The Horror at Camp Jellyjam
Series number: 33
Number of pages: 128
Release date: July 1995
Tagline: Tennis… Ping-pong… Monsters, anyone?
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
Unable to fit in with the other kids at summer sports camp, Wendy, a non-athletic type, cannot understand what all the hype is over a little game of softball. Or a lap race in the pool. Or a game of ping pong. Over the course of her stay at Camp Jellyjam, she will about to learn the origins of everyone’s obsessive competitive streak. And it’s definitely not a prize worth winning…
The Story On the Pages
One of my own worst fears as a child was that I was going to be sent to camp. I was too shy to interact with just anyone and I hate sports and the great outdoors. I mean, what if the camp didn’t even have plumbing? I shudder at the thought. The camp presented in The Horror at Camp Jellyjam does have plumbing, so that’s at least something. Of course the overly competitive vibe of an all-sports camp run by hypnotized councilors working for a giant blob monster kind of makes the indoor plumbing a moot point.
But the The Horror at Camp Jellyjam doesn’t start with all that nonsense. It starts with a family road trip through what I can only assume are the Rocky Mountains. Here we’re introduced to the two characters we’ll be following throughout the camp: Wendy and Elliot. The pair of them are bored during this road trip and end up getting shoved into the camper that’s being towed behind the car to keep themselves amused.
Another set of caring, intelligent parents I see.
Of course the camper becomes unhitched and the two of them are pretty much guaranteed to die or at least sustain some sort of injury as it barrels down the forest covered mountain.
Unfortunately, Stine couldn’t very well kill off kids in such a realistic and statistically probable way. Against all odds they roll to a gentle stop just outside a property owned by Camp Jellyjam, where the motto is “Only the Best” and you better like sports because there’s literally nothing else!
As the two step out of the camper, a counselor named Buddy greets them with a big creepy smile and leads them towards the camp. He explains what they’re all about (sports), gives Wendy and Elliot dorm rooms, and then tells them to go enjoy some sports. Never mind that he just found them at the scene of an accident, they’re clearly minors with no authority figure around, they haven’t paid for the camp, and Wendy is desperately trying to get in touch with her parents to tell them their children are okay and to come pick them up. No, never mind all that. None of that matters in the face of sports! All important, life-defining, definitely not the worst way to spend your time, sports!
Elliot is all about this highly competitive sports camp but Wendy isn’t so sure. The more she observes, the more perturbed she becomes. For one, why are kids so gungho to earn King Jellyjam gold coins? Surely their just worthless metal coins with the camp mascot on them. And what happens after you obtain the mythical six that lets you enter the Winner’s Walk? How come no one questions that people that enter the Winner’s Walk are never seen again? Why doesn’t this camp full of children have outgoing phone lines? Why are the counselors warning her to be the best or suffer what might happen if she isn’t? Why is this camp’s mascot a pile of purple slime wearing a crown?
All of Wendy’s questions are answered after she takes it upon herself to investigate the disappearance of one of the girls whose dorm room she was sharing. She earned her six gold coins and then disappeared. The counselors claim she went home, but their shifty eyes and phony smiles say otherwise.
Wendy breaks curfew her second night at Camp Jellyjam and follows a group of counselors into the woods. They lead her to a giant dome where they’re all congregating and Wendy sees what’s really going on: they’re all hypnotised. They’re out of their own minds, no memories or information about themselves besides that they’re at Camp Jellyjam and that they need to threaten children to live up to the camp’s motto.
But who’s doing the hypnotising? And where are the kids disappearing to?
When Wendy ends up further into the gathering place than she intended, she discovers that King Jellyjam is real! It’s a huge, disgusting monster that looks like a pile of purple snot. It sweats snails, it stinks, and it needs to be constantly hosed down because it needs to stay wet and it hates its own smell.
The kids that earn six gold coins are spirited away to wash, and more than likely, get eaten by this monstrosity below the camp. Clearly this is definite proof that there is no God, because why would God create something like King Jellyjam?
Wendy escapes from the monster’s lair just in time to stop her brother from winning his sixth gold coin and becoming a slave himself. After tackling him to the ground to ensure he loses the track event, she drags him through the woods and takes him into the monster’s lair. Half to prove her point that she’s been right all this time about the camp and half to save the kids that are still enslaved by the monster.
The day is saved by Wendy telling the kids to lay down on the ground. King Jellyjam can’t get his fat fingers around them to eat them and, with no one constantly washing him down, he suffocates himself with his own stink. Why doesn’t it suffocate the kids still in the lair? Who knows. Maybe he’s just sensitive. That’s not even the most egregious thing that happens in these closing chapters.
