Monday, June 30, 2008

#34 Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes

Phantasm XXXIV: Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes

Front Tagline: Keep off their grass!
Back Tagline: Someone's Been Stalking In My Garden!

Official Book Description:
Two pink flamingos. A whole family of plaster skunks. Joe Burton's dad loves those tacky lawn ornaments. But then he brings home two ugly lawn gnomes. And that's when the trouble starts.
Late at night. When everyone's asleep.
Someone's creeping in the garden. Whispering nasty things. Smashing melons. Squashing tomatoes.
No way two dumb old lawn ornaments could be causing all the trouble.
Is there?

Brief Synopsis:
I thought perhaps I'd misremembered Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes. Maybe it was one of the "funny" Goosebumps books? Remarkably, I didn't and it isn't. RL Stine wrote a "scary" book about gardening. RL Stine, for future reference, here's a cheat sheet:

Things that are scary: Monsters. Ghosts. Nuclear war.
Things that are not scary: Gardening. Gnomes. Gardening.

By now, you probably know that this was the last Goosebumps book I read as a child, and thus fittingly the last book of the original series to be covered by the blog. Before I revisited the book, I wondered if I'd be able to pinpoint the exact moment when I realized I'd outgrown the series. I got pretty far into the book before I was able to finger the breaking point, almost to the third sentence of the first page. It was probably never possible for a book called Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes to be good, but I didn't anticipate it would be this worthless. But don't take my word for it, take my word for it:

The book opens with a ping pong game. At one point protagonist Joe Burton serves the ping pong ball by kicking it instead of using the paddle, much to his older sister Mindy's chagrin. He then follows that up with a hilarious routine where he tells her there's a spider on her back. Oh man, and then, and there are tears of laughter streaming down my face as I write this, he tells her she's got something gross on her face. Isn't Joe the coolest? Don't bother answering, he's got this one:
Me? I'm not organized. I'm cool. I'm not serious like my sister. I can be pretty funny.
Must be a hidden talent. Joe reveals that he doesn't look like anyone else in the family. They're all tall and skinny and he's short and stout. Perhaps you're thinking that the twist will be Joe is actually a lawn gnome. I wish that were the twist. That is not the twist.

Shortly after arriving in the rec room, Joe's friend Moose sits on Joe's chest. I don't know either, let's move on. Moose lives next door. His father, Mr. McCall, and Joe's father have a running rivalry involving the produce they grow in their gardens. If that sounds exciting, good news, that's the entire book. The scary paperback with the dripping letters on the cover, it's about gardening.

Mr. McCall has it out for Joe's dog Buster, as the mutt has an affinity for trampling into the McCall's garden and digging it up. And sure enough, as soon as this plot point is mentioned, Buster is revealed to be digging up the McCall's garden. Mr. McCall comes out in a rampage and threatens the children and their little dog too. Boy, I haven't seen a McCall this angry since Gordon wore Casey's shirt. Joe pulls out his trusty dog whistle and Buster slinks back into the Burton's yard. I just don't understand how anyone can hate the Burtons' dog:

Joe's dad thinks it would be a fine time to visit the little old lady down the block, as she sells gardening supplies from the first floor of her three story house. The woman, Lilah, somehow stays in business, selling lots of garden-related paraphernalia, like New Jersey snowglobes and Truly Madly Deeply cassingles. Joe's dad is such a good customer that he even named a plaster deer after her, Deer-Lilah. Please note: that's not my joke. It's the book's fault!

Joe's dad loves lawn ornaments, even going so far as to dress-up the plaster deer and flamingos on his lawn for the holidays. Joe's mother however hates the lawn ornaments and finds them embarrassing. It's too bad Joe's father didn't marry John Waters. Well, I guess not everyone can appreciate the subtle social commentary of putting a beard on a plastic bird to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday. The worst part is that I didn't make that up, that's one of the holiday decorations in the book.

Joe's dad spies two darling little lawn gnomes and instantly purchases the small plaster men, eager to be a part of the Gnome Owners Association. Mindy warns that the lawn gnomes look evil in a poor attempt to generate suspense. Joe's father however ignores such frightful talk and cheerfully names the little guys Chip (because his tooth is chipped) and Hap (because either he's so happy looking or half-Japanese). Here is a list of better names for gnomes:

Gnome Chomsky
Gnome N. Clature
Gnomie the Clown
Lil' Gnomeo
Gnome Macdonald
Sean "Puffy" Gnomes
Gnomer Simpson

Walking back home with the gnomes in hand, Joe thinks he sees Hap change its expression from a cheery grin to a grim howl. Seriously, this is the book. I still can't believe it. Evil Lawn Gnomes Who Move Their Faces: The Book.

