Goosebumps #27: A Night in Terror Tower
This was the first Goosebumps book I read as a kid. I distinctly remember getting it for Christmas in 1994 and starting it that night. I loved it then, and I’m really happy to say that fro the most part it holds up. It struck a near-perfect balance of horror and adventure. From being chased by a creepy man to then being left by their tour group in a strange foreign city, there was a great escalation in scares with each scene. The memory loss bit was particularly frightening. I blame this book for planting the seeds of my first existential crisis as a young adult. My biggest issues in the book had to do with the actions of the adults around Sue and Eddy. The first and most obvious is the way the kid’s tour guide left without them. That place would be crawling with police if two kids went missing while on a tour. I won’t get into specifics on the rest because of spoilers, but you can read my thoughts on that after the jump. I was also a bit frustrated with the rushed ending and felt it could have been done better. A Night in Terror Tower stands out from the pack for the way it was based on actual historical events; the only other books in the series that do anything like that are Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and Return of the Mummy. Overall, it mostly lives up to my nostalgic love and was still fun to read in spite of knowing all the twists. A Night in Terror Tower is easily one of the strongest books in the series.
ERMAHGERD #27: A Night in Terror Tower.
Still recovering from last month’s hairy adventure. Photo shot on location by Daniel Stalter.
Observations & Spoilers
A Night in Terror Tower doesn’t waste too much time getting to some good scares. Sue and Eddy are visiting London while their parents attend a conference. They’ve spent the day with a tour group, and their last stop is at the Terror Tower. We found out early on that Sue is a worrier, and Eddy is a pick-pocket. The kids learn about the prince and princess of York, who were locked away in the tower hundreds of years earlier. Then they get separated from their tour group and are promptly chased by a creepy-looking man who doesn’t speak. They escape him through some tunnels only to find from the lone night security guard that their tour group has left without them. They are on their own for getting back to the hotel. While the pacing was great and the scares were plentiful, I have a few issues that the adult geek in me needs to make note of here. So if you’ll allow me:
I have actually been to the Tower of London, which is what the Terror Tower was clearly based on. It’s a really fucking cool place; I highly recommend it if you’re ever in London. I can confirm that there are no dummies in the torcher chambers that were depicted in the book; the place does not have those sort of was museum vibes. I can also confirm that the Tower does not have just a single night guard. The place is run by the British Military and is fully locked down every night. Stine’s creative liberty to change the name and make it a fictional place are fine, I just found that contrast interesting. The issue I do take is with the kids being left by their tour group. As soon as their tour guide realized that the children he was tasked with taking care of were missing, you can be assured that there would be all kinds of people looking for the kids. These were the days before Amber Alerts, but this scenario seems highly unlikely even in the nineties. As a kid reading this, being left behind in a scary place would be an absolute nightmare so I understand the plotting choice. No one reads the Goosebumps books for their historical and cultural accuracy. So on that note, these are very forgivable plotting choices.
So the kids take a cab to their hotel, but when they go to pay they found out their money isn’t real. When they go inside to find their parents to pay the cab driver, their keys don’t work for their room. They ask about their parent’s conference at the front desk but turns out there is no conference. That’s when Sue and Eddy realize that they can’t remember their parent’s faces or even their own last names. This here is easily one of the most terrifying things I can imagine happening; to have your entire sense of reality crumble in a matter of minutes. I would rate this as one of the scariest moments in any of the books, which puts it right up there with The Ghost Next Door and Welcome to Dead House on the scare rankings. I don’t have actually scare rankings, but those two stand out as two of the scariest, and A Night in Terror Tower ranks right up there with them.
The kids try to eat at the restaurant but duck out the side entrance when they spot the cab driver looking for them. Then they are finally caught by the creepy man in black. He demands that Eddy return something to him, and Eddy reluctantly returns three stones to the man. It turns out Eddy the pick-pocket had swiped them during their earlier encounter. The creepy man then stacks the three stones on top of one another in his hand and starts chanting. Everything around Sue and Eddy changes, and they find themselves in a dark candlelit hallway. They wander until they find some people dressed in strange old-fashioned clothing. They try to ask for help but the people just seem afraid of them. Then one of the people says he recognizes them. Sue and Eddy get scared and run. They find their way outside where it is inexplicably daylight. The world outside is unrecognizable; there are no cars or tall buildings. If you haven’t put it together yet, the kids have been brought back in time. What we still don’t know is why.
Sue loses track of Eddy when again asking for help. She spots the creepy man in black looking for her and runs. She offers a woman the coins she has to hide her. The woman takes the coins and tells Sue to hide in a large basket. As soon as Sue is inside, the woman goes back on her word and brings the man in black directly to Sue’s hiding spot. The woman refers to the man as the Lord High Executioner. Sue is latched in the basket and taken back to the Terror Tower, where she is reunited with Eddy. While Sue and Eddy are commiserating, an old man comes into their prison room at the top of the tower and introduces himself as the king’s sorcerer, Morgred. If you sense an info dump coming that explains everything in a few pages, then you would be correct. This, and Morgred’s logic are my two biggest gripes with the book. But I will get more into that after the jump.
