The Series Zealot

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Anarchy on Fear Street

Subversion is the password on this Boulevard of Badness. . .
"Don't listen to the stories they tell you about Fear Street. Wouldn't you rather explore it yourself. . . and see if its dark terrors and unexplained mysteries are true? You're not afraid, are you?" --The Surprise Party
Welcome to Fear Street Fear Street is a challenge, a fictional bully who dares us to step over his line, an enemy with hidden powers to intercept. Endless tales of horror--both supernatural and terrestrial in origin--fill volumes of Stine's young adult series, itself only one arm of the horror publishing monster he has built. In the Fear Street heyday, it was not uncommon for one or more of Stine's teen horror offerings to appear on the best-seller list. Today, as writers like Diane Hoh, Caroline B. Cooney and Richie Tannersley Cusick widen the genre niche created in part by Stine and teen horror contemporary Christopher Pike, parents, librarians and educators wonder at the cause of this proliferation. Extremists have condemned Stine and company, expressing loud concern for the souls of teen readers sullied by horror fiction marketed so attractively to young people. Less reactionary but still alarmingly anxious cliques of teachers and librarians announce disdain for horror series in popular magazines and professional journals. "Who will save our youth from the apocolypse of horror fiction?" both parties seem to ask. "Who will save the rest of us from your misguided concern?" the Series Zealot asks back.

The Fear Street Rebellion

With all the controversy surrounding what some deem to be trash literature, it is no wonder R.L. Stine is so popular. His name in the press, the ueber- presence of Fear Street and Goosebumps--on T.V., in bookstores and libraries-- all comprise a backbeat of influence. Not only is it easy to walk into the young adult section of any library or bookstore and pick out a Fear Street, the choice itself, in the face of this controversy, is somewhat subversive. What books could be more alluring to teens than those the Establishment (parents, teachers, etc.) are trying to ban? In this light, the choice to read a Fear Street becomes almost an act of rebellion, and it is this rebellion, a pervasive theme in much of Stine's writing, that, consciously or unconsciously, makes Fear Street so appropriate.

It seems natural that, in our leisure reading, we would find comfort in reading about the familiar. Reading, particularly series reading, creates this comfort zone. In a service guide for young adult librarians, scholar Mary K. Chelton cites the teen interests that prompt materials selection, indicating that these topics are lifted directly from the lives of teens. "Changing bodies, feelings and social relationships" are among the information needs of this demographic (8). This turbulent period of physical and emotional change "leads to a period of clumsiness and exaggerated self-consciousness," Chelton notes (7). The most successful y.a. fiction addresses these concerns; Judy Blume and Ron Koertge are two stellar examples of targeted y.a. authors. Series, however, addresses these issues less directly. By maintaining a familiar setting--in Stine's case, Fear Street--delivering similar plotlines and characters, series in general and Fear Street in particular, becomes less plot driven and more symbollic. Patrick Jones, an R.L. Stine scholar, writes: "Series books offer a safe, repeated experience. . . [Stine's books] mirror the y.a. experience: lots of confusion about what's happening, an intensity of emotion, and a thin layer of everyday fear and humiliation"(186). Stine's novels don't pander to readers; everyday problems like boy/girl relationships and popularity concerns are as vexing as supernatural disturbances. On Fear Street, teen anxiety is as valid as life and death, as serious as a bomb threat, as deadly as a murder weapon.

Click here for literary analysis of a Fear Street classic.

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