You can probably guess what happens next. Strange horrible things start to happen to Mr. McCall's lawn, and Buster the dog keeps getting blamed. Also, in between sequences of tomatoes getting squeezed and squashes getting, you guessed it, stomped, there are plenty of additional gardening scenes. However, the suspicion quickly turns from the dog to the gnomes when Mr. McCall awakes one morning to find someone has drawn smiley faces on his prized casaba melons:

Forgetting what we all learned last week with respect to what dogs can do, Joe is immediately suspected of the deed. Joe pleads his innocence and even brings in evidence of the real perpetrators: there's black paint underneath one of the gnome's hands and a melon seed between his lips. Perhaps the twist is the gnome is actually Al Jolson?

It soon becomes apparent that the rivalry between the neighboring gardening aficionados is escalating, yet the attempt to turn a gardening feud into a thrill-a-minute frightfest never quite pans out. Let me reiterate: some Goosebumps books are intentionally funny or lightweight, but this book plays it completely straight and expects the reader to be involved in a gardening war.

Joe becomes convinced that the gnomes are responsible and talks Moose into staking out the two houses to catch the lawn ornaments in the act. Moose cancels his big date with Midge and the two hide across the street on stakeout, in a scene which beautifully references everyone's favorite Emilio Estevez comedy, Men at Work. Eventually, the gnomes do come to life and start their terrorizing.

The giggling men start splashing big buckets of paint against the exterior of Joe's house, which is not part of the garden unless these gnomes have a really loose definition of what constitutes a lawn ornament. A confrontation between the gnomes and the children breaks out and at some point Mindy shows up and one of the gnomes drags her into the street by her hair. So the book is still just like any show on TLC.

The gnomes suddenly get very serious and reveal that they are Mischief Gnomes who were kidnapped from their native forest and sold into slavery. RL Stine is just about the last author who should be so cavalierly co-opting slave trade imagery. The gnomes reveal that they can't help causing trouble, it's in their nature. But, if the three kids will help rescue their friends being held at the garden supply store, Chip and Hap promise to leave forever. The kids agree and make their way to the old woman's house.

The other kidnapped ornaments are supposedly left gnome alone in Lilah's basement. Hap and Chip would have freed them alone but they weren't able to get in the basement window. Now with the help of the children, they'll be able to free their six gnome friends. The kids lower the gnomes into the dark basement and follow behind. Once inside, they see that they've been tricked. There's not six other gnomes. There's six hundred. Wait, you mean you can't trust Mischief Gnomes?!

The hordes of gnomes come to life and start attacking the children. Some want to tickle an unwilling Mindy, apparently unaware that "gnome means gnome." Other gnomes want to use the children as trampolines or play tug of war with their bodies. This is scary? It's not even all that weird because it's so ridiculous. The children are upset about being tricked and even more upset that the narrative has strayed so far from its fundamental gardening aspects.

Luckily, Joe remembers how gnomes are scared of dogs (but not all animals I guess) and so he calls for Buster to come into the basement using his whistle. But it turns out gnomes aren't scared of dogs, they're scared of dog whistles. All of the gnomes freeze into place as soon as Joe blows the trinket. Well, I'll go ahead and say it: That was convenient.

But the Twist is:
Joe's dad, distraught from mysteriously losing his two lawn gnomes, brings home an eight foot tall plaster gorilla for the garden. Wait, a what?
"I think it's a beauty, Dad," I said. "It's the best looking lawn gorilla I ever saw."
The twist is supposedly that then the gorilla winks and oh it's a shock, but the real twist is what the deuce is a lawn gorilla

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Joe and his sister Mindy, who disappears into a pack of wild living gnomes 4/5 of the way through the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Entering the Garden of Getting Even, Joe's father takes his squashed tomato and walks over to Mr. McCall, who happens to be wearing an all-white jumpsuit. Joe's dad hurls the fruit at his neighbor, in a scene that isn't at all telegraphed or predictable.

Minority Alert:
One of those gnomes on the cover appears to be in the middle of an offensive "Me Chinese Me Make Joke" routine.

