'The Girl Who Cried Monster'
The Girl Who Cried Monster was originally published in May 1993 (Spine #8) and the series adaptation aired on Saturday, November 11, 1995 (runtime: 22 minutes).
The ultimate escape from authority, responsibility and school, summer break is as precious to kids as any holiday, birthday or celebratory excursion combined. It’s a time of imagination and procrastination, a time for lounging in the sun, riding bikes with friends and endless hours spent in front of whatever screen one might deem fit to watch.
And in that time of freedom and fun, what could be more terrifying than a library?
The Girl Who Cried Monster is one of the Goosebumps series’ earliest entries and remains one of its simplest, concerning a monster obsessed girl and her run-in with a real life creature of darkness who also happens to be the town’s librarian. Combining the mundane annoyances of everyday kid life with the outlandish monstrosities that might lurk on the periphery of suburban normality, the book is an entertaining page-turner that roots its scares in the threat of a summer lost to study— and a flesh-starved, shape-changing beast.
The story was adapted for the screen almost immediately, being the first produced and fourth aired episode of the long running television series. As with many of the original installments, the adaptation adheres closely to the page, streamlining the book’s narrative while preserving dialogue and general story points. It’s one of the few episodes that truly captured the book on screen and helped to establish a precedent for viewers that would go on to be ignored far more often than it was ever adhered to.
With impressive creature effects and a stylish atmosphere, The Girl Who Cried Monster went on to make a visual impression that was as noteworthy as the book’s own reputation. A Goosebumps classic if there ever was one, it places the monster-kid so many young horror aficionados can identify with in the driver’s seat and despite summer schoolwork, aloof parents and a bratty little brother, shows what the macabre obsessed youngster is truly made of. After all, the book makes a good, if not somewhat contradictory, point: anyone forcing a kid to read during summer break has to be a monster, right?
Lucy is obsessed with monsters. She daydreams about them all the time. Her parents yell at her to stop tormenting her little brother Randy with monster stories, but she just can’t help herself. That is, until the day she encounters a real monster: the town librarian. Known for her tall tales and monstrous stories, no one believes Lucy’s terrifying accusations. And if she’s not careful, Lucy might become the victim of the kind of spooky yarn she tended to specialize in. A warning to those that might make the mistake of trying to take down a real monster.
The Girl Who Cried Monster was published in May of 1993, landing as the eighth title in the run. A simple story about a monster-infatuated, over-curious girl who stumbles upon the truth that her town librarian and leader of the summer reading program is, in fact, a monster himself. It concerns the isolation of mistrust and the common lack of support in young convictions, standing as a favorite in the franchise and one of R.L. Stine’s most memorable works.
Aligned from the start, both the book and episode open with a voice over monologue from Lucy Dark. Her words profess a love of monsters and an obsession with torturing her little brother Randy with creature laden stories before going on to inform that when she met a real monster, no one believed her. On screen and on the page Lucy regales Randy with a tale about the Timberland Falls Toe Biter, a chameleonic creature that feeds on children’s toes. The show excises a scene that follows where Lucy manages to frighten her neighbor too, a boy named Aaron, with a tall tale about a monster in a tree. Either way, it is clear that Lucy will concoct monster stories for anyone willing to listen.
In both versions Lucy is ushered to the library for her Reading Rangers meeting, a summer reading program that she has been begrudgingly forced into. Aside from shifting the book she was supposed to have been reading from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to Black Beauty, her sit down with the librarian Mr. Mortman plays out similarly in the show. The episode places more emphasis on Lucy’s monster leanings, as she remarks she wished the horse in the book had two heads, but in either case she leaves the library with Frankenstein.
The book’s description of Mr. Mortman speaks of a beady eyed, short, bald and round man who is always wet, leaving wet fingerprints on pages and small puddles on his desk. The show mentions the wetness but fails to show it, also forgoing an aluminum pan of turtles that sits beside his desk on the page. In both versions, Lucy leaves the library before remembering that she had left her rollerblades there, causing her to double back.
In the book the library is a ramshackle old house that was donated to the town and revamped. It’s a small, cramped, creaky place that feels rundown and haunted. In the show the library is a towering building, more akin to a city library, filled with darkness and empty space along with towering shelves of books. Once inside and facing the monster however, both provide an eerie vibe that feels all at once vast and still somehow isolating.
