book Deep Trouble came to me around the same time as Jaws and the cover still haunts me, to this day.)
Stine knew just how to reach into kids' brains and pull out the most terrifying things. Like how you might jump from the bedroom door to your bed so nothing under there can reach out and grab you. Or how you can't sleep with the closet door open. In an interview with Reading Rockets, Stine explained how he'd come up with his stories:
I was afraid of lots of things ... I had this one fear. I'd have to park my bike in the garage after dark, and I always thought something would be lurking in the garage. I used to take my bike and just throw it in so I wouldn't have to go in there. That's a painful way to go through childhood, I think ... But in a way, it's kind of lucky. It helped me out later, because now, when I write these scary books for kids, I can think back to that feeling of panic. I can remember what it felt like, and then I can bring that feeling to my books.
Why can we still appreciate Fear Street?
Sometimes, particularly for those still studying or have jobs that require lots of scholarly or technical reading, the best feeling in the world is to curl up with a straight-up enjoyable read. The Fear Street series will help with that, particularly if your plans are to curl up in the dark with a flashlight. It's a good time to revisit, too, because Fear Street books are coming back.
And hey, what's wrong with campy? At around 160 pages each, the Fear Street books are like little bites of candy to enjoy in a spare few hours. Do yourself a favor and devour Halloween Party in late October with a mug of hot cider.
The next time you're going on a beach vacation, throw Sunburn in your bag for the few-hour flight. It'll be more fun than celebrity gossip magazines you got at the airport, I promise.
R.L. Stine was all about enjoying reading and having fun with it. In an age where everyone's talking about being embarrassed about what they read and making judgement calls on other literary merit, we all could learn a little something from Stine's approach:
“Many adults feel that every children's book has to teach them something.... My theory is a children's book... can be just for fun.”
Plus, now I want to know who the person was writing all the taglines because he or she was a genius.
And, finally, as a dog person, I really appreciate Stine's viewpoint on cats, which he mentioned during an interview with Colby Marshall:
I've always been a dog person. Had one most of my life. You can tell I don't like cats—because I've written so many books with evil cats. It's much harder to imagine an evil dog.
That's right: C-A-T spells murder.
If you loved Fear Street, you might like...
1. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
King's sequel to The Shining will surely satisfy all your popcorn-popping, sleeping-bag snuggling horror-filled sleepover dreams.
2. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Cronin's much buzzed series truly delivers scares, with just the right dosage of "paranormal."
3. Night Film Marisha Pessl
Pessl's beautifully written but truly creepy novel about facing your greatest fears will send chills up your spine.