Friday, July 17, 2009

Fear Street Sagas: Children of Fear, or “By Nature Evil”


We begin with Luke Fier, hero of the novel, trapped in a dark cellar with a tangle of snakes, who are all intent at killing him as soon as the candle he has burns out. Why is it that snakes are afraid of a little fire, do you think? I’m remembering Indiana Jones here, how snakes don’t slither into the torchlight, but is that really accurate? As a rattlesnake, I’m not sure the weak flicker of one candle would get between me and my dinner, but as a rattlesnake, I’d probably be awesome, so I’m not sure if that means anything. Anyways, Luke here is protected by the candlelight, and decides that he is going to write his life story on the wall while he waits to die, because someone needs to know the truth! He uses a rusty nail and his own blood. Since he’s about to be eaten by snakes, he has no fear of tetanus.

Western Pennsylvania, 1876

Luke is tilling his farm, as he contemplates his parent’s tragic death 6 months ago. The horses pulling their carriage went mad as they were driving along a ravine, and the carriage rolled over, killing everyone inside. This leaves Luke as a 16 year old farmer and sole provider for his younger siblings, Leah and Corey. Unfortunately, farming is not Luke’s forte, and they are thisclose to losing the farm. Luke is also anxious about Corey, as the little guy has been mute since their parents died. He and Leah constantly try to get him to speak, but he stubbornly refuses. Being the responsible guardian that he is, Luke takes them all to the county fair, where Leah enters into a horse race with a winning of $50, enough to save the farm!

Leah has a special talent with animals, a gift one could say, inherited from her father, and feels confident she can win this. So do the mean bullying brothers Thomas and Earl Wade, who at first won’t let her enter the race, because “yer a gurl.” She does enter, and is ready to kick some ass, when the Wade brothers (I’m sorry, they just sound dumb, don’t they) try to take her down. They keep grabbing her horse’s bridle as she rides, nearly causing her to fall. Then, all of a sudden, Thomas’ horse attacks Earl’s horse, and they all come tumbling down, except for sure-footed Leah, who goes on to win the race. Only everyone in town says she’s evil, and the mayor won’t give her the prize money. That’s one way to save a buck, I guess. Try using that one tomorrow at Starbucks: “I’m not going to give you this money because I’m pretty sure you’re evil.”

Well, it works for the poor Fier kids, who go home in defeat. Just then, Luke’s neighbour Jack comes riding in to warn Luke about a strange sickness that is affecting all the cows in the village. Apparently green slime comes out of the noses, then they go crazy and have to be put down. Like, mad cow? Luke’s cows are fine, but as they are checking on them, Jack sees Leah feeding a wolf and freaks out. I guess that’s valid. Leah checks over the cows and is confident that they will be fine, and she’s right. But it becomes a little suspicious when they are the only cows in town that are spared the illness.

It also doesn’t help her case when they go to the general store, and a huge poisonous snake is found in there. As all the townspeople flee, Leah just wraps the snake around her, saying she’ll release it out in the wilderness where it belongs. So, it doesn’t take long for an angry group of men to show up there in the dead of night to kill Luke’s cows, leaving a head on the porch (ooooh, early-times mafia!) Attached is a note: Our cows die – your cows die. Stop your sister. Or we will.

That week Luke gives out the last of his money to keep the farm. That night, a mob of villagers burn down their house, demanding Leah. The Fier children come choking out of the burning building to see all their animals slaughtered, and the men prepared to hang them all. This is definitely the correct way to deal with mad cow, let me tell you. As they converge on the three of them, all of the men’s horses flip out and run away, leaving them alone. The Fiers flee, taking refuge in the forest. A wolf brings Leah food to feed them. That’s actually a pretty handy gift to have.

The next morning, the Fiers happen across the orphan train. Well isn’t that convenient. The orphan train is a train that keeps poor parent-less children on board, stopping in towns to see if anyone wants to buy cheap labour (ahem!) I mean adopt them. Dear god, was this early Child Services? Jesus it sounds a little too much like a slave train to me, but the Fiers have nowhere else to go, so they hop aboard. Luke promises Leah and Corey that they will not be separated, no matter what. Once on the train, they are bullied by a group of boys, one of whom holds Corey over the side of the train. They are all attacked by bees. Leah finds this endlessly amusing, saying they deserved it.

Luke ponders his situation at night, and spots a beautiful girl his age. He gets up the nerve to go talk to her – her name is Mary, and is sweet but shy. They fall in love. Luke is happier on the orphan train then he has in a long time. They stop the next morning at the next town, and everyone gets off to be inspected, weighed, and potentially “adopted.” Leah dislikes being shown off like a hog at a fair (her words, not mine), and I have to agree with her. One of the bullies from the other day looks like he might be bought, when all of a sudden a good-natured dog goes berserk and rips his cheek off. Leah thinks this is brilliant, while Luke begins to wonder if Leah is using her powers for evil.

