Goosebumps: How I Got My Shrunken Head

How I Got My Shrunken HeadGasp. Shock. A Goosebumps recap! I haven’t done one of these babies since January. A couple people have poked me and asked where I’ve been, wanting me to get back on these. (Keep doing that, by the way! Your excitement motivates me to do these, and I love hearing from visitors!) The simple answer is school, although fickleness goes into play. I have other hobbies besides reading, and I don’t just read Goosebumps. I’ve recently read Along Came a Spider by James Patterson, The Haunted Forest Tour by Jeff Strand, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and I started rereading (and recapping here) the Animorphs series by K. A. Applegate. I allow myself to read a wide variety of things so that I don’t get bored, and so that I never feel like I’m forcing myself to read. Having said that, I do need to do these recaps more often, not just for you, but for me. Putting these together, I realized how much I missed writing about Goosebumps, haha. Reading this book last night, I realized how much I enjoy reading these often ridiculous stories. They are my guilty pleasure.

I actually had never read How I Got My Shrunken Head when I was into the series as a kid. I wish I had. I think it’s one of the better entries in the series that I’ve covered so far. I’ll tell you why below the cut.


The shrunken head is intriguing all on its own. Its depiction on the original cover is about what I’d expect. It’s how I pictured the shrunken head in the book, perhaps because the cover artist captured the description so well, or perhaps because I had seen the cover before I read the book. The only thing that stands out as wrong are the head’s eyes, which should be solid and dark. I can forgive the cover artist for taking liberties with the eyes, especially considering he probably hadn’t read the book before he illustrated the cover, but also because I doubt anyone but me notices or cares.

Tagline: Heads up!

The tagline is cute, but unremarkable.

How I Got My Shrunken HeadThis might be the first Classic Goosebumps cover that I like better than the original. This cover clearly takes inspiration from the original, not only in regards to the shrunken head, but the baseball equipment, the University wall piece, and even the white gym sock with red stripes. The artist zoomed in on the head, however, and I think it really works for the cover.

With the original cover, the shrunken head took up so little of the image that most of the cover was of socks, shoes, and sports equipment that had little relevance to the book. The head is definitely of focus in the new cover.

Does Mark even play sports? He describes himself as “chubby” and spends his time indoors playing video games.

I digress. I like the new cover a lot better. I’m surprised and impressed.

Plot Synopsis

Mark Rowe is a self-described “chubby” twelve-year-old. Is anyone else frustrated with Stine making Mark “chubby?” My issue isn’t that he is overweight or that he considers himself fat, but that his weight adds absolutely nothing to the story. Furthermore, his size is the only physical description we get of Mark, and that bothers me because it makes it seem like his weight is the most important thing about him, and yet, like I said, it adds nothing to the story. Mark is just the short, chubby kid of Goosebumps, and that’s all the description we need of him, apparently.

Fueling the “chubby” stereotype, Mark turns down request after request from his friends to go outside and throw around a frisbee or ride skateboards, opting to sit in his room and play a video game called Jungle King. It’s a platformer, basically, in which you swing from vine to vine, avoiding hazzards and swooping down to collect shrunken heads. Mark gets really into the game, and screams out, “Ka-lee-ah” as he swings from vines. Mark doesn’t know why he screams “ka-lee-ah.” It’s a word that just popped in his head one day. Mark guesses he made it up.

There is a knock at the door (or a ring of the door bell; I can’t recall), and Mark is greeted by an old woman named Carolyn, who hands him a gift from his Aunt Benna, the shrunken head on the cover of the book. Benna is a scientist, and is too busy on a jungle island called Baladora to visit her sister, nephew, and niece, so she sent her co-worker Carolyn instead. Mark’s mother doesn’t question this, and lets the woman stay with them overnight.