Morgred reveals that Sue and Eddy are actually Princess Susannah and Prince Edward of York. Their uncle had killed their parents to usurp the throne and planned to have the kids killed next. That’s why Morgred used his powers to send the prince and princess to the future, but he was rushed and was unable to complete their memories. Then the Grand High Executioner stole the stones and went to the future to find the children. Now Morgred has his stones back, but he will be killed if he attempts to help the kids again. He apologizes, hugs them, and leaves. Now, there are a lot of inconsistencies with Morgred’s logic here. First, he gave up way too easily after failing the first time. Why not use the stones to go back in time and stop the killing of the king and queen? Why of all years did he pick the early nineties to send the kids to? How did the Grand High Executioner get around modern-day London and how was he not traumatized by the culture shock alone?
It’s one of those plot holes that almost every time travel story creates to some degree. If I could forgive Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for essentially the same thing, I can forgive this book as well. It still places Morgred on the list of adults in Goosebumps books that make incredibly baffling decisions that defy all kinds of logic. And no, I don’t have an actual list but I could definitely make one. Thankfully for the kids, Eddy is still a good pick-pocket in both timelines. When Morgred hugged them, Eddy once again stole the stones. He and Sue repeated the chants and suddenly find themselves being gawked at by a tour group in the Tower. Eddy had succeeded in bringing them back, and he brought Morgred with them to be their guardian. And with that, we get one of the rare Goosebumps “happy” endings. Sue and Eddy are still orphans, but at least they won’t get murdered and have an adult magician who can help keep them safe and pay for cabs.
Overall I still liked the book, inconsistencies and all. It was a good balance of adventure and horror. The pacing was great and it can be argued that this book was caused a chain reaction that eventually lead me to start this blog. I thought Terror Tower was a creative take on the real-life presumed murder of The Princes in the Tower. The Grand High Executioner might be one of the best and scariest villains of the series. It should be noted that he was very deeply committed to murdering these children. He chased them across several centuries to do so. I wish the ending hadn’t been rushed, and that Morgred’s logic and had been consistent. I think it also goes to show that there are many plot holes and inconsistencies that I am willing to overlook when the story otherwise hits all the right notes for me. That’s true of this book series, every book series, and even the movies I watch. It’s true for all of us, too. We all have things we are willing and aren’t willing to let go of when it comes to stories.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, A Night in Terror Tower is ranked 13th of 62, placing it in the middle-high tier of the series.
I really love this concept, and how it’s a play on actual historical events. It had a great balance of horror and adventure.
It almost pains me to take off a point here because the pacing was great, and the flaws were almost forgivable because of that. From the tour guide leaving without the kids to the Grand High Executioner’s marvelous ability to travel around a future London and easily find the children… the little things started to add up. Throw in a rushed ending, and it all gets harder to forgive.
One point off for Morgred. His plan wasn’t good, and he gave up really easily in the end. Sue and Eddie weren’t the most distinct characters, but I was so absorbed in what was happening around them I didn’t care. That’s one of the advantages of having thin characterizations. I was there in London with them, only it was a lot more fun for me.
Scare Factor: 2/2
Torcher chambers in ancient castles, time-traveling giant man who wants to murder you, and completely losing all of your memories. This book checks a whole lot of boxes.
This was original compared to the other books in the series, and it honestly avoids a lot of the tropes Stine sometimes leans a bit too heavily on. This one, in spite of its flaws, felt fresh and imaginative.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• I remember watching this special when it aired!
• That was a really dark opening with some actual torcher going on.
• Definitely not shot on location in London. Definitely spotted some stock footage.
• Morgred makes an early appearance as a ghost.
• They didn’t even bother to have stone stairs to the tower. Guess you have to take what you can get when you’re filming in Vancouver on a budget.
• This is off to a better start than most of these adaptations, even if the set looks incredibly low budget.
• The Lord High Executioner thwarted by bats instead of rats, I’m guessing because they are easier to CGI.
• I love how easily Sue and Eddy lifted a metal sewer cover. Those things are heavy as fuck.
• I quite enjoyed the snarky waiter. and the lady who was so helpless and rich and British that she couldn’t wipe frosting off of her own face.
• All the kids needed to do was go to the police and report the strange adult man chasing them, but then they just would have been trapped in the future with no memories.
• Their accents magically came back when they returned to the future. LOL at the script for that part. Just throw in “thee” here and there.
• I wonder how many of our ideas of what different time periods look like are shaped by poorly researched movies and tv from back in the day.
• They made Morgred far better by simply making him a prisoner as well. He wasn’t nearly as useless and easily defeated as he was in the book.
• I was wondering if they were going to have accents come back with their memories. I have to say; Sue and Eddie are far better actors than this show typically brings out.
• Overall one of the better adaptations, mainly because they improved upon the weakest parts of the book. And mostly that was just a matter of making Morgred less shitty.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #28: The Cuckoo Clock of Doom
Coming in July 2021.
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror blog series:
D.E. Athkin’ Mirror, Mirror