R.L. Stine Shows He Is Down With the Kids:

Early 90s Cultural References:

Early 00s Cultural Predictions:
Joe is reminded of a zombie from a film with the unlikely title of Killer Zombie From the Planet Zero. This along with Chip's injury was twice in a book about gardening that I was reminded of Planet Terror. That's kind of a horror movie, but there isn't any gardening in that film, so in retrospect it probably doesn't seem quite as scary or exciting as Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes does now.

Look, Seriously, the Entire Book is About Gardening:
Maybe I haven't stressed this enough. I actually left out most of the gardening parts too, so just imagine how much worse it really is. There's an entire chapter about the whole family cheerfully spraying plants with insecticide.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 5/6:
Joe had no idea he and his family were about to begin "the most horrifying adventure" of their lives... as they walk into a garden store. Well, after this book, I'll admit it, the idea of any more gardening is a little frightening.

Great Prose Alert:
Anything is better than lawn gnomes who come alive and do terrible mischief.

Yeah, now I remember.

Next week, Blogger Beware will be presenting a retrospective covering the first 62 books. Along with many other "fun" categories, I'll be counting down the best and worst Goosebumps books in the original series. Think you know what'll make the top and bottom ten? You might be surprised.


Fear Street said...

This is

I never actually read the book, but I remember watching the godawful TV episode.

Books like this awaken my desire to skin Stine alive and boil him oil...

Anonymous said...

"Truly Madly Deeply cassingles"

loves it.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I knew this'd be worth the wait, but a horribly unfrightening and ridiculous book PLUS a Sports Night reference? Truly, Mr. Steele, you've outdone yourself.

By this time, I'd way finished with Goosebumps. Reading this, I'm glad I'd made that decision. I can't wait for the retrospective!

Zak said...

*claps* Congrats, Troy!

Believe it or not this was my first TV episode. For some odd reason, they left out the whole gnomes in the basement scene.

But to make up for that, they changed the twist ending so that Mr. McCall gets TURNED INTO a gnome and ends up on the Burton's yard, and they Burtons end up losing the "garden contest", because "we were about to award you the prize, but then we saw that really ugly thing on your yard... someone lacks taste".

Stine should take examples from the TV adapting guys. That's a great ending compared to this.

troy steele said...

Awesome. Did the episode accurately convey the book's fervent pro-gardening agenda?

Anonymous said...

I laughed at "Gnome N. Clature." Good or bad?

Paigealicious! said...

"L'il Gnomeo" FTW

Rachel said...

"What the deuce is a lawn gorilla?"

Hahahahaha. You would think that after being attacked by your lawn ornaments, the next step would be fewer lawn ornaments. You would think.

Big Bob said...

I dunno, I don't think you should immediately say "this book is bad because (concept) is bad". If Death Note can make eating potato chips seem dramatic, and Black Sheep make sheep seem scary, I'm sure anything is possible.

Not that I expect that kind of success from R.L. Stine, but it's worth keeping in mind.

Greg said...

The TV shows change the twist endings to the books fairly frequently. I specifically remember the twists to Attack of the Mutant and Be Careful What You Wish For were totally changed.

I expect that Monster Blood 4 will be in the bottom 10. Let's see if I'm surprised.

Unknown said...

Getting turned into a gnome sounds much better than a lawn gorilla. I mean, seriously? Did R.L. Stein/his ghostwriter seriously come up with that on his own, or did he really see one in a ridiculous lawn ornament store while researching for this book and then assume they were commonplace?

Clive Dangerously said...

Wasn't the evil neighbor on the TV episode played by R Lee Ermey? Or maybe he just looked like him. Whatever. Anyways I really liked the episode, it's a shame the book was such shit.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. I read this years ago and forgot about the gardening plot. Wow. (And I wasn't the only one who laughed at the gnome names!)

Congrats on finishing the (regular) Goosebumps series! I can't wait to see the Top 10 lists of next week!

Anonymous said...

This book sucks [/butthead]

Seriously, a lawn gorilla? That's just as bad as bee throwing. And the villains are just prank-causing gnomes. Lame.

The Guindo said...


Anonymous said...

I feel a little sad knowing that you've finished the original Goosebumps series. Oh, well. We still have the 2000 books left.

Anonymous said...

Great job finishing up the original series, Troy! I look forward to the wrap-up next week.

