What’s wrappening, guys?! I bring you an entry about my least favorite Goosebumps book so far. I actually finished the book a few days ago. It took me a couple days to write this because I got sick with strep throat. Yep, just like Gabe was stuck in the pyramid, I’m stuck in my house for a few days. I’ll try to get another Goosebumps book read and recapped while I have all this time on my hands.
I’m sorry in advance, but this is going to primarily be a post about how the protagonist, Gabe, is literally the worst character ever. I know what you’re thinking: Todd, all the Goosebumps kids are bad characters. No. Gabe takes the cake. Gabe won’t get all the hate, though. This book is bad despite him, and that’s saying a lot. Follow me behind the cut, and I’ll tell you why you should skip it.
This is actually a really neat, although simple, cover. It’s subtle, but it’s frightening enough to draw me in. The red eyes of the mummy are the central point of the cover and lead the reader to believe the mummy is alive. I like that it’s subtle. Let’s look at the cover of the re-release.
As you can see, it is definitely not subtle. While the red eyes in the original cover suggest the mummy might be alive, in the new cover, there is no question. The mummy doesn’t even need the glowing eyes.
I like the original cover more because it does more with less. It leaves more to the reader’s imagination. I also like the cool colors of the original cover. The yellow in the new cover is cliche to me. I expect to see yellow on a cover of a book about a pyramid in a desert in Egypt. The original cover goes an unexpected route with color choice, and it’s effective.
What do you guys think? Vote below.
Tagline: What will wake the dead?
Intriguing and interesting tagline. Spoiler: the answer to this question is deus ex machina. More on that in the literary devices section below.
Gabe is spending his Christmas vacation in Egypt with his parents. They are checking out the Great Pyramid in al-Jizah where his uncle, Ben, works. Gabe is whining about being thirsty. The family is admiring the pyramid from the outside despite their family connection because going inside is probably not allowed.
Gabe teases the reader at the end of Chapter One by saying,
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it — probably forever.
I think Stine lays down this promise to keep the reader invested, because the book is so slow that most readers would put it down before this actually happens.
Gabe finally gets a drink at his hotel. His parents give him Coke,
because soda is excellent for dehydration. Gabe said his tongue was swollen, he was so thirsty. The boy was dehydrated. He needed water. Please don’t drink soda when you’re showing signs of dehydration. Gabe mentions that he loves to chew ice. I guess it’s good he’s getting a little bit of water somehow.
Gabe’s parents are doing some work during their Christmas holiday and discover they have to go to Alexandria immediately. They give Gabe the option of going with them or staying in Cairo with his uncle, Ben. There is one caveat: Gabe’s cousin Sari is with her father for the holidays. Gabe doesn’t like Sari because Sari can beat him at things. Gabe decides to stay with Ben and Sari. Since Ben is already on his way and will arrive within the hour, Gabe’s parents leave him by himself in the hotel room.
Gabe starts catastrophizing, a thinking mistake he will probably need therapy for later in life. What if Ben doesn’t make it? What if they go to the wrong hotel? What if they are in a car crash and die? What if he’s alone by himself for days and days? What if…? You get the point. In the middle of his what-ifs, Gabe realizes he has taken out his mummy hand.
Gabe bought this mummy hand, which is described as being the size of a child’s hand, at a garage sale. He keeps it in his pocket as a good-luck charm. The kid who sold it to him called the hand The Summoner, and said it was used to summon evil spirits. Now, if you’re a reader and you’re reading a book about mummies, and a random mummy hand pops up in the beginning of the book, you should probably count on it being important later. Just remember this is here.
Ben and Sari arrive.
