The Barking Ghost
Series number: 32
Number of pages: 117
Release date: June 1995
Tagline: Bad Dog. Really BAD Dog.
Did I Read It as a Child?: Yes
The Story On the Back
Scared of his own shadow. That’s what everyone says about Cooper Holmes. But when the Holmeses move into a new house deep in the woods, scary things really do start happening. Problem is, no one believes a scaredy-cat like Cooper. But then no one else heard the bone-chilling barking late at night. Or ran into two evil-looking dogs who disappeared into thin air…
The Story On the Pages
Stine isn’t a fan of the ghost animal angle. For good reason. A ghost animal means a dead animal. And that’s sad. Killing a kid for a ghost story is no problem, but killing a dog? You’re overstepping there and no one is a fan. Despite knowing that John Wick is a good movie, and that no actual dogs were harmed during the production, I still can’t watch it. I’m not down to see animal violence/death and neither is Stine.
It put him in an awkward place with The Barking Ghost to be sure, and caused for an ending that’s how you say… god awful. But, like always, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story starts with Cooper, an easily scared twelve year old, trying to get to sleep in his new house. His new house is in a dense forest in Maine, which is clearly a nod to Stephen King. And as Stephen King would claim, the only place in the world where scary shit goes down, is Maine. So the kid who’s easily frightened is having a hell of a time getting to sleep.
First he hears something stomping around the backyard. This turns out to be a bunny rabbit. Then he hears something breathing under his bed. Which turns out to be his older brother Mickey looking to scare him. Then he hears dogs barking and howling in the woods. But I mean, they’re just dogs so I guess he’s fine enough with that to go to sleep.
The next day when he gets up, he heads to his backyard, which is surrounded on three sides by dense forest, to look for dog tracks in the mud. He wants to maybe find the dogs because he worries they’re lost. So throwing caution to the wind (which is really strange for a self-proclaimed coward), Cooper heads off into the woods.
He doesn’t find the dogs but he does find a girl named Margaret Ferguson, who goes by the name Fergie. “Like the duchess”, she says. Yes, because what pre-teen American girl in the 1990s didn’t know everything there was to know about the royal family?
Fergie informs him that the woods are haunted and that he should pack up his stuff and go before it’s too late before she suddenly takes off herself. Cooper doesn’t want to think anything of it until he runs into a pair of giant, black Labrador dogs that seem to appear and disappear out of thin air at random.
Of course no one believes him about the dogs, or Fergie’s claim of a haunted forest, and Cooper even learns later that Mickey had met Fergie the day they moved in and put her up to the prank of saying there were ghosts because obviously if you’re an older brother, you’re a dickwad.
But Cooper sticks by his story that there are some strange dogs in the woods and they bark like crazy at night. They even manage to get into his house at night and cause a stir. A stir that only Cooper can hear. I wonder what they want him for?
After a few crazy encounters with the ghost dogs, including having them steal his peanut butter and jam sandwich and then jump right through a wall, Cooper and Fergie decide to figure out exactly what’s happening.
Everything up to this point? It’s fine. Not great, not outstanding, but fine. It’s a story that fits a mold and Stine could have done some very spooky things having Cooper and Fergie explore a dark forest looking for ghost dogs. But those very spooky things don’t happen. What happens instead of a sad, spooky story about ghost animals, we get what The Barking Ghost becomes.
Cooper and Fergie are confronted by the ghost dogs as soon as they leave the house and it turns out they don’t want to attack them, they want to lead them somewhere. The somewhere turns out to be a shack in the woods. Oh goodie, because forest hermits that live in shacks love to be intruded upon!
But it’s not a hermit. Not even close. A hermit I would gladly take over what we get.
What we get is… *sigh* the Changing Room. The dogs push the duo into a well in the shack and then explain to them that they were humans once. They were cursed two hundred years ago and have been haunting these woods for two people to switch places with since then. So the Changing Room (yes, it was stylized with those capital letters because it’s important we know this is a proper name) will change the dogs into Cooper and Fergie and Cooper and Fergie into ghost dogs.
The next, and last, 30% of the book features thrilling scenes in which Cooper steals liver off his doppelganger’s dinner plate, almost gets the pound called to pick them up, and getting itchy because they have fleas.
In the last few pages of the book, the two manage to drag their bodies back to the well/shack to push them in and change back. But they don’t change. At least not back into their own bodies. They change into chipmunks because two got into the shack.
The story ends with Cooper saying their best course of action is to find some acorns because he’s hungry.
Oh Lord… where do I even start with this? No, actually, I know. Let it be known that Stine officially went on record saying that The Barking Ghost is one of his least favourites of the original series and that it 100% shows throughout. There is no passion here and the ending is just a hot mess pulled out of his ass to avoid bumming kids out with actual dead dogs.
Listen, I don’t want to hurt animals.
I find that animal violence usually plays the same roles as rape in narratives. This horrible thing happens to someone other than the POV to drive the POV’s story forward. It’s a gimmick more often than not. That being said, I don’t want to read about hurt/dead animals, but if you can kill some dogs offscreen for the narrative in Ghost Beach, why couldn’t that be done here as well? Consistency is what Stine lacks most of all, and The Barking Ghost is a great example to prove it.
Great example as in good empirical evidence, not that The Barking Ghost is a good book.
The Barking Ghost sucks.
I feel like come the end of the The Barking Ghost, the only characters that matter to me at all, are the dogs. Or rather, the humans that were turned into dogs and cursed to haunt these woods of Maine for… reasons.
But what is there to say about them? All we know is that they were cursed two hundred years ago and got super lucky that these two twelve year olds were stupid enough to follow two huge dogs into the woods at night. And they’re chatty. They exposition the shit out of Cooper when he asks what’s going on.
I’m curious about why they became dogs. Who did they piss off? Was Maine ripe with witches and warlocks two hundred years ago? Given the fact that they push Cooper and Fergie down a hole, did they even ever encounter a magical being or did the dipshits literally just fall down a hole themselves?
Questions to ask, but Stine doesn’t care enough to answer them. So fuck it, why should any of us care?
Spooks and Scares
Like most of the more blasé Goosebumps books, there is something that could have been done and done well with The Barking Ghost, and again I think it comes down to the perspective that Stine choose to tell this story through. If he’d stuck with the whole “humans turned to dogs” angle, the focus should not have been on the next human that was going to become a dog, it should have been on the set of humans that were already dogs.
It would have been so easy to simply write this story out of the POV of a twelve year old that lived two hundred years ago and, I don’t know, knocked over a witch’s mailbox to get cursed. Having the dogs be devices for Cooper isn’t right, and that’s what you get when the dogs aren’t the POV. Flip that situation and you’ve got reasoning for actions and a more intriguing plot overall.
Do I want to hear about what it’s like to live two hundred years as a ghost dog? I do. At least more than I want to hear about Cooper’s snowglobe collection!
Having a couple pages of nonsensical exposition dropped near the end of the book because Cooper (and by extension us as the readers) needed to be filled in, changes how the logical procession of the story should have gone. That can sometimes be a good thing, but only if the author has a grasp of what they want the tone and purpose of the overall story to be.
Something that Stine has gone on literal record saying that he didn’t have for this story.
So just read Cujo. I’m not a huge fan of Stephen King either, but you’re bound to enjoy his dog starring book more than The Barking Ghost. Hell, you’re bound to enjoy watching a dog scooting its dirty asshole over a clean, white rug more than The Barking Ghost.