In both versions she discovers Mr. Mortman’s true form. In the book, Mortman hums to himself as he unscrews a jar of flies and transforms. His face is described as blowing up like a balloon while his bulbous black eyes bulge and extend away from his head on meaty antennae. Onscreen the eyes bulge out similarly in stop-motion animation and the creature cackles as it feasts on crickets instead of flies.
The middle portion of the book extends the back and forth between Lucy and Mr. Mortman. She heads home and attempts to tell her parents what happened but they ignore her, playfully debating how big the meatballs should be for supper instead. The following week Lucy stays after Reading Rangers and hides in the library, shutting the door loudly to make it sound as though she had left. Lucy witnesses the man change again, wincing as Mortman crunches on his small turtles. Lucy manages to escape with Mortman in pursuit, hurrying away before the monster has a chance to identify her.
The same series of events occur in the show. While small details alter from page to screen, like turtles being exchanged for tarantulas, the biggest change comes with Mr. Mortman’s realization of who it is he’s chasing after. “Lucy… I know you’re in there…” he whispers, creating a fairly disturbing chase sequence that is absent from the page. What gives her away is the flash from a small camera she had brought with her in an effort to obtain proof, something that occurs later in the book. He corners her in the stacks but she escapes, running home and calling Aaron to recount everything she had seen.
In the book, Mr. Mortman shows up promptly at Lucy’s front door immediately following her flight from the library. He’s there to return her backpack. He asks if Lucy had stayed late, admitting his belief that someone had hid in the library to play a prank on him, but she assures him of her innocence in the matter and he leaves.
Lucy decides that she needs physical, photographic evidence if she’s ever going to convince others of Mr. Mortman’s true identity. Despite having a more contentious relationship in the book than they seem to have on the screen, Lucy calls Aaron and offers him payment if he agrees to accompany her on her mission. Still, he gets tied up with an orthodontist appointment and bails out, sending Lucy to the library on her own the next day with her camera in hand.
Like the show, the flash from her camera gives away her presence in the closed library and a chase ensues. Unlike the show, Lucy escapes with the camera and without being identified by Mr. Mortman. She convinces her parents to take the family out to eat at the mall so that she can get the photo developed right away only to discover that the picture depicted no one at all. Mr. Mortman’s empty desk and chair was all that stared back at her from the small image. Lucy’s parents shift from angry to worried as Lucy’s mania intensifies.
Onscreen, Mr. Mortman also shows up at Lucy’s door with her abandoned backpack. However, this Mr. Mortman knows exactly who was in the library and although he doesn’t make any nasty moves, he does threaten her subtly with talk of their “next little chat.” Lucy convinces her parents to get the photos developed immediately following this scene, leading to the realization that the monster cannot be photographed. Mr. Mortman bumps into Lucy outside of the photo shop in the show, condensing several other encounters that appear on the page.
Lucy’s parents invite Mr. Mortman to dinner to thank him for the summer reading program as well as his kindness in returning Lucy’s backpack. Lucy is mortified, brandishing the empty photograph and exclaiming that Mortman’s absence from the image is proof that the man is not human. Still, her cries fall on deaf ears.
The book allows for several more Mr. Mortman interactions as Lucy enlists Aaron to help her follow Mr. Mortman to his home in an effort to obtain proof of his monstrousness once and for all. Standing on an upturned wheelbarrow to peer into his living room window, Lucy watches as he transforms before a large tank and starts dining on snails and exotic fish. Before she can show Aaron, the wheelbarrow topples and she falls, causing Mr. Mortman to finally spy Lucy in his full monster regalia.
He transforms back and shares a brief exchange with Lucy, but it’s clear each now knows the other’s secret. At their next Reading Rangers meeting, Mr. Mortman locks her in the library and transforms, attacking Lucy. She only escapes by throwing the card catalogue into chaos giving Mr. Mortman pause, the librarian overtaking the monster in a desperate need to keep the system in order. Hiding in the library as Lucy did before, Aaron witnesses the whole exchange. With Aaron’s testimony in tow, Lucy once again confronts her parents about the terrible truth regarding the town librarian. Their response: invite Mr. Mortman to dinner.
Simplifying this and condensing the sheer amount of times Lucy hides in the library to see Mr. Mortman’s monstrous transformation, the episode moves right from the scene at the one hour photo place to dinner. At this point, the book and the show again sync up.