Mark thinks the shrunken head is disgusting, but cool. His little sister, Jessica, snatches it and ends up scratching its ear. I haven’t written about Jessica up until now because she’s of little importance in the story, but she’s a brat. Sometimes I feel like Stine reuses and renames characters from previous books rather than creating entirely new ones. Jessica is basically Tara from The Cuckoo Clock of Doom. Thankfully, we don’t get much of Tara, I mean Jessica, in this book.

After everyone’s asleep, Mark wakes up in the middle of the night and sees the shrunken head floating and glowing above his dresser. He decides this warrants waking everyone up. His mom insists Mark had a bad dream, Jessica gives him a hard time, and Carolyn gives him judgmental looks. Fun times.

The next morning, Mark’s mother informs him that he is going to visit his aunt in Baladora! She is perfectly okay with her son accompanying a complete stranger alone to a remote jungle island thousands of miles away without hearing from her sister personally, because nothing about this plan is suspect at all. Mark and Carolyn take off at once.

Kareen Abdul JabbarThere is a plane ride that I’m going to skip in this synopsis because it adds little to the book, and another ride on a smaller plane to the remote island. Carolyn takes Mark to the laboratory she works with his aunt, and there, Mark meets a man named Dr. Hawlings, and his daughter, a girl Mark’s age named Kareen (Abdul Jabbar).

Mark’s Aunt Benna, to the surprise of no reader, is not there. Dr. Hawlings offers Mark a Coke, because why not give a kid who is dehydrating in 99-degree weather soda instead of water? He informs Mark that his aunt is missing, and, get this, Mark is going to help them find her because Mark has (dun dun dun) Jungle Magic. Mark thinks this is as absurd as we all do. Dr. Hawlings insists it’s true because he read that Aunt Benna gave Mark the Jungle Magic in her journals.

Mark spends the night on the island trying to think about how to tell Carolyn and Dr. Hawlings that he does not have magic powers. He sneaks out of his shack alone and wanders around outside a bit before alerting the reader that Carolyn warned him against being out at night without a flashlight because the night belongs to jungle creatures, or something like that. A flashlight is what he is concerned about, not an anaconda or Malaria. How about instead of the “don’t go outside at night without a flashlight,” rule we just say, “don’t go outside at night?” That seems a lot more wise.

Mark makes his way to the laboratory and stumbles across his aunt’s journals. He reads them (good thing he has a flashlight!) and finds out that Carolyn and Dr. Hawling are evil (What? No way!) and that Benna gave four-year-old Mark the Jungle Magic to keep it away from Dr. Hawling and Carolyn. She goes on to say that if he gets the Jungle Magic, he will shrink her head, and Mark’s too! Kareen interrupts him reading, but helps him escape. She tells him he needs to use the Jungle Magic to find Benna.

Now, I get this book is for younger readers, but how many of you did not suspect that Kareen was working for her father here? I gave side eye to this book all night.

Mark spends the night and the next day out in the jungle alone. He comes across several hazards: large red ants, quicksand, and a tiger, but is able to thwart them all away with the Jungle Magic that he accidentally discovers that he really does have. You see, if he holds the shrunken head Carolyn gave him and calls out, “Ka-lee-ah,” the word he thought he made up, the jungle will do his bidding. The red ants fall right off of him, vines swing in and pull Mark out of quicksand, and tiger cubs pull a tiger away from Mark. How magical. Yet, Mark still finds himself trapped in a pit he falls in when he was running from the tiger. Before he can use Jungle Magic to escape, Kareen appears and lowers a vine for Mark to climb out. Good ol’ Abdul Jabbar.

Mark fills her in about what he read in his aunt’s journals, but Kareen insists that her dad is not evil, and that the two scientists just disagreed about things. She accompanies him while he searches for his aunt. Mark discovers that the shrunken head’s eyes light up when he’s going in the right direction. He shares this with Kareen, and lets her know about his magic word (Ka-lee-ah, not please).

