R. L. Stine is an American author of children’s mystery, suspense, and horror. Generally thought of as the “Stephen King of children’s fiction,” Stine has written more novels than anyone has bothered to count (okay, so there is what might be a complete bibliography at Wikipedia), plus worked in television, movies, and even wrote a few suspense novels for adults. Anyone who read choose your own adventures probably read one or two by Mr. Stine. He wrote more than 80 books in his Goosebumps series, which spawned a television show that ran from 1995-1998. He wrote well over 100 books as part of his Fear Street series, over 30 stand-alone novels, and many media tie-ins, including G.I. Joe novels, Indiana Jones choose your own fate books, Masters of the Universe stuff, and a whole slew of other choose your own adventure books in the Twistaplot and Wizards, Warriors, and You series.
Stine got his start publishing a humor magazine called Bananas through Scholastic Press and writing joke books for kids in the mid-1970s. His first horror novel, Blind Date, was published as part of the Scholastic Point Horror line in 1986 and he never looked back. He started his long journey down Fear Street in 1989 working with Archway books, and hit it big again with his Goosebumps series, which kicked-off in 1992.
Stine achieved the kind of success most authors only dream of. His Wikipedia article claims (you’re probably sensing lazy researching here and you’d be right, alas…) his books have sold more over 400 million copies worldwide. He was USA Today’s number-one best selling children’s author three years in a row, was in People magazine, and is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling children’s author of all time. He was on the Forbes list of the 40 top-grossing entertainers of 1996 and 1997 at $41 million. Movies and television shows have been made based on numerous Stine works, and his stories have inspired amusement park attractions at Sea World and Busch Gardens. I probably don’t even need to mention his awards. He’s got some.
In all seriousness, I give Mr. Stine his due — this is a man who worked hard to get where he is today. A collector looking for R. L. Stine books is in for a lifetime search, which is another way of saying he is one prolific dude. I can’t imagine what his annual output in word-count must have been at its peak, but it surely matched that of the pulp writers of yore who were churning out a new novel every two weeks.
I admit that as a teen I never read any R. L. Stine. I was already reading Stephen King at an early age, so Stein’s more “family friendly” horror didn’t appeal to me. That said, I know his Fear Street and Point Horror books served as a gateway drug to folks who went on to become fans of adult horror, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As an adult collector of paperback horror, I began to pick up a few of these here and there. I collected Point Horror for a while, so I started with those. I enjoyed them for what they were. I branched out into reading a few Fear Street books. It seemed to me they varied in quality; many felt rushed or unfinished. In any event, I am not a harsh critic, and I continued to enjoy collecting them for a while.
My oldest son (now in his early 20s) loved the Goosebumps books when he was a young boy. My youngest daughter (11 years old at the time) read a few Goosebumps titles as well, until one of them give her nightmares. And here I held onto all these novels thinking I’d indoctrinate my kids into the realm of horror. Heh … well, I wasn’t going to force it on her, but here I had a big box of these Point Horror and Fear Street books that no one would touch. My youngest daughter paled when I showed them to her (obviously reliving that previously-mentioned nightmare), my 15-year-old daughter wouldn’t look twice at them, and the YA novels seemed sufficiently suspicious in the “marketed-to-girls” department that my youngest son (already reading Star Wars young adult novels at 8 years old) wouldn’t touch them. So … millions of people were reading these books at some point. I get it, but … who were they? Check out the scans below. One of those books includes press-on tattoos in the middle of the book, like the kind you used to get out of Cracker Jacks. Crazy. I mean, something doesn’t connect in my mind with how these targeted readers. Girls? Yes. Age? Not sure. Clearly Archway and Scholastic had something good going on. My only guess is that the audience for these books (meaning the novels) was composed of more “tween-agers” in the ’80s and ’90s than young adults. Who knows? Stine knocked it out of the park, and it’s not my puzzle to solve. Ultimately, my plan to use them as gateways to the wider realms of horror for my children failed. As much as I enjoyed collecting them for a while, I have confidence they’ll all find wonderful new homes. In the meantime, it is my pleasure to share them with you here.
To browse the list of R. L. Stine titles currently available in print and eBook editions, click here.
These cover scans are from the library of author Christopher Fulbright.