July 30, 2017

Goosebumps #34 Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes

Judging a Book by it's Cover

Ahh, just look at that tacky lawn. The fake deer, the pink flamingos, the... crystal ball? Is that a thing people decorate their yards with? Does a wizard live here? That would explain the gnomes I guess. These gnomes don't really look like the typical "David" the gnome type garden accessory. No whimsical white beard. They look a little more... goblinesque? The one scratching his head looks a bit dimwitted. They do not particularly look like something someone would want to decorate with. Also I'm no gardening expert but it looks like the plant life there is mostly weeds.

I do like this art though. It's what I would call one of the "fun" covers. Though the gnomes do not really look like you'd expect a garden gnome to look like they are memorable. The design stuck in my mind after all these years. I guess being unique worked out.

Now it's pretty easy to tell basically what is going to happen in this book. A family is gonna buy some lawn gnomes but they are going to turn out to be alive and run amuck. But will there be something dumber behind it all? Are the gnomes really aliens? Do the gnomes want to harvest human beings to decorate their own gnomish gardens? Are the flamingos alive too? That'd be pretty cool.

Oh, I almost forgot. Taglines. Front says "Keep off their grass." Ok, I get that's a saying. I guess it works. On the back it says "someone's been stalking in my garden." Now I understand that stalking is creepier than walking, and that changing the world technically qualifies it as a play on words but I almost think leaving it walking in my garden would be better. Oh well. Now it's time to read the damn story.

Getting Goosebumps

We open upon our typical tweenish brother and sister playing a rousing game of ping pong. Twelve year old Joe is more interested in horseplay. Fourteen year old Mindy is a stickler for the rules. On page 3 already we have a patented fake out scare when Joe convinces Mindy there is a spider on her shoulders. She claims it is cheating. I haven't seen the rulebook so I can't weigh in on her claims.

Their game is interrupted when they realize their rottweiler buster is missing. It seems like all of the ferocious beasts of his breed he loves to devour vegetables from the neighbors garden. Now as you can imagine this pisses off their neighbor Mr. McCall a great deal. Especially since he and Joe's dad are quite the competitive gardeners. I may not be sure if convincing your ping pong opponent that there is a spider on their shoulder is cheating, but I know darn sure you can't send your dog to go eating your neighbors prize vegetables. Being responsible young people they decide they don't give a crap if their dog is eating all his vegetables and go back to ping pong.

But wait... Who is that coming down the stairs? Oh no! It's Mr. McCall...'s son Moose. Chapter 2 and we are already on the second fake out scare. If they keep up the pace of a fake out scare a chapter... wow. Moose is kind of what you would expect of a kid named Moose. He is big, he is gruff and crude. He smashes the shit out of ping pong balls. He also is strangling Joe to death!

Or not. God dammit, 3 for 3. Now we are in for a real scare. Buster is munching up some veggies and Moose's dad is gonna be pissed. He is too big a brute to drag back home so Joe uses the trusty dog whistle to get him to come. Mr. McCall however sees evidence of canine disruption and warns them to keep that dog away from his beloved melons.

In comes Joe's dad with terrible news. He saw 1 fruit fly on his prized tomato and wants to attack it with every pesticide known to man. Millennials would not be down with this guy. To celebrate 1 bug's death he wants to commemorate the occasion by buying some new tacky shit for his lawn to add to the plastic flamingos, fake deer, plastic skunks and so on. Apparently he likes to dress them up for holidays. Anyway, shall we guess what item he is going to buy? That's right, gnomes. Mindy hates them immediately. Joe claims he sees one of them move which does nothing to make her like them more. When the gnome grabs Joe she totally freaks out.

Of course it was a prank scare. God I gotta start keeping a tally of all the fake out scares in these books. Anyway they bring em back home and dad names them Hap (because he looks happy) and Chip (because it is chipped.) We see that Buster the dog is getting into trouble again. Luckily the situation is resolved and the pup licks eagerly at the new lawn ornaments. Joe swears he sees the smile turn into a frown on one of them. Apparently he isn't joking this time. Shockingly no one believes him.

