The Beast From the East
Series number: 43
Number of pages: 118
Release date: May 1996
Tagline: He’s a real animal!
Did I Read It as a Child?: Yes
The Story On the Back
Ginger Wald and her identical twin brothers, Nat and Pat, are lost in the woods. No problem. After all, Ginger did go to that stupid nature camp. Still, there’s something odd about this part of the woods. The grass is yellow. The bushes are purple. And the trees are like skyscrapers. Then Ginger and her brothers meet the beasts. They’re big blue furry creatures. And they want to play a game. The winners get to live. The losers get eaten.
The Story On the Pages
So. The Beast From the East. Don’t worry. It’s not racist. But it is weird. So strap in and hold on, folks. It’s time to play a rigged and deadly game of tag in the woods called Beast from the East and to flashback to any particularly colourful drug trips you’ve had!
The story opens with the Wald family hiking through the woods, looking for a place to set up camp. The family of five finds a nice spot by a stream and while mom and dad struggle to pitch a tent, Ginger (our twelve year old protagonist) is ordered to amuse her two younger, twin siblings Nat and Pat in the woods.
What could possibly go wrong?
Turns out a lot. And quickly. Because as the three play hide-and-seek, they wander somewhere that is definitely not on this plane of existence. The foliage is all weird and there are big, horrible monsters sneaking through the woods. Pat has the cowardly idea that just running further into the woods is the best thing he can do and takes off, leaving Ginger and Nat cornered by said monsters.
FYI, the monsters are kind of described like Sully from Monsters Inc., so just imagine them physically looking like him. They’re big, they’re blue, and maybe also have John Goodman’s voice if imagining Goodman threatening to eat you is your thing. No judgment here.
Ginger and Nat think they’re dead for sure as one raises its massive fist and brings it down onto Ginger… except it doesn’t maul her and eat her bones. It tags her, exclaiming how she is now It, or as they call It in their game: the Beast from the East.
Understandably, Ginger and Nat are confused. These things not only speak English but are playing a game of tag? They try to say they’re not playing, but the beasts insist they have no choice. As this school yard inspired game of “nuh-ah, you have to play, you’re It” goes on, Ginger (again, understandably) loses her shit and says she’ll play but she doesn’t know the rules. The only thing she’s able to get out of the beasts before they run off is that she has to tag someone else before the sun sets. Because the player that’s the Beast from the East when that happens? Well, they get eaten.
Nat, unlike Pat, who is literally lost in the woods for 70% of this book, sticks by his sister, promising to help her so she doesn’t get eaten. And so begins the game in this alternate dimension forest of Nat climbing a tree and almost getting raped and/or eaten by it, Ginger falling in holes, Nat sticking his fingers into holes and then getting locked in the penalty cage for doing it, Ginger and Pat hiding in caves full of bugs, and all three of them generally not understanding a single thing that’s happening in this game and rolling with the shenanigans as best they can.
And when I say shenanigans, I absolutely mean shenanigans. See, Ginger spends most of her time telling the Beasts that she has no idea how to play their game, but by a bunch of happy accidents that happen to correspond with rules and tricks of the game (coloured stains on her hands, clouds covering the sun, etc), no one believes her and she’s forced to play. This is actually what saves her in the end.
While Nat is locked in the penalty cage, Ginger finds Pat and plays out the last few minutes with him. She has managed to tag someone else to make them the Beast from the East, but because we need a nail-biting finale, she’s tagged at the last possible second and becomes dinner once again. The girl is a little disenchanted to say the least.
As the Beasts begin preparing her and Pat for dinner, Nat suddenly appears, having escaped the penalty cage. Seeing the identical twins for the first time together, the Beasts exclaim that they’re only Level One players, and pulling off a clone move like that is Level Three. The whole game is moot, Ginger and the twins are set free, and directed how to get home to their own dimension with apologizes for the whole wacky day and for wasting their precious Level Three time.
As the three stride confidently down the path back to their dimension, they’re stopped by another Beast. Ginger has let her Level Three player status go right to her head and tells him to get out of the way because they’re Level Three.
“You’re Level Three? So am I! Tag! You’re It!”
The book ends with three kids surely dying. But in an implied way, so it’s not violent or sad or anything.
Of The Beast From the East’s characters, there’s only three human ones to look at: Ginger, Nat, and Pat. Really only two if you take into account that Pat was absent through most of the book, cowering in the woods. Probably weeping.
Let’s start with Ginger. First off, I love the name Ginger, but would a kid born in the late 80s ever get named Ginger? I mean, the Spice Girls weren’t even a thing yet!
I think Ginger may be one of the most caring siblings we see the Goosebumps series. Her two twin brothers are annoying, but she cares about them and makes it a point to protect the little idiots. Pat’s a lost cause, but Nat returns the favour by trying his damnedest to help his older sister not get horribly eaten come the end of the day. It’s always nice to see siblings looking out for each other in kid’s media, especially sisters and brothers. As little as you see same gender siblings getting along, you see it even less with opposite gender siblings.
As for the Beasts, do they belong under characters or spooks and scares? They speak English, thanks to a briefly mentioned and never explained translator that they keep… somewhere on their bodies? Somewhere in the forest? Who knows. The Beasts also have names: Fleg, Gleeb, and Spork being the ones you hear over and over again. But they’re dumb names and a name alone doesn’t make a character.
Spooks and Scares
The Beast From the East is a Goosebumps book that slips in the fear on a subconscious level, rather than jump out of the shadows type scares (like The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight) or the tense, brooding atmosphere spooks (like Welcome to Dead House). The Beasts might be someone’s fear, being eaten alive (as they threaten to do) is also a valid fear. But I think the underlying fear of not having any control or knowledge about what’s happening to you is what’s going to cause the most meaningful anxieties in the reader.
All Ginger wants throughout The Beast From the East is some control. She wants a say in the game that’s going to determine her fate. But she doesn’t get any. Ginger has to struggle through the situation, goaded on by those that know how to play but refuse to tell her how to. There are lives on the line, but no one will tell her what she needs to do to succeed because it’s a rigged system that preys on the ignorant. The ignorant that have been kept forcibly ignorant. After all, if she’s got no idea how to manipulate the game, or if the game was never made for her in the first place, then she loses and the Beasts get an easily exploited dinner.
If none of that sounds relatable, you’re probably a white, cis, able-bodied male and will probably defend the Beast’s right to privilege.
This game isn’t a simple diversion to pass the time, it’s a way for the Beasts to keep a dominance over the forest. They claim the playing field is even and fair and refuse to hear complaints that it’s not. If Ginger can’t play the game as well as the Beasts it’s not because it’s rigged or they have an innate privilege, it’s because she’s just not trying hard enough.
Then comes the twist at the end. Ginger has exploited the system for her own gain and believes she’s above it all now: the system is hers. But with the emergence of another Beast comes another regulation meant to keep her under someone else’s foot.
But it’s not the Beasts’ fault; Ginger just didn’t try hard enough. Don’t claim otherwise or you’re a reverse racist!