As the kids escape the lair and try to escape the camp, the counselors surround them. The trance is broken when police run in blowing whistles. Wait? Police? Where did they come from? Turns out the town that was down the road got a whiff of King Jellyjam and they came to investigate. But how did the stink get there so quickly that the police show up in seconds to save the day? And why did stink demand immediate police action? And since when do American police run in blowing whistles instead of shooting guns?
Wendy and Elliot are picked up by their worried parents and they go home. The book ends on the two of them getting a whiff of something truly ghastly in their own house. Has King Jellyjam come back?!
Nope. The mom is just cooking brussel sprouts.
Always end on a joke, eh Stine?
I really identified with Wendy here in The Horror at Camp Jellyjam. She’s got an overbearing little brother who’s too intense for his own good and she doesn’t like competitive sports. Camp Jellyjam is a struggle for her, be it dealing with sports or Elliot giving her a hard time for not winning any coins, Jellyjam is not Wendy’s jam and I felt for the girl.
Elliot on the other hand is a little shit and I think I’ve already given you everything you need to know about him.
The camp counselors are an interesting bunch. Sort of a hivemind of plastic smiles, white shorts, and threatening children to win sports so they can serve their dark master King Jellyjam. I think the counselors might be the most interesting character of this book. Yes, I’m counting them all together since they’re a hivemind.
The hivemind counselors are always watching, always evaluating. If you’re not up to snuff, they’ll deliver warnings and then threats. If you win your six gold coins, they’ll spirit you away in the night. They might even spirit you away somewhere if you don’t win any coins. They pay special attention to Wendy at her events, telling her time and time again to try harder. What would they do to her if they decided she wasn’t worth the bunk they were giving her?
No, wait! The most interesting part of The Horror at Camp Jellyjam is King Jellyjam himself and the multitude of questions that he raises. He (I’m gendering it as a man since they call it a King) has no character development, no history, and no explanations. What is it? What in nature is this thing? How did it hypnotize the people that would become the counselors and who was the first? How did it ever survive before Camp Jellyjam if it’s own stick will suffocate it? Why/how does it sweat snails?!
Spooks and Scares
The Horror at Camp Jellyjam has two horror elements working for it. The main one is King Jellyjam, the horrifying monster that enslaves children to wash him. And let’s be honest, Jellyjam isn’t that scary. Everything leading up to Jellyjam is spooky. Kids disappearing, suspicious camp councillors, and mysterious earthquakes. But unfortunately, once we actually meet the thing that’s at the heart of all the creepy stuff, it falls flat. Once again, what we can imagine ourselves is a lot scary than this definitive creature that’s laid before us. And what’s laid out before us is a pile of snot that eats kids and sweats snails.
I suppose that could be someone’s worst fear.
What’s going to scare kids more than a blob of purple snot is the more subconscious trauma of not being good enough. Here is a camp filled to the brim with other kids that are all at the top of their collective games. Camp Jellyjam might as well be an Olympic training camp. Enter the two main protagonists. Elliot thrives there because he lives for the competition. But Wendy? She’s not into sports enough to enjoy a camp dedicated to them. She’s not even into winning. Is it because she’s got anxieties about failure? Self-esteem issues? Maybe she just can’t handle pressure, and the pressure this camp exerts is immense. It’s even in the motto: Only the Best.
Failure complexes are common in children, whether parents are putting on too much pressure to succeed, or they’ve got younger or older siblings that are showing them up, or they had to go through a grade in school with kids or a teacher that asked too much of them. I’m an adult that doesn’t have to worry about being sent somewhere to do something I don’t want to do, but the way this camp forced kids to play the sports, administering subtle threats about why they should play harder, it brought back a lot of the dread I’d feel when I knew gym class was approaching and the overly intense dipshits would get in my face about not trying hard enough to win whatever stupid game we were playing.
Oh yeah, Steven? This game of grade seven basketball is the pinnacle of your life? You’ll never succeed anywhere else doing anything else if I don’t play better defence? Good. I hope that lost game of basketball haunts your entire life. I hope you remember me calling you a dickweed and purposefully passing the ball to the other team on your deathbed!
Hmm? Oh, sorry. Nasty flashback there.
The ending of The Horror at Camp Jellyjam is a gag ending, meant to give you one last thrill before something silly gets said and we all move on with our lives. And move on I will. Goodbye Camp Jellyjam and goodbye organized sports and the douchebag that get way to into them!
FYI, my worst childhood fear never came true. My summers were filled with daytime television, trips to the library, and days at the beach with my grandma. Enjoy your stinky, purple monsters, sports lovers!