R.L. Stine on the Importance of Scaring the Hell Out of Children
The Goosebumps author has sold millions of kids’ horror novels. Adults who grew up on the books say it helped them immensely.
For more than 30 years, and over the course of some 330 books typed mostly with one now-gnarly and crooked index finger—that’s right: 330 books with one finger—R.L. Stine has been frightening and enthralling young readers all over the world. In that time, the Goosebumps series has sold hundreds of millions of copies and spawned a television series, video games, a zone in a theme park, and a movie, starring Jack Black as Stine, whose sequel will premiere in October.
On a recent dark and stormy afternoon in New York, the author—who turns 75 next month and goes by Bob in real life—showed me around his Upper West Side apartment. His office was decorated with several vintage radios, a skeleton wearing a Goosebumps cap, and a giant prop cockroach from a school production. “How many offices have a three-foot-long cockroach?” Stine asks. “I tell people it came from under the sink.”
We spoke about his accidental career, drawing on his own youthful fears, plus the appeal and importance of horror for kids already living with life’s own horrors.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Medium: Has writing these stories for around 30 years actually affected your imagination in a way? Has it made you look at the world with a gimlet eye, or not at all?
R.L. Stine: No! No, see, I think these books are funny. I think horror is funny. Horror makes me laugh in a movie theater. When the shark comes up and starts eating the kid, I’m in the theater laughing. I just never get scared. There’s something missing in my brain where if I’m reading a Stephen King novel or I’m at a horror movie, I just laugh. Writing this stuff hasn’t really affected me at all. I just, I think it’s funny. In Goosebumps, every chapter end is a punchline.