by R.L. Stine
I loved this as a kid, and it held up exceptionally well. For a book that was written as a one-off promotion for a roller coaster in Ohio, The Beast is way better than one might expect. I’ve come to think of The Beast and its sequel as the lost books of the original Goosebumps series. I mean, it certainly reads like a Goosebumps book, it was published at the height of Goosebumps fame in 1994, and it even features a cover by Tim Jacobus. It’s a real shame it’s been overlooked among Stine’s body of work because it would easily rank among the best. The Beast is a great example of what Stine excels at, delivering a near-perfect balance of adventure and horror. Do you want to read a book about a haunted roller coaster that travels through time? Who doesn’t? Did I mention that there’s also a massive tornado? Sign me the fuck up. I felt like I was there right alongside James and Ashley through the last page. There were a few plot holes if I thought too hard about time travel rules and ghost biology, but the book itself was such a page-turner that I genuinely did not care. If you deliver the goods, the reader can forgive a lot. I save my harshest reviews for boring books. Keep me entertained, and I will write you a glowing review on my blog for my tens of fans to see. That seems like a good deal to me. I’m now officially a fan of The Beast. The only thing left for me to do is find an excuse to end up somewhere near Cincinnati so that I can finally ride the roller coaster itself.
If you enjoy my blog, please consider liking my reviews on GoodReads.
It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Recap & Observations:
The Beast opens with James and Ashley enjoying their day at Kings Island. Both of them love roller coasters, and their favorite is The Beast. They love it so much they decide to ride it again before the park closes. Two teenagers in line ahead of them tell them that the roller coaster is haunted. James and Ashley are skeptical, but Ashley thinks that the older kids actually believe it. They ride the roller coaster. It’s fun. You can too via this POV video, but it won’t be the same. Then James and Ashley get locked in the park. James is about to call his mom from a payphone to let her know that Ashley has a brilliant idea. They should tell his mom they are staying at a friend’s house, hide out in the park, then see if The Beast is really haunted. I don’t know a single parent who would have fallen for this ruse, but whatever. James reluctantly agrees to go along with Ashley’s idea, but only because she made a $10 bet that the ghost would appear. James can’t say no to a bet. Sounds like someone has a future gambling addiction to look forward to!
As soon as the sun sets, an eerie fog settles over the whole park. James and Ashley manage to outrun some security guards and eventually find their way to The Beast. From the woods, they see one of the cars take off. Someone is still operating the roller coaster! When they approach, they see a ghostly old man working the controls. He has long white hair and a long white beard to match. Before they can run, the ghostly man sees them and explains that he is just “testing” the roller coasters. This is a lie ten-year-old me would have absolutely accepted as fact. He introduces himself as PD Wright and gives James and Ashley a little history lesson. You see, before Kings Island, there was Firelight Park. It was destroyed by a tornado in 1932. Lots of people died. PD was there. And before you go and google search it like I already did, this bit of history was entirely made up by RL Stine for the purpose of this book.
PD offers James and Ashley a chance to ride The Beast at night. Just as they get seated, security catches up to them. But PD is faster and launches the controls. Riding at night is thrilling. James almost forgets his anxiety about all the trouble they are about to be in. But when the ride stops, no one is there. PD and the security guard are missing. The entire park seems to have disappeared. The kids quickly figure out that they have somehow time traveled to Firelight Park. Park attendees gawk at their bright-colored, out-of-place clothing. People seem to think they are part of the circus act. They try to find PD but have no luck. Then they get ice cream, and that honestly feels like an appropriate response to being lost in time. Do not pay attention to the fact that they paid for their very cheap ice cream with money from the future. This isn’t that kind of time-travel story.
Then a security guard tells Ashely she needs to change because it’s inappropriate for a lady to be out in her “underwear.” Adult men who are way too intersted in what young girls are wearing… what a weird creepy relic of the past that totally never happens any more. The guard starts chasing her, but pays no mind to James in his heavy metal t-shirt and ripped jeans. James loses sight of Ashley for a minute, but she pulls him into a tent. They get accosted by the jelly boy and the two-headed boy, who play up being circus freaks to scare them. The carnival barker breaks things up and tells the two boys to stop scaring other kids. James and Ashley flee the tent, where they meet a boy their age named Paul. Paul helps them find some old donated clothes to change into so they can blend in. He tells them about how his dad is out of work, so he comes to Firelight Park all the time by sneaking in through a hole in the fence. He agrees to help James and Ashly find their friend PD. Paul sounds like a good kid.
