a night in terror tower by r.l. stineSomewhere far beyond the woods you know, in a house that should not be there, a crow hops along the hallways. One of his wings rests inside a sling. The bird has been through a lot recently, and very much wants to know more about his present situation. And so he seeks knowledge. And also food. He is still on the mend, after all.

Up above, in the chambers of the house, a man rests on a bed. Books and clothes are strewn about everywhere, along with countless empty cups. Despite his supine position, the man looks tired and slightly anxious. He holds a book in his hands and reads into the night.

Outside, a skeletal figure circles cautiously around the old house. Sometimes a sudden blazing flash of light can be seen. It is often accompanied by sharp screams, although these are quickly cut short.

Let us leave them here to enjoy this moment of respite.

Out of the forest, back in the world you think you know. 

In the city of witches, Count Orlok, who does not usually exist, leads a group of tourists through his gallery of nightmares, regaling them with stories of silver screens and the monsters within. The sightseers are not aware they are taking part in a ritual — are instead delighted by creatures of wax and resin and tales of human folly and triumph. Things from the Void occasionally wander into the Chronicler’s museum, although they leave just as quickly, dazed and confused.

All across the New World people sit before stages and screens. Witnesses to tales of macabre misdeeds, they become Watchers, and play their part.

Dancers everywhere gather in celebration and delight. In a bacchanalian storm of sweat and lights and music, they Dance in defiance of the dark.

Haunters set up their labyrinthine houses of horror and diversion. Things wander in, lured by the sound of laughter and screams, but they don’t come out.

Young Revelers decide on costumes and plan out their routes. They dream of treats and think up tricks. Things steer clear of them, frightened by their boundless energy and minds full of mischief.

Other Readers enact their own rituals. They light up candles and pour drinks and sit on favorite chairs. They read books of mystery and terror in their shelters full of light and warmth. And the darkness cannot get in.

Back in the house that should not be there, somewhere far beyond the woods you know, the Keeper does their rounds, casting wards of protection and banishment. Inside, the Reader browses through endless hallways full of books, looking for his next read. Perched on his shoulder is Seeker, who seems to have a knack for finding things in this strange, unfathomable house.

And thus we keep the darkness at bay.

This Hallowe’en season has felt… off. Mostly because real life has been very much getting in the way. It’s very frustrating, the way it tends to do that. A month of pure escapism is not that much to ask, surely. Alas. 

So, in an effort to keep the black flame of the season going, I turned to a Goosebumps book, which is what I’ve been doing every October for the last handful of years now. It doesn’t feel like Hallowe’en in this house, I tend to think, until I read one of these wonderful, silly books. It usually does the trick.

Which brings me A Night in Terror Tower, a book that’s as fun as goofy as any Goosebumps I’ve read so far. Initially picked up because it seemed like it would have all the gothic vibes (which I was planning on being a theme this season before my mood reading tendencies took over), but I soon found out that it was actually more of a time travel story than it was anything else. I was very skeptical of this timey-wimey element, but it ended up lending itself to some enjoyable Scooby-Doo type hijinks and chase sequences, which I am always up for. (“Run, run, run! That’s all we do anymore!” Eddie playfully lampshades at one point during the TV show adaptation.) Stine’s writing was particularly strong for this one, too. His descriptions of London — both past and, uh, nineties — were full of mood and atmosphere, and left me fairly impressed. 

As I’ve done with the last couple of Goosebumps, I paired this one with the TV show adaptation, which I think I liked a bit more than the book. It’s curious because it’s a very faithful adaptation of the story, with most of the dialogue taken pretty much verbatim from the short novel. But the episode is one of the better produced of the series (it was filmed as a special, accounting for the upgraded production), and also every time the villain turned up the melody from the main theme of The Shining would play. Just a blast all around.

Funnily enough, my brother and I had this episode on VHS when we were kids, although I’m pretty certain we never actually sat down to watch it. Still, even back then, I remember appreciating it for its rad design. Like most Goosebumps products, it just looked cool, and, for superficial old me at least, that’s still a huge part of the appeal of the series. Nineties aesthetics, man. They remain undefeated.

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