Goosebumps #34: Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes
I fully expected Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes to be a tired rehash of the Living Dummy books, so I’m happy to report that I was at least partially wrong. The book had strong characters, a fun setup with warring garden dads, and even had a little twist I did not see coming. It really had the potential to be a series stand-out. The biggest issue was the lawn gnomes themselves were introduced way too late. Sure, those opening chapters gave us some solid character setup. I enjoyed contemplating the business strategy of a store that exclusively sells lawn ornaments. Joe and Moose were sweaty, loud, and awkward in a way that was both cringy and realistic. Mindy’s embarrassment at her father’s sense of tacky lawn decor was hilarious and relatable. But what the book needed was more time spent with the gnomes and their origins. There was a missed opportunity to do some truly weird and creepy stuff that I know Stine can deliver on. All of this made Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes an OK but ultimately forgettable book.
ERMAHGERD #34: Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes. Photo collaboration with Lindsay Pacelli
Observations & Spoilers
Joe Burton is a chubby, sweaty pre-teen who “hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet” according to his mom. His best friend is his next-door neighbor Moose, who by every description sounds annoying beyond comprehension. Joe’s older sister Mindy certainly has a low tolerance for Moose. I found this whole setup incredibly relatable because I too was once an awkward, sweaty, pre-teen with annoying friends and an easily irritated older sister. The characters felt very on-the-nose right from the jump. It’s really a shame they weren’t given a better story to work with.
Joe and Mindy have a dog, Buster. He’s a Rottweiler who likes digging in their next-door neighbor’s garden. Mr. McCall, who is also Moose’s father, is an ex-military type who takes his gardening Very Seriously. Joe and Mindy’s family also have a garden and Dad that takes it seriously, but dogs like what they like and I guess they don’t have a fence. This creates immediate tensions between the McCall and Burton households. Especially because there’s some state fair contest that the two dads compete against each other in. This year Mr. McCall is growing some special kind of melon. Basically, Buster is caught digging in McCalls’ garden and Joe is forced to agree to keep the dog tied up. This takes up most of the first third of the book.
Things finally pick up when Mr. Burton drags Joe and Mindy to Lawn Lovely, his favorite lawn ornament store so that he can get some new lawn ornaments. Mindy finds their front yard incredibly embarrassing enough as it is, but Dad will not be deterred. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that Dad is a transplant from Florida. Anyway, they end up buying two lawn gnomes that Dad names Hap and Chip. He names all of their ornaments. Deer-lilah the deer ornament is my favorite. Joe thinks he sees one of them wink at him. Not the sort of creepy I was expecting, but OK I can roll with it. They carry the lawn gnomes home where Buster licks their faces. Joe thinks he sees a gnome’s face change to a look of disgust but the face has changed back by the time he gets anyone else to notice. The real trouble for Joe doesn’t begin until the next morning.
The next morning, Joe and his family are woken up by Mr. McCall. One of his precious melons had been smashed the night before. The dog gets blamed but Joe knows it wasn’t him. Later that day, Joe notices an orange seed in Chip’s mouth. The next morning sees Mr. McCall raising hell yet again. His remaining melons have been vandalized with black ink of some kind. Mindy reveals that she’s a total fucking snitch when she tells everyone she caught Joe sneaking out the night before (he had been going out to comfort thor howling tied-up dog) and that he said he wanted to smash the rest of the melons (because Mr. McCall sucks). No one believes Joe and he gets grounded. All over some stupid melons.
Things escalate when someone shreds a bunch of Joe’s father’s tomatoes. Joe tries to convince his dad it’s the fruit-hating gnomes, but dad just thinks it was Mr. McCall getting revenge. Tensions between the two households grow until Joe and Moose come up with a plan to set a trap for the gnomes. They sneak out and spy on the gnomes one night. Nothing happens for a long time but the gnomes finally move. They try to follow them but get caught and end up running from them. Then, Mindy the snitch comes out at the absolute worst time and gets her nark-ass kidnapped. BRB got kidnapped by gnomes!
Joe and Moose chase after the gnomes and eventually catch up to them. Hap and Chip confess to the children that they are actually Mischief Elves. They cannot help but do the things they do because it is in their nature. They had been kidnapped from a magical forest and forced to live as lawn ornaments. The gnomes beg the children to help them free their trapped brothers in the basement of Lawn Lovely. Joe, moose, and Mindy agree to help them if they will stop all the mischief. Now, I personally loved this little twist. I wish it had come much earlier in the book and gone somewhere more interesting than it did, but I like it. It was fucking weird and that’s what I continue reading these books for. Unfortunately, the kids are about to learn they probably should trust the word of two creatures who call themselves “mischief elves.”
They get to the basement and quickly realize their mistake. There are more than 600 gnomes in the basement, and all of them are ready to have some fun at the children’s expense. The gnomes are chanting and slowly encircling the kids when Buster the dog shows up! Only Buster quickly loses interest and wanders back off. Joe uses his dog whistle to call Buster back and accidentally finds out that the dog whistle freezes the gnomes in terror. With the horde of gnomes frozen, the three kids escape. Dad is sad about his missing gnomes the next morning and replaces them with a large plaster gorilla. Because of course, he did. Joe tells to the gorilla to be good and not like the evil gnomes, and the gorilla winks at him. And that is where our saga ends.
One place I will give this book props is that it didn’t just become a rehash of the Night of the Living Dummy books. I mean, it did rehash a fair amount of the plot points. But the core nature of the gnomes was different. I only wish we got to go deeper with it. Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes was almost good. It had all the right parts. It just needed to edit down its opening act to a single chapter, introduce us to the gnomes sooner, and then give us some more time to explore the weird and creepy culture of the mischief elves. The owner of Lawn Lovely could have been an evil magical poacher who was obsessed with lawn decorations. The elves could have had weird rituals with mysterious implications. The gnomes could have taken the children back to their magical forest and where they could be ornaments in their houses. The magical forest could have been in Florida.
In a lot of ways, I feel like Stine spoiled me with One Day at Horrorland. Now I expect every weird group of monsters in these books to have a depth and culture of their own. I will be disappointed every time it doesn’t happen, but I have hope that others can meet the standard. Here’s to finding out which ones do.
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, Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes is ranked 53rd of 62, placing it in the lowest tier of the series.
There were a few moments that felt fun and fresh, but not enough to make this something great.
I wanted less time in the opening with the dog and more time in the forest where the mischief elves came from. Other than that it did a nice job at steady escalation and even delivered some unexpected twists.
The characters were arguably the best part of the whole book. I just wish they had been given a better story to do things in.
Scare Factor: 0/2
Nothing scary about lawn gnomes smashing melons and whispering nasty things. I wish the book just leaned into the fantasy aspects and ran with it.
Not the most original but it avoided being a complete rehash of the living dummy books, and for that I was grateful.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• They got rid of Moose and made Mr. McCall a much bigger dick.
• Dad has no backbone. They made Mindy much less of a tight ass. She likes Dad’s Gnomes.
• Cool backward hat, Joe. Gives me some serious gym class MVP vibes.
• The gnomes were sufficiently creepy when they come to life.
• I do like that the gnome’s only motive is chaos and mischief. We got even less of them in this than in the book, though.
• The gnomes are frozen by weak flashlight beams but not by the much brighter set lights.
• Mom barely existed. It would have been nice to see a single dad situation in one of these.
• The idea of a garden contest just seems so silly. White suburban nonsense. It’s like letting people judge your personal space officially instead of just superficially.
• LoL at the major getting turned into a lawn ornament at the end.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #35: Shocker on Shock Street
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror blog series:
Richie Tankersley Cusick’s April Fools