The two stumble upon a shack and find Mark’s Aunt Benna. Benna rushes to hug Mark, and then asks who the daughter of her colleague is. I found this extremely weird because she and Dr. Hawlings worked together on this remote island, and Kareen lived on the island with her father. Surely Benna has seen Kareen before. Guess not, though.

Mark hears footsteps and then Adbul Jabbar yells out for her father, who congratulates her for a job well done. She tells Mark that of course she is loyal to her father, a thought I had when she began helping Mark. It’s really hard to imagine she’d do otherwise. I mean, she just met Mark, and the two hadn’t really bonded. Why would Mark think she’d put his interests above her father’s? She clearly manipulated Mark to use the Jungle Magic so that her father could find Aunt Benna and take the magic for himself.

Dr. Hawling has a gun and uses it to force Benna and Mark to go back to camp with him. He locks Benna and Mark in a shack by themselves. Benna is relieved that Hawling did not see Mark’s shrunken head, and that it is still in his possession. She explains how the Jungle Magic works. He has to have the head, and he has to use the magic word she left him when she gave him the magic at four-years-old. Thankfully Dr. Hawling doesn’t have the magic word, either. Oh wait.

I’ve suspended belief up until this point and went along with this Jungle Magic business, but I can’t ignore something major here. Benna tells Mark that for the magic to work, Mark has to use this specific shrunken head. There are a pile of shrunken heads near camp, and none of them will work. What I don’t get is Carolyn gave Mark this particular shrunken head, not Benna. How did Carolyn know this specific shrunken head was needed for the Jungle Magic to work if she doesn’t know how the Jungle Magic works? Also, how does Dr. Hawling not know about the shrunken head when he worked with Carolyn to bring Mark to the island to find Benna? They devised that plan together! These seem like simple plot holes that any editor worth his salt should have caught. Unless we are considering that these books were pumped out monthly on serious time crunches, which these books definitely were. I don’t care. It still bothers me.

Benna tells Mark to keep the shrunken head in his pocket, and to pull it out when she gives the signal, which is blinking three times. This signal seriously blows because they are in the middle of a very hot jungle where sweat is likely to get into Benna’s eyes and cause her to blink… Oh, why am I doing this to myself? Let’s just go with it.

Hawling has put together a bubbling cauldron of sorts and pulls Benna and Mark out of the shack. He threatens to shrink their heads if she does not give him the Jungle Magic and explain how it works. Right when he’s about to grab Mark, Benna gives Mark the signal, and Mark pulls the shrunken head out to perform some Jungle Magic, but Hawling grabs the head and throws it on the pile of other shrunken heads.

Mark jumps on the pile of shrunken heads and desperately searches for his particular shrunken head. He is able to identify it because his has a scratch on its ear, left by his little sister, Tara Jessica. He holds it out, yells his magic word, and Dr. Hawling, Carolyn, and Kareen shrink to the size of mice and run out into the jungle, probably to become food for a snake. Running into the jungle is the last thing I would do if this happened to me.

Aunt Benna accompanies Mark back home, and after allowing him to fill his family in on his adventures, Benna takes him to an isolated room and takes away his Jungle Magic. Mark is a normal boy again.

Mark asks his aunt if he can keep his shrunken head, and she says yes. He decides to take it to school to show off to his friends. On his way to school, he feels the head moving in his pocket and pulls it out. The head looks him in the eyes and says, “Hey kid, let me tell the part about the tiger!”


My Thoughts

Yes, I was annoyed with a lot of this book, but that is to be expected. I’m an English Major and this is Goosebumps. Despite the plot holes, the lazy and inappropriate (“chubby”) character description, and the complete stupidity of some of the characters, I stand by my stance that this is a solid entry in the Goosebumps series. It is one of the few books with very real threats (kidnapping, deception, a crazy scientist with a gun…), and those threats made the book genuinely scary. What more can one ask from a Goosebumps title than to be scary? Reader beware, this one might actually scare.

What’s Next?

Next time we will be getting invisible! Which entry would you like to see after that?

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