I'm also pretty excited to see Nightmare Hour now appearing on the sidebar. It's the only R.L. Stine book I can remember legitimately frightening me.

Anonymous said...

This one was totally worth the wait. All the gnome puns were amazing.

I never read this one, but the lawn gorilla (what.) holds a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, they had a giant gorilla decoration at the Carpet World, and my dad told me it used to come alive at night, just to scare me. Needless to say, had I been four, the "twist" ending probably would have freaked me out.

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one am intrigued by the concept of a lawn gorilla.

...Alright. I'm not.

Anonymous said...

David the Gnome was one of my favorite Nicktoons when I was a wee 'un.
Also, FTW?

Anonymous said...

nice review.

From what I've read, I believ that the top GB will be monster blood, and the worst will be horrorland.

Vandjack said...

What makes my memory of this book even better is I'm pretty sure that this was the most referenced "regular" goosebump book in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series.
I know for sure that they pop up in "Deep in the Jungle of Doom".

You have to know some arbitrary fact about this book to get a good ending when you run into them.

Anonymous said...

I've just thought of something else - the Goosebumps computer games. Would you be able to do either of those, Troy? I still have mine. Although last I tried, Disc 2 of Return To HorrorLand didn't work any more...

troy steele said...

I use a Mac, so PC games are out

Anonymous said...

I guess the games weren't awful, anyway. Maybe I'll dig them out myself and see if I can infiltrate one of those screencap communities. Oh, and since I'm here, apparently there'll be a new Goosebumps video game announced later this year.

Anonymous said...

I totally hope you cover the "Fear Street Nights" book that looked like, in your words, something that should be "airing on Cinemax at 2 AM":

I LOL'ed when I saw that. Classic.

Anonymous said...

hahahaha i love the dark knight arg reference

Anonymous said...

"Walking back home with the gnomes in hand, Joe-" Follows the smoke to the riff-filled land? That was a dumb reference, I apologize.

Anonymous said...

"That was a dumb reference, I apologize."

Are you kidding? Dumb references are what this blog is built upon, all due respect to Troy. :P

(Another great entry, by the way. Can't wait for you to do Ghosts of Fear Street.)

Anonymous said...

I'm going to put a bet on 'Chicken Chicken' placing somewhere high on the worst of list.

Anonymous said...

The only book that Troy admits to physically assaulting placing high on the worst list? EXPLAIN YOUR LOGIC, SIR

I'm crossing my fingers for 'How To Kill A Monster' placing on either the best or worst list... it doesn't matter which, they're both prestigious awards! :)

Zak said...

I was gonna say Chicken Chicken will be... somewhere.

I have a bet for "The Let's Get Invisible book" being high on the list.

Anyway, greg, the ending to Attack of the Mutant was the same in the show as in the book I thought! Well, in the book he bleeds ink, in the show you can see it under his skin and he's elastic so it's the same idea.

Anonymous said...

Aw chee, Troy, I really love the d-uh, Archie reference!

Anonymous said...

I say "Werewolf Skin" for best and "Chicken Chicken" for worst.

Anonymous said...

I'll say "You Can't Scare Me!" winds up on the Best list. I hope Deep Trouble II makes it way onto the Worst.

This is a hilarious entry. I didn't stop reading at this point, but I think I began to realize here that the series was in trouble.

Matt Rebeiro said...

Ahh, of course. Stalin's greatest asset was the gnomenklatura.

Anonymous said...

is that jemaine clement in that one picture about the dog? the guy with the black hair..and if so what is that? the whole joke completely flew past me but whatever thanks.

purplemoo said...

This is another one of the volumes I listened to on tape. I don't recall the flamingo with the beard, though... sounds made up. Moose is awesome!

"Not funny Joe!"

purplemoo said...

Moose and Joe have a regular Romeo and Juliet type relationship conflict don't they? Think about it.

Anonymous said...

I remember that "I'm not organised. I'm cool." line. Even when I was ten, that struck me as a really retarded thing to say.

Groggy Dundee said...

A Sports Night reference!?!?! You're the most AWESOME person in the history of the planet, man.

Temaire said...

Seriously, I don't know why you're trying to bust all of these Goosebumps books. I know they might sound atrocious when you read them NOW, after you've matured. But remember, the Goosebumps books are meant for kids aged 9-12! They don't have the more sophisticated analytical skills that more mature people have. So obviously they're not going to notice the cliches, repitions, and plot holes.

