Other Stuff Exists

Don't get too comfortable with the familiar–other stuff exists, so go explore!

Night of the Living Dummy

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 26, 2011


Kris and Lindy Powell are twin sisters. They share not only their birthday, but also their room, their clothes–just about everything. It’s a blessing and a curse–they’re very close, but they can really irritate each other, too.

One day, when looking around next door, where a house is being build, Lindy finds a ventriloquist’s dummy among the garbage, and names it Slappy. As she practices and gets skilled with the dummy, Kris becomes jealous, wanting her own dummy. Their father finds one at a pawn show, very cheap–the owner of the shop seemed to be glad to be rid of it. Kris names her dummy Mr. Wood, and sets to practicing.

However, strange things start to happen with the dummies. They seem to be moving around when no one is looking, fighting with each other. When Lindy tries to demonstrate to Kris how to move Mr. Wood, the dummy says cruel things, and Lindy claims that she isn’t doing it–that the dummy is speaking for himself. Is it all just a practical joke? Or could Mr. Wood be… alive?

The seventh book in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Night of the Living Dummy explores the classic ‘evil dummy’ story. It’s undoubtedly one of the most famous Goosebumps books, though, for my money, the best ventriloquist and evil dummy are Batman‘s Arnold Wesker and Scarface.

For much of Night of the Living Dummy, Kris isn’t sure whether Mr. Wood is really alive, or if Lindy is just pulling a prank on her. For some of the book, Lindy isn’t sure whether Mr. Wood is really alive, or if Kris is just pulling a prank on her. For the rest of the book, both of them are very sure that the dummy is alive, and are terrified of it.

Mr. Wood insists that Kris and Lindy will be his slaves, and that they must obey him, for he has ‘powers.’ He certainly has the power to be resilient–the girls are unable to pull or cut his head off, and it ultimately takes a steamroller to put him down. Of course, just when they think they’ve won, Slappy asks them whether they’ve finally gotten rid of ‘that other guy.’ The nightmare may be just beginning…

I don’t like the characterization in this one very well. Some of the things that Kris and Lindy did and said just stood out to me as unrealistic. For example, when Kris, previously quite jealous of and unhappy with her sister, is told that they might share the dummy, Stine writes:

“I don’t mind sharing,” [Kris] said quietly, searching her sister’s eyes for approval of the idea.

This is just out of line with the way her character had been developed thus far. I think that Kris wouldn’t have been satisfied with sharing, and anyway the meek acceptance of the suggestion to share the dummy in this line just doesn’t feel right.

It’s not just Kris, though. Neither girl is very fully characterized, but when Kris learns that Lindy has just been playing a joke on her, she says that “it was too mean to be just a joke.” I agree–Kris was, more than once, in tears, terrified, and Lindy thought it was all a great joke? I’m not sure that I can believe Lindy is so unfeeling. The sisters are close, we are told. It’s a quite a stretch to believe that for their whole lives, Kris has never realized that Lindy is a cruel monster until it was revealed in this moment.

Night of the Living Dummy isn’t bad, but it’s got poor characterization, even for a Goosebumps book. The story’s okay, though, and as usual it’s a quick read. It’s probably worth reading once, or rereading for the sake of nostalgia. It’s available for the Kindle as Classic Goosebumps #1, so those who want Goosebumps ebooks can pick it up that way, or else get one of the abundant used copies–the world is fairly drowning in used Goosebumps books.

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