Go Eat Worms!
Series number: 21
Number of pages: 119
Release date: July 1994
Tagline: Homework was never this gross before!
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
Obsessed with worms? That’s putting it mildly. Todd is so fascinated with worms, he keeps a worm farm in his basement! Most of all, Todd loves torturing his sister and her best friend with worms. Dropping them into their hair. Down their backs. Until one day, after cutting a worm in half, Todd notices something strange. The rest of the worms seem to be staring at him! Suddenly worms start showing up in the worst places for Todd. In his bed. In his homework. Even in his spaghetti! What’s a worm lover to do when his own worms are starting to gross him out?
The Story On the Pages
Just to get it out of the way right up front, Go Eat Worms! is the Goosebumps book that R.L. Stine hates the most. Well, actually it’s tied with The Barking Ghost for his least favourite, but when you’re talking about a sixty-two book series, the percentages start to get a little wonky, so let’s just say Go Eat Worms! is bottom of the barrel for the author himself.
So in conclusion, Go Eat Worms! is not one of Stine’s favourites and it shows. It shows a lot. The end.
What? You want more!
Fine! Here we go with Go Eat Worms!, but remember you brought this onto yourself.
Go Eat Worms! opens in third person perspective (as opposed to Stine’s more standard first person) and we’re introduced to Todd, the main protagonist. Though protagonist is too kind a word for him because he’s an asshole to a startling degree. He collects/plays with/experiments on/and pranks with worms. Pranking his sister mostly. He puts them in her food and hair and is just a right prick. So he’s not the protagonist. He’s the main character.
Todd is obsessed with worms and is planning a science fair project where he has them in a house you can see in. So an ant farm, but with worms. Thrilling. He apparently needs more worms though because he heads out at lunch one day to dig up some fresh ones in his favourite worm spot.
He likes his worms long, purple, fat, and squishy. Yes, all that is said in book by Todd’s own admission.
Fuck this kid, amrite?
Well the worms seem to feel this way too because after about half a book worth of filler, worms start showing up everywhere Todd goes to torment him. The torment thing is all in Todd’s head, FYI. How could a worm ever torment someone?
They show up in this backpack, his sandwiches, his bedsheets. It gets so bad that Todd goes to speak to the worms in his worm collection to apologize and beg them to leave him alone. But it’s not actually the worms doing this. It’s his long suffering little sister finally getting some worm related payback.
Todd isn’t too pleased with this, but before he can plot his revenge, he’s shook for life and goes off worms entirely. What happens? Hold onto your butts, it gets random. His payback is going to be, surprise surprise, worm based, so he goes out to his favourite worm haunt and digs some up for his plan, but he ends up getting attacked by a monstrously huge worm.
It’s scared off via giant paper mache bird and even though Todd is fine he’s off worms for good now. He instead takes up butterfly collecting. Which is so much worse because you have to kill a butterfly to collect it but you’d never have to kill a worm. This kid just keeps getting worse and worse!
Seems like the bug kingdom agrees because just like how a giant worm attacked Todd before, now a giant butterfly is coming to get him. And the butterfly has a pin to stick him through with like he’s been doing to small butterflies.
The book ends with readers left to assume (and celebrate just a little) the death of Todd via pin poking by a giant butterfly.
Go Eat Worms! has one of, if not the most unlikeable main POV characters that Stine has ever written. What the fuck is Todd’s problem? This little shit delights in tormenting those around him with worms and, in turn, torments the worms too? He slices one in half at one point to make a joke!
Serial killers often start out by killing animals, Todd. Maybe fucking check yourself before you go from slicing up worms to slicing up the girl next door because she wouldn’t go to prom with you!
I will say that watching Todd become more and more upset as worms seemingly follow him around is satisfying. There’s nothing quite like watching a terrible character get their comeuppance and Todd getting increasingly paranoid and frightened around worms is sweet, sweet justice for how big of a dick he is.
Spooks and Scares
Go Eat Worms! is not a scary Goosebumps book. And that’s such a shame because I think it’s time that bugs get their due! Don’t get me wrong, bugs are an absolute staple in horror, but they’re not usually used as the main entity: they’re used to create atmosphere. Bugs are creepy, crawly, small, and fast. They can spill out of cracks in the walls, live in your bed, skitter through your food, crawl over your body without a care – there are never ending opportunities to put bugs in a horror setting and have them amplify that setting.
But despite being so easily used to show rot or squalor or to make your audience squirm because they’re wiggling over someone’s face, it’s hard to make bugs the driving force of a horror story. Because when you think of a big baddie in horror, they need to be just that: big.
Bugs are not big. Well I suppose some are, but for the purposes of horror they’re not big enough. Bugs also aren’t threatening because they don’t have feelings or any great amount of intelligence. Bugs run on instinct, not revenge, and sometimes one instinct is blocked out by another instinct, like food over running from predators. I can say that with a great deal of certainty because there have been a good many times I’ve turned on my kitchen light and the one or two German cockroaches that have ventured out to look for food have not run to hide.
I think Stine was on the right track with Go Eat Worms! because he had the idea of monstrous bugs acting as the protector to smaller bugs, but it wasn’t implemented right. Which means to say that we didn’t see enough of the big bugs. For the giant worm there’s a single reveal at the end after two very brief “hints” that something was happening below the surface. Those hints could have been implemented better as well, because they were just straight up mini earthquakes and that shit is scary on its own!
Here in Go Eat Worms! Stine once again presents a good idea, but presents it too late into the narrative. So instead of a vengeful worm god using its god powers to control small worms to go after Todd, we get worm pranks that his sister is pulling as (rightful) payback, but then we do also get an unprovoked god worm attack at the very end?
Typing all that out hurt my brain.