Goosebumps #14: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp
This one started out really strong, got lost around the midway point, and then rushed its twist ending. There were a lot of things I liked in The Werewolf of Fever Swamp; particularly the swamp setting and the main characters. I even liked the twist ending, but it left me with even more questions. I wanted to know more about Will, the Swamp Hermit, and Wolf. Each of them brought an air of mystery that was left unexplored. It’s almost as though the story had all of the right elements but chose the wrong narrative to follow. This could have easily been a much longer book were it not for the strict adherence to the Goosebumps format. There was also plenty of material left to make an interesting sequel.
Ermahgerd #14: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp
Observations & Spoilers
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp opens with Grady having just moved to Florida with his family so that his parents could do a study on swamp deer. Grady is excited about the move, but his older sister Emily hates it. The two of them get completely lost while exploring the swamp, and soon stumble upon the creepy old shack of the infamous local swamp hermit. This was a great way to kick off the book, with the swamp hermit chasing them before they eventually find their way out. It had a classic B-Movie feel that I appreciated. I found myself recalling the 2003 slasher movie Wrong Turn, which I just discovered has a 7th sequel coming out this year.
The story picks up with Grady convinces his parents to let him keep the giant dog who shows up at their house one night. They allow it, and he names the dog Wolf. I’m a sucker for classic “boy and his dog” stories like Homeward Bound, Where the Red Fern Grows, and A Boy and His Dog, so I found this element really pleasing. Wolf exhibits some strange behavior, but he and Grady form an instant bond. When several animals turn up dead, including one of the deer, Wolf becomes the primary suspect. Grady remains unconvinced despite the evidence piling up.
The other prime suspect is the swamp hermit, who Grady’s annoying friend Cassie thinks is s werewolf. I quite enjoyed the swamp hermit, although I wanted to know more about his actual backstory. I particularly enjoyed the scene where he chased the kids in the swamp while laughing maniacally and yelling ‘I’m the werewolf!” If I were a creepy swamp hermit, I would absolutely fuck with kids just like this. I could see myself getting really weird with it.
In the end, the real culprit turns out to have been Grady’s friend Will. It turns out Will was a werewolf the whole time, only Grady finds out too late. Now, I have a lot of questions about Will. Is he permanently a kid that turns into a werewolf? Did he kill his parents? How long has he been like this? Is there any connection to him and the swamp hermit? Did he eat their missing neighbor, Mr. Warner? I found myself wishing that Will’s secret had been revealed sooner so that maybe we could have had more time for his backstory. That would have been a really creepy turn of events.
Then came the twist ending. Grady gets attacked by Will in his werewolf form. He gets bit in the shoulder, but is saved by Wolf, who chases will down and (presumably) kills him somewhere off-screen. Grady passes out and wakes up back at home, having been brought back by the swam hermit. One month later, Grady changes into a werewolf goes out hunting under the full moon with Wolf by his side. Now, I liked the wist, but I was still left with questions. Why was Wolf ok with Grady being a werewolf, but not Will? Was Will a bad werewolf? Is Grady a good werewolf? What’s to stop Grady from eating the neighbors and killing his dad’s deer? What happens when he gets found out? Does being a werewolf mean he’ll be stuck as a kid forever?
Alas, we will never know the answers to my deep, substantive questions about this 25-year-old children’s book. There is no sequel in either the main or spin-off Goosebumps series, which is unfortunate. I mean, Monster Blood somehow got five sequels and this one didn’t get any?
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, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp is ranked 4th of 62, placing it in the top tier of the series.
It felt like this story had all of the right elements, but chose the wrong narrative to focus on. The most interesting parts of the story felt neglected.
The book started strong but meandered a bit as it got closer to the end. It also delivered a creepy on-brand twist ending, but it was one that ultimately left more questions than answers.
The characters all work here; I like the kid who lives by himself and is secretly a werewolf. I liked the swamp hermit with a mysterious past. I liked Wolf. The way they all played out against each other thematically was a different matter.
Scare Factor: 2/2
The swamp setting and the creepy hermit were perfectly scary, so was Grady turning into a werewolf. It could have been even scarier if we got to explore more of Will’s story.
A werewolf story set in a swamp is fairly original, but there was nothing new in terms of the narrative or what one might expect from a werewolf story.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• The actor who played Grady had a really weird voice.
• They totally ruined the swamp hermit reveal, which was one of the best parts in the book.
• I’m frequently baffled by the directing and cinematography of this show. All of it seems like an afterthought.
• Grady had a Haunted Mask sticker on his skateboard. Very meta.
• Those werewolf CGI effects were about what I expected, which is to say they did not age well. This show has not aged well.
• They gave the hermit a clearer story. In this version, he had been hunting the werewolf for years and blames Will for killing his family.
• Grady’s family actually encounters the werewolf, too. In the book they never do.
• The ending was much more ambiguous about whether Grady had been changed into a werewolf or not, which was a total copout. They just had him go out and howl at the full moon and cut to the end credits.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #15: You Can’t Scare Me
Coming in March 2020.