Mr. Mortman enters the Dark family’s home and is cordial and polite. He eyes Lucy knowingly and makes several underhanded remarks before inquiring about the night’s menu. In response to the question of what is being served, Lucy’s father replies simply, “you are.” It’s then that Lucy’s parents sprout sharp fangs, a mouthful of them in the episode, and close in on Mr. Mortman. Onscreen, the Dark parents become lizard people, scaly and green, something not described in the book.
Both the book and the show conclude in the same way. The Darks devour Mr. Mortman, explaining to their delighted children that no monster had come to their town in over twenty years which is why Lucy’s parents found her claims so unbelievable. It was too dangerous to have another monster scaring the townsfolk, so the Darks had to take care of the problem. The show concludes with Aaron showing up in a monster mask and nearly being eaten by the Darks, while the book finishes with fledgling monsters Lucy and Randy again being scolded for telling monster stories before bed.
In both cases the status quo is restored, summer is back on track and the suburbs are safe from monsters once more. Well, in a manner of speaking.
The Girl Who Cried Monster is lean and mean, a concise and controlled story about one girl’s fascination with monsters, both real and imagined. Not only an appeal to every kid that’s ever loved the weird and the strange, but a branch to those that have an imagination and a drive to convince others to come along for the ride.
On the page, the story is one of R.L. Stine’s classics. Accompanied by Tim Jacobus’ art of a maniacal man hungrily clutching a fly as a terrified girl watches silently from a red-lit doorway, its simplicity and ever building sense of tension allows it to stand out amongst the stacks and stacks of books that bear the Goosebumps name. On the screen, the story is streamlined even further, narrowing the events down to only a few choice encounters with the bulging eyed beast and ensuring that every moment Lucy and Mr. Mortman share the screen is infused with danger.
Still, it’s the creature effects on display for Mr. Mortman’s transformation that truly make this an episode worth celebrating. It’s a monster that feels slimy and alive, dangerous and hungry, and serves to further enhance the legacy of the page by providing a disgusting face to the repugnant description. The episode may not have been able to contain the various twists and turns that Stine charted for his ravenous readers, but the effectiveness of the creature work more than makes up for any literary extractions.
While it may seem contradictory to advocate against a summer reading program in a book designed for kids to read, it’s that kind of self-awareness that has always made Goosebumps the perfect foil for any youngster Hellbent on avoiding their scholarly duties. It’s a series that understands, embraces and exaggerates the power of imagination and uses the very logic of the anti-reading, summer-bound adolescent to prove why a book can be an incredibly entertaining way to pass the school-free months.
After all, if there were monsters in there, what kid wouldn’t want to go to a library?
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‘Slime Doesn’t Pay!’ – New Middle Grade Novel from R.L. Stine Unleashes a Monster in September
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The prolific horror legend R.L. Stine is back this Halloween season with brand new novel Slime Doesn’t Pay!, a Goosebumps-style tale that’s geared to Middle Grade readers.
Slime Doesn’t Pay will release on September 26, 2023!
“In this family-friendly scare fest, Amy and her friend, Lissa, don’t know what to do about Arnie’s bullying behavior, and mean jokes and pranks. The little monster is ruining their lives!
“The girls decide it’s payback time. Total humiliation for Arnie. They find a recipe for blue slime on a YouTube channel and mix a big bucket to pour over Arnie at his birthday party.
“To their horror, the girls instantly discover that SLIME DOESN’T PAY! Before their eyes, Arnie’s whole body starts to change. The slime turns him into a real monster.
“Now Amy and Lissa have two frightening dilemmas: Can they save their town from the raging Arnie Monster? And is there any way to turn the monster back into Arnie?”
You can pre-order your copy of the upcoming horror book today.
What else is going on in the world of R.L. Stine? A brand new Goosebumps spinoff series launches in September, for starters, and Stine’s comic series Stuff of Nightmares also returns.
And don’t forget the family-friendly horror movie Zombie Town, which releases in theaters on September 1. The film is based on Stine’s same-titled horror book from 2012.
The Stine business is booming, we’re happy to report!The Girl Who Cried Monster The StoryThe AdaptationFinal ThoughtsR.L. StineSlime Doesn’t Pay!September 26, 2023