The next morning Mr. McCall notices one of his prized melons is destroyed and Buster takes the blame. The solution is to time him up to the tree, because apparently keeping a dog inside is just crazy talk. Joe isn't happy about the situation but he and Moose cheer themselves up by playing ring toss using the gnomes point hats as targets for some reason. How strange... there is a melon seed between one of the gnomes lips...

That night Buster's howling from outside woke them all up. Seriously, put your fucking dog inside the house! Anyway, Joe decides to go outside and calm him down. On the way he sees too shadowy figures scurrying around. Must be raccoons! That morning Mr. McCall is pissed again because someone drew faces on his melons. No blaming the dog on this one. Must be the gnomes Joe. His sister saw him go outside last night and quickly throws him under the bus. That is what siblings are for I guess. He ends up grounded.

Luckily, he weasels his way outside the next day by taking the dog for a walk. Unfortunately the gnomes are covered in black paint (like the kind that defaced the melons!) which totally confirms the "gnomes did it" theory. Unfortunately mom doesn't buy it. When mom leaves he swears he hears them talk. Insanity or sentient lawn decorations, you be the judge!

Next on the healthy hitlist is dad's prized tomato. SMUSHED! Joe claims the gnomes are the culprit but dad FOR SOME REASON thinks it's the jealous neighbor and gardening rival Mr. McCall. They confront each other and dad brings up an excellent point, who ever heard of growing casaba melons in Minnesota. I am pretty sure they are supposed to grow in pretty arid climates. Dad is on the ball with this I must say.

That night Joe sneaks out again and the gnomes are missing. It must mean someone stole them they're alive! There is a big hubbub with Moose, Dad, etc, but in the end it turns out the gnomes were just hidden in the fog. What a quirky misunderstanding.

The next morning we discover that Mr. McCall's car is covered in fresh paint. Instead of blaming his neighbor he listened to reason and called the police. Joe and Moose are convinced they'll take the blame because people saw them outside in the middle of the night. There is only one way to show their innocence... Prove that that gnomes did it!

Stake out time! They hide in the bush and bide their time only to discover... raccoons. Damn. Wait no, now the gnomes are moving. They stalk the little guys and watch them hurl black paint against Joe's white house. They must be stopped! That will take minutes to paint over! Haven't they suffered enough! They try to tackle the gnomes but trip over Buster's rope (that's what you get for leaving you dog outside.) Being caught, the gnomes chase after the kids who... run for reasons I am not entirely sure of. Even being kids they gotta outweigh the gnomes by what, 50 pounds? Moose is reputed to be very large and very strong for his age. Surely he can overpower a gnome. But what do I know? They run. Mindy rushes out in the commotion to see what is going on and is grabbed by the gnomes and carried off. The kids yell at them to stop and they.... stop? Huh?

Well the gnomes claim they mean them no harm. Turns out they just wanted to get the kids attention. And all the chaos? Well it seems these are gnomes at all but "mischief elves." It's in their nature. The self proclaimed MISCHIEF elves then beg for help. It seems they lived far away but were kidnapped and forced into slavery. They have friends that need freeing. Could it be a trick? Surely not, MISCHIEF elves wouldn't lie!

Oh damn. They lied. The kids decide to help them, but instead of rescuing 6 of their friends the children are kidnapped by 600 of their brethren in the store where dad bought them. Chip and Hap admonish the kids for trusting them when they literally just told them they were mischief elves. See, even the story has to point out how dumb these kids are. Any the mob of gnomes wants to do some horrid things with them like... dribble them... and fold them... and ... tickle them? Yeaaaaah, these are the most frightening of things I must say. I never had problems falling asleep at night dreading the thought of being folded.