Ben takes Gabe and Sari into The Great Pyramid, because he has to work and has no other choice. He tells them to stick close to him. While down in the pyramid, Ben introduces Gabe and Sari to a few of his workers, including a man named Ahmed, who tells everyone the pyramid is cursed. Sari toys with Gabe’s masculinity complex and persuades him to leave his uncle’s side and explore tunnels in the tomb. She gets ahead of Gabe, hides in a stone coffin, and jumps out and scares him. When Ben finds the kids, Sari tells him about her conquest and he finds it hilarious. All I could think about while reading this was that twelve-year-old kids were being careless with ancient artifacts. I’m really surprised Ben was not angry. What kind of scientist is he?
The family leaves the tomb and goes back to the hotel. The next day, Ben gets word that two of his workers are sick and needs to go visit them. He asks the kids to stay at the hotel. They, of course, do not. They decide to head to a nearby museum to look at mummies. While there, they run into Ahmed, who tells them that Ben is looking for them, and tries to kidnap the kids. Gabe and Sari escape and make it back to the hotel.
They tell Ben what happened. He is so angry with them for leaving the hotel, but he is also concerned about Ahmed trying to kidnap them, so he decides to take the family back into the pyramid to figure out what is going on. He again asks the kids to stay by him, and this time he gives them each a beeper to press if they get separated so he can find them.
Gabe bends down to tie his shoe while in the pyramid and gets separated from Sari and his uncle. He decides not to push his beeper’s button because he’s worried about looking like a scaredy cat to Sari. This decision caused me distress, and I went to Twitter with it.
While wandering around alone, the floor cracks beneath Gabe and he falls into a tomb full of well-preserved mummies. They are standing upright and are in various poses that look suspect to Gabe. He discovers wrapping material in the room and surmises that this must be the room in which the mummies of the pyramid were wrapped in ancient times. He decides to press his button now because he has a discovery and will look cooler to Sari than before when he was just lost, but he discovers that his beeper crushed when he fell. He can’t even press the button. Gabe doesn’t have to fret long, however. Sari makes her way to the room and says she got separated from Ben as well while looking for Gabe. She presses the button on her beeper, and after waiting for a short bit, they think they hear Ben coming.
The person they hear is actually Ahmed. He tells the kids they have wandered into the ancient Priestess Khala’s tomb, and as a descendant of Khala, it is his duty to carry out her curse. The mummies around the room are in such good shape because they are relatively new. Ahmed has been mummifying people alive for trespassing into the tomb. He tells the kids that they, too, will become mummies.
Ben finally arrives to save the day, only not, because all he can do is plead with Ahmed to have a conversation with him scientist to scientist. Ahmed decides Ben will become a mummy as well. Ahmed starts heating a tar pit. He forces Ben to get into a coffin, and then forces the kids to get into a second coffin together while the tar comes to a boil. Ben escapes out a secret compartment of his coffin and somehow gets into the kids’. He leads them out of their coffin. They almost make their way out, but run into Ahmed.
Ahmed now decides that the three do not deserve the honor of being mummified and that they will just die in the tar pit.
Without realizing what he is doing, Gabe takes his mummy hand, The Summoner, which I told you to pay attention to at the beginning of this summary, and holds it high into the air. He doesn’t know what he is doing or why he is doing it.
Ahmed backs away, recognizing the hand as the hand of Khala. The various mummies around the room come alive and advance on Ahmed. He doesn’t get ripped apart by the mummies like I would have preferred to read, because this is a book for nine-to-twelve-year-olds, but is simply chased from the room. The mummies all go back to where they were originally standing.
Ben and Sari praise Gabe as a hero over dinner, and Ben does not confiscate the mummy’s hand like a good guardian or scientist. Back at the hotel, Gabe holds his mummy hand up in the air and chants some crap about raising spirits when there is suddenly commotion at the door.
It’s just his parents.
Deus Ex Machina
Did anyone feel kind of cheated when Gabe held his mummy hand up in the air and solved his impossible problem? You should have. Deus ex machina, translated from Latin to English as “God from the machine,” is a literary device that is often frowned upon in literature. The idea is that something will come out of seemingly nowhere and save the day. These devices seem too random, and often, too convenient. The Summoner, the mummy hand Gabe keeps in his pocket as a good-luck charm is a classic case of deus ex machina.
