Officially now my favorite article every week to write, this week, RL Stine has two childhood nightmares to tickle our scare bone: classical music lessons and puberty. It’s Piano Lesson Can Be Murder and My Hairiest Adventure this week for Throwback Thursday, Goosebumps Edition.
Piano Lessons Can Be Murder
For as long as there have been pianos, there’s probably been kids that are tired of taking lessons. But for young Jerry, his regular visits to the Shreek Music School may be bad for his health.
Jerry and his family just moved in to a new house, which seems to be a common element to these Goosebumps stories. Everything kind of seems to go to crap when these kids move in to somewhere new, as seen previously in It Came From Beneath the Sink. I suppose it’s a pretty good way to introduce a problem, but even so, it seems to repeat some themes of previous entries.
While moving in, Jerry hears classical music coming from one of the rooms and stumbles across a piano that no one knew existed. Trying to impress a local girl, Jerry convinces his parents to sign him up at the Shreek Music School and immediately, Dr. Shreek is impressed. He makes special mention on how exquisite Jerry’s hands are and he comes off a bit creepy. Like, former college football coach sort of creepy.
On top of Dr. Shreek’s lack of personal space awareness, Jerry starts getting visited by a ghost, telling him to stay away from the Shreek School. When he tells his parents, they don’t believe him because Jerry spends most of his time in a make-believe world which, in all honesty, he’s a little too old to be in. While doing some investigation at the Shreek School, Jerry comes across Mr. Toggle, a man that works at the school who has an interest in robotics and technology. He seems like a nice man, but we always have to look out for the nice ones.
Jerry is done with taking piano lessons and when he tells Dr. Shreek, the old man has a meltdown, telling Jerry how much he needs his hands. The chase leads to a room full of pianos being played by…wait for it… disembodied hands! Not only that, but Dr. Shreek has been a robot the whole time and is just one of the many creations Mr. Toggle has made.
Apparently, Mr. Toggle is the mastermind behind everything and his one weakness when it comes to robotics is human hands. So he does what any insane man would do: he kills people, takes their hands and turns them into robotic piano-playing machines. That’s when the ghost goes into action. She forces Mr. Toggle, who was apparently her student before he cut off her hands, to play the piano for all eternity.
This episode throws a lot at you and I’d appreciate it more if it told a more succinct story. I feel the combination of robots and ghosts is a bit much and the story sort of suffers for it. Personally, the ghost aspect works the least and it could’ve been a story about some crazy ass dude that kills people for their hands. Instead, this story seems overstuffed.
Also, the ending has changed from the book. The book ends with all the disembodied hands teaming up to basically make Mr. Toggle disappear; maybe they take his hands just to get even. Either way, you supposedly never hear from him again. I think it’s a more satisfactory ending and puts the hands theme of the story to good use. In the show’s ending, that plot point seems superfluous.
My Hairiest Adventure
This is actually one of the lone books of the original run that I never owned. I know this because in 1994, I checked it out at the local library and never returned it, proving once and for all that you CAN beat the system.
This episode tells the tale of Larry Boyd, who is a Corey Haim look-alike that has a problem with dogs chasing him. And allergies that make him unable to run (he’s allergic to exercise, apparently). One day, during band practice, Larry and his friends all decide to slather on some tanning lotion in order to get super sexy for some audition. The audition seems premature, as there’s no evidence that any of these kids could actually play an instrument, but I digress.
In case you didn’t know, it’s probably not a good idea to just use a bottle of something you just find lying around an abandoned house. If it doesn’t turn you all hairy, it’ll at least give you hepatitis. For Larry, it starts to grow crazy hair all over his body. He’s a little too young to start looking like Robin Williams, so he’s obviously a little worried about his odd reaction to puberty and tanning lotion. Things get weirder when his friends start to disappear and their parents move away, denying the very existence of their children in the process.
It turns out that the tanning lotion was just a mere coincidence of what was actually going on. Larry finds out that he and his friends were dogs that were turned into human children by an experiment administered by his doctor. The injections he got every two weeks weren’t for his allergies, but in order to continue the effects of the experiment. As the experiment becomes less successful, it is ceased and Larry and his friends are forced to live out the rest of their lives in their dog form.
This is a pretty good episode with a decent level of suspense built into the concept. You don’t really know where this episode is going or what is going on with the children until the very end. It’s also a pretty interesting story with a built-in comparison to what a kid must feel like in the midst of puberty. I can’t remember specifically finding “more hair” when I hit this age, but I’d imagine it was a pretty traumatizing couple of days.
Also, this episode has a secretly awesome ending, because who wouldn’t want to be a dog? That would be pretty great, especially if you were aware of how awesome it was.