Before they can get to work, James and Ashley find out that Paul has never been on any of the rides because he can’t afford it. So they treat him to several rides including the shoot a chute. Again, they use future money. Again, we will not talk about it. The kids have fun. Then the wind starts picking up. James finds a newspaper and realizes today is the day the tornado will destroy Firelight Park. They quickly try to tell some security guards, but no one will listen to them. They need to find PD right away. This is when Ashley finally mentions PDs last name, and Paul throws them all for a loop by revealing his full name is Paul David Wright. Now Paul’s confused, James is confused, and Ashely is confused. Everyone’s confused, and there’s a tornado coming.
Ashley grabs a megaphone and tries to warn as many people as possible to take cover from the oncoming tornado. The Security guards get big mad about this and start chasing the kids through the park. PD shows them to the hole in the fence that he sneaks in through, and it leads them all back to the Beast. PD, the one from the past who has probably never seen a roller coaster, operates the controls while Ashley and James jump in one of the cars. Right before the cars start moving two of the security guards grab PD. The other 2 jump in the cars behind Ashley as the roller coaster takes off with the tornado touching down around them. I just now thought of how funny the slow climb part at the beginning of the roller coaster would be in the context of a chase scene like this. I was too distracted by the tornado when I was reading, though.
When the ride comes to a stop, James and Ashley turn around to face the guards. All that’s left of them are two skeletons that quickly crumble into dust. It’s been nearly thirty since I read this book as a kid, and that image has stuck with me ever since. I may have forgotten the context around it, but the image remains. It may even be a core memory. They are in the present day again, and the ghost of PD is nowhere to be found. We won’t dwell too much on the fact that PD was a child when he died but his ghost is an old man. Aren’t you stuck in your ghost age forever? Is there an authority on ghost biology I can consult? For the sake of this book, I have reasoned that PDs proximity to the time-warping roller coaster had either caused him to rapidly age or trapped him in some kind of loop. Either way, not knowing for sure was actually a refreshing bit of mystery to be left with.
The kids finally get caught by security and James’ mother is called to come pick them up. These kids are about to be grounded as fuck. Outside the park, they spot a memorial to those who died in the tornado at Firelight Park on June 15th, 1931. PD’s name is listed among them. Meaning he never made it out. This only reinforces my theory of him being stuck in some kind of weird ghostly time warp. I suppose the kids can take solace in the fact that he seemed like a happy ghost when they first met him. Maybe he’s quite content with his roller-coaster time loop existence. Regardless, it gives James and Ashley plenty to think about on the ride home with James’ presumably (and rightfully) very angry mother. That scene was not included in the book, but I have a feeling we have all sat through an uncomfortable car ride with a justifiably angry parent after doing some stupid shit that we shouldn’t have. At least James and Ashley got a killer story out of it.
Simply put, The Beast was really fun. I loved it as a kid and it held up better than many of its contemporaries. I would rank this one right alongside One Day at Horrorland and Welcome to Camp Nightmare. It certainly deserves to have better accolades than the overrated Night of the Living Dummy. The Beast must have been a successful enough book, as it did warrant a sequel. I will be, reading it. I do not have high expectations, but I am open to being surprised. Maybe we will get some more answers about PD. We will have to wait and see.
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), Intent (does it succeed at what it’s trying to be?), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes).
A time-traveling roller coaster that’s operated by ghosts and a theme park built on top of an old one; the idea was simple but effective. This book was an adrenaline rush horror adventure of the best kind.
No time wasted on fake scares, The Beast gets right into the action. I felt like I was right there with James and Ashley as they got lost in the fog.
James and Ashley weren’t the most distinct of characters but they delivered where they needed to. Apparently, theme park security guards are a bunch of dicks regardless of what decade they are from.
Scare Factor: 2/2
So many of my childhood fears are crammed into one little book; from getting lost/locked in someplace at night, to ghosts, and of course tornados. It could have maybe been done without so many malicious security guards, but I’ll give it a pass.
Have there been other time-traveling roller coasters? There’s none that I can think of. This one felt fresh, fun, and exciting.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
R.L Stine’s The Babysitter III