I would never read these books now, but I am not ashamed at the least to admit that I LOVED these books as a kid. In fact, I still enjoy some of the memories I've had reading these books.

So, rather than criticizing books meant for people half your age, why don't you do it for books that match you're reading level?

Anonymous said...

troy how did you miss better gnome and garden

C.L. Young said...

I actually read this one, and only remembered some of the descriptions they had in the beginning, which I thought were funny, such as the description of a bug spray whose label had a crying cartoon fly on it.

I actually remember the TV version better than the book because the TV version ended with that R. Lee Ermey-esque drill sergeant neighbor getting turned into a gnome and Joe's family losing the garden contest because the garden gnome that used to be their neighbor was in the yard.

Anonymous said...

I am WAY too, supposedly, old to read books about animated garden gnomes, but I thought this book was hilarious! My favourite, lame, lame scene;

"But then why don't you just get back to, you know, lawn gnoming or something?"
The gnomes pulled little pouty faces.
"We mean you no harm!" they cried.

Yes, I bought this book. It suck.
You are a fantastic reviewer!

VNightmare said...

I remember not really liking this one. I literally could not remember anything except Mindy was a neat freak who would've had the ornaments in neat rows if she had her way, keeps her closet in rainbow colors, and chops the top of her books so they look the same, and that there were six -hundred- gnomes, and not six.

Everything was a blank to me until I read this review. Thank you for reminding me why I did not feel too bad about giving this one away when I was younger.

Also, old cartoons ftw!

Unknown said...

lol as I recall, this book cause me to quite reading these books too...

minorityalert said...

I think the real point of this book is that Lilah and Joe's dad are clearly having an open affair. His mom hates the other woman, but is too much of a Dickensian heroine to say anything about it. "Deer-Lilah"? Really, Joe's dad? And you take your child to meet her? Shameless.

David T. said...

I would like to point out that this review references a Charlie Sheen movie, which would have been highly topical 2 weeks ago.

Carry on.

Rado said...

I remember this one pretty vividly, because it took place in Minnesota (which Stine pounds into the readers' heads) and I read it when I had just moved to Minnesota as a kid.

And I also remember that Joe thinks his sister is lame because she alphabetizes her books... which I did, too.


bacaninina said...

Well, after this book, I'll admit it, the idea of any more gardening is a little frightening.

HAHAHAHAHA that completed my afternoon laugh thumbs up! I like your posts TROY STEELE!(no i mean I LOVE IT!!!!!!)

Anonymous said...

The British version of this book manages to make the 'gorilla' twist sound even more stupid.

Guess how. Go on, guess.

Anonymous said...

benny here. first troy they did not really say anything about gardening in the tv show. second i thought you were right about the gardening scenes. third why is it called the revenge of the lawn gnomes. maybe stine was planning to have just the lawn gnomes before this one but it was never released,I don't know. fourth good 6/10 kind of annoying.

Anonymous said...

benny here. forgot to say something about this. fifth, page lil gnomeo is in a movie called gnomeo and juliet mabye they got that from this. they made a movie from you troy. are you going to sue?:)

Anonymous said...

How does the British version make it sound even stupider, Mr. Anon? I tried to guess but I'm drawing a blank.

CheeseVision said...

LOL, a huge gorilla lawn ornament in the yard?
It could work if they're going for a jungle safari kind of look, but on second though that's kind of pushing it and it may look gaudy.

Maybe R.L. Stine could make a spin off book, "Revenge of the Lawn Gorilla."

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog, and it is AMAZING. Not the least because of the Sports Night reference!! Genius.

Anonymous said...

Benny here. I just discovered that you made a reference to Sabrina, the teenage witch. Phantasam XXXIV, I love that show.

Benji said...

...and then in 2013 Stine released 'Planet of the Lawn Gnomes'. Oh, how I wish I were kidding.

Anonymous said...

How the crap did you pass up the infinite possibilities of "Gnomie Malone?!?"


jbwarner86 said...

Having just seen the Goosebumps movie and being fairly apathetic to the experience, I must admit, re-reading these reviews is making the movie look much better. For starters, the lawn gnomes are in it, and unlike in the book, they're actually threatening - they wield knives, they reform like the T-1000 if you smash them, and they hogtie R.L. Stine and try to burn him to death in an oven. At no point do they tickle anyone or paint smiley faces on melons. So, vast improvement over the source material, I'd say.