Just then the kids here Buster the dog. When Buster was around the gnomes and licked them it took the smiles off their faces. It must mean they are afraid of him. If they can get the dog to come they'd be rescued. They encourage him to come to the rescue, but in true doggie fashion he putzes around and trots away.  Surely the trusty dog whistle will get him to come back! But the gnomes immediately slap it away from him. There is a mad frenzy to get the whistle. One gnome tries to crush it but Joe gets it from him and manages to blow it. In an odd turn of events it made all the gnomes freeze. It seems they were never afraid of Buster, they were afraid of the whistle.

They escape the gnomes, leaving them in the trance state and go back home. They vow not to tell anyone, no one would believe them anyway. In the end dad replaces the missing gnomes with a gorilla statue. Joe awkwardly talks to the statue, telling it to not be like the awful gnomes. The gorilla winks.


Wait wait wait, so what the fuck happened to the gnomes? So the whistle put them in a trance like state, is that supposed to last forever? It didn't last forever when Joe blew the whistle at his house. What happens when they wake up and are pissed that the kids got away? If they don't wake back up... what... are they just completely rendered helpless by a certain frequency of sound? One that probably happens naturally without us knowing it all the time? It's like the damn aliens from Signs being allergic to water. Oh well, the end.

What I Thought

Well of course this had all the things we have come to expect from Goosebumps. Prankster sibling not taken seriously. Parents who won't believe them. Fake out scares. "Monsters" with a silly achilles heel. These are ubiquitous.

What has this book got going for it then? Well gnomes were a pretty good pick for a monster to some extent. If you are going to pick a "parents won't believe this is happening" antagonist they work well. I just think in the end they weren't used right. I mean being used as pranksters that was perfect. Thinking of gnomes coming to live and messing with your stuff is kind of a cool idea. It's just not totally scary. Threats of "folding" kids is also not that scary. They should stick to being tricksters but amp it up.

So here are some ways to fix the book. Wait, am I saying I am better at making this story than a professional author? You're damn right. So you make the pranks the gnome plays have real dire consequences. The neighbor threatened to have the dog get put in the pound? Make that happen. Make it so he is due to be euthanized. Now you might say that is extreme for a kids book but I read Old Yeller by this age and that kid had to snuff out his own dog and that book is considered a god damn classic. Have the police put away Joe's dad for the gnomes vandalism. Make it so that there is no one left that could have done the pranks and they figure out the supernatural cause. Heck, make it life or death. Have the gnomes cut the brakes on dads car, or for the kiddos on their bikes. Have real, dangerous results. Threats of "folding" or "tickling" don't cut it.

So the ultimate plan of these "mischief elves" obviously need to be greatly improved. Now if we hadn't just had a similar thing in Camp Jelly Jam I would say the gnomes should all be working for a gross gnome overlord who wants to enslave children. Since that sort of thing just happened the book before lemme come up with something else. You could go the ironic route and have them plan to use magic to turn the kids into plaster sculptures to decorate their elven caves.  There is always the easy but disturbing threat of having the gnomes eat the children. I suppose you don't even need to have them kidnap the kids in the end. They could just delight in causing havoc and ruining the children's lives.

In conclusion, come on Moose should have been able to punt that gnome across the yard! Err no. I mean in conclusion this was a pretty typical example of what Goosebumps has to offer with the regular shortcomings and strengths there usually are. Nothing particularly stood out. Gnomes are fun, and tricksy like hobbitses but just don't evoke much terror. After 34 of these books exhaustion of the formula is taking it's toll. Still it is a decent execution of the formula we know so well.

Rating: 3 gnomes out of 5

Up Next!

Hopefully SOONER than it takes me to come out with a full book review I'd like to do something a little different. In my next post I'd like to take a look at some of the covers of the books and their variations. Different covers of the same book have come out over the years and I'd like to go over them a little bit. I think it could hopefully be interesting. I've looked, there are some weird one out there.  

After that I'd like to go back to the original series and cover a Shocker on Shock street. I really should get through the main books soon as it was my original goal. I'm only like halfway there though. There are so many! Oh well

As always thanks for reading and I hope you come back next time.