I like the idea of the purpose the hand served. There is something cool about Gabe having an ancient artifact in his pocket, but how he came about it is too random. We’re told Gabe bought it at a yard sale for $2. An unknown boy sold it to him and told him it had powers to summon evil spirits. Where did that boy get the hand? Where did he get that information? Why wasn’t this explored more?
If we had more of a backstory on the hand, the ending of the book wouldn’t have felt as cheap. I get that this is a Goosebumps book, and these books are not generally deep, but Stine could have avoided the need for background altogether, and would have killed accusations of deus ex machina if he had made Gabe discover the hand in the pyramid. Gabe got lost twice in the pyramid. If he had stumbled upon the hand the first time he got lost, thought it looked cool, and decided to stick it in his pocket, the ending would not have felt cheap at all.
What we got, however, was Khala’s hand just so happened to end up in a yard sale in the States that Gabe, a boy who would become trapped in her pyramid, would stumble upon and keep as a good-luck charm. Nah. I’m sorry. This is too convenient. For that reason, and because this particular item happened to save the day, The Summoner is deus ex machina. It’s a cool piece of deus ex machina, but it’s still deus ex machina.
Early in the book when Gabe is waiting on Ben and Sari to arrive, he hears movement at the door and, without thinking, he holds his mummy hand up in the air for protection. He does it again at the end of the book when he, Sari, and Ben are in danger. What drove him to do that? Did the mummy hand persuade him or control him to a degree? Now that is interesting. We just get a cop out, “I don’t know why I did what I did,” answer and it’s not explored more. It’s a shame, because this one item had real potential to strengthen this book, but as deus ex machina, it harmed it.
It was pointed out to me after I posted my review that The Summoner may be Chekhov’s gun rather than deus ex machina. I think it can be argued either way, so I’m keeping my original thoughts in this article, but I want to explore Chekhov’s gun because it is incredibly interesting.
Anton Chekhov famously wrote,
If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.
The idea behind Chekhov’s gun is that everything in a story serves a purpose. The Summoner was mentioned at the beginning of the book, and Gabe stated that the boy he bought it from told him it summons evil spirits. We as readers should expect The Summoner to pop up again, and to fire, which means it should probably summon spirits. That’s exactly what happened.
I still stand by my stance that The Summoner is way too convenient to be the answer to Gabe’s impossible problems at the end of the book, but I acknowledge that it was set up from the beginning. Thanks, Thomas, for pointing this out.
Characterization of the Protagonist
I want to discuss Gabe just a little bit, because he annoyed the crap out of me the entire book. I am making the claim now that Gabe is the worst Goosebumps protagonist. I’m kind of sad I have to read about him again in Return of the Mummy.
What made Gabe bad? Well, everything.
Gabe is whiny, Gabe is insecure, Gabe has a masculinity complex, and frankly, he’s just unlikable.
I think for a reader to be engaged, the story needs to be compelling or the protagonist has to be likable. This book was too slow to have an unlikable protagonist. Not caring what happened to Gabe, and with the plot being so slow, I had to force myself through this book.
Why would anyone like Gabe? I’m going to reverse the question and point out some things that made me dislike him.
- He begins the book whining, and the whining doesn’t ever let up.
- He is jealous of his cousin, Sari, for being better at him at things.
- There is a scene in the book where Ben is having dinner with Gabe and Sari, and he asks the kids if they know how long the pyramid is. Gabe’s father had asked him the same question at the beginning of the book, so Gabe knew the answer and Sari didn’t. Gabe answered the question and then stuck his tongue out at Sari to boast.
In short, Gabe is the kid we all despised in school.
With a slow plot, an unlikable protagonist, and a cheap ending that is a result of deus ex machina, this book is a hard pass for me. If you haven’t read it, skip it. There are better Goosebumps books.
And that’s a wrap.