Leah attacks Luke that night for thinking she’s evil, throttling him while he’s asleep. Um, probably not helping your cause there, Leah. Luke is more convinced that Leah is unhinged, and he should be on the lookout for bees or wild dogs and such. Another bully steals Luke’s porridge the next morning, but it turns out to be full of leeches. Yeech! Nightmares about porridge for days now. Luke thinks that Leah had something to do with the leeches, that they were in fact intended for him.

The matron of the train demands Corey speak, or he’ll be removed from the train – take that, Child Services! Next thing you know, she is murdered by a murder of crows. Hmmm, the evidence is mounting. Luke is certain that Leah is evil, but still loves his sister and doesn’t know what to do. He goes to talk to Mary about it, but at that moment she is unfortunately bit by a black widow spider. Luke climbs to the roof of the train and heroically jumps to the engine car to get the engineer to stop as someone needs medical attention. Alas, too late! Mary dies. Her last words are “I saw the evil, Luke. You must kill ...”

Luke is certain Leah is the killer, but he doesn’t want to kill her. They get off the orphan train at the next town, ominously named “Last Chance.” They bury Mary, then go find work. They meet the Greens, a lovely child-less couple, who immediately take them in. Because it’s always that easy. They are mainly happy with the Greens, although Mrs. Green wants Leah to be a lady, and Leah isn’t very lady-like. She does play with wolves, after all. Mrs. Green gets fed up and threatens to send Leah away for being wilful. Leah runs to the barn, and because she is so upset, all the animals in the barn start to act strange, being so affected by her mood. Luke worries. He does this a lot, actually. Not a take-action kind of man.

Next morning, Luke and Corey go to feed the hogs, but they go insane. They break out of their pen and chase down Mrs. Green, trampling her to death. One can only assume they eat her body afterwards (I have a small fear of enormous hogs. Poll: What’s scarier: cats or pigs?) Luke can’t handle the guilt of what he knows, and tells Mr. Green everything, including his suspicions that Leah is behind his wife’s death. They decide to take Leah to the insane asylum, conveniently located down the street. Of course, Luke waits until they are in a horse-drawn carriage to tell Leah he’s locking her up, because he’s a moron. The horses go crazy and plunge through the plate glass of the general store. The store somehow catches fire (??). Luke manages to get himself and Corey out before the kerosene in the store explodes, but Leah is nowhere to be seen ... because she’s being hauled away into the insane asylum.

Luke tucks Corey into bed that night, promising him a better life, starting now. Well, maybe not now. Luke is awoken to Mr. Green’s scream, coming from the cellar. He creeps down there to find Mr. Green’s body, and innocent mute little Corey kissing and talking to a group of rattlesnakes.

I so knew that! I’m pretty sure I read this a long time ago, and pretty much the whole book my thought was, “It’s the kid, right? I’m sure it’s the kid.” Called it. Well, I guess it’s not really “calling it” so much as “read the book before and remembered how it ended.” Anyways, I should have known anyways, because mutes are kind of like mimes, and mimes are creepy.

So, apparently Corey also inherited a gift with animals, and would use it whenever people were mean to him, or to his beloved sister. And Luke had just been really mean to Leah. Corey locks Luke in the cellar with the rattlers, which is where we find him at the beginning of the book. The candle finally wears out, and the snakes are free to descend on Luke. Just then, Leah bursts into the cellar. Corey and Leah have an animal-off, as she tries to convince them to stop, and he tries to convince them to kill. Leah gets through to the snakes at the last second, reminding them they are creatures of nature, not of evil, and should not be used this way. Aw, that sounds like a nice message.

Corey screams that he hates them, and runs away. Luke and Leah are reunited. He’s wondering whether she got a bear or something to break her out, but apparently Leah just calmly explained to the doctors that she wasn’t crazy, she just had a gift with animals, so they let her go. Because that’s how it works in 19th century insane asylums. They decide to live in the Green’s house and take over the farm (despite never actually being adopted) and live pretty happily, despite Luke’s tragic tetanus (no, I made that up). But always waiting, wondering what will happen when Corey comes back ...

I remember liking this book when I was younger, and then secretly kind of liking it again now. Largely because I think being able to command animals is cool. However, I found the whole concept of the orphan train really disturbing. Did this really happen? And how is it that they can sell orphans like livestock, but a 13 year old girl can still talk her way out of a mental institute. It’s like no one was paying attention. Did you even try, ghost writer? An orphan train seems kind of gimmicky. I like that the creepy mute toddler was the bad guy, though. 13 candle-fearing rattlers out of 17.


marcelrochester said...

Books left unblogged (inc by FearStreet1):

Whoo: Circle of Fire, One Last Kiss, Call Waiting, Blind Date, The Witness

Meh: Seniors 6-12, Nights 1-3, Heart of the Hunter, Babysitter 4

L. K. Stine said...

We're working on it!

marcelrochester said...

Oh I meant for the focus to be on what was whoo and what was meh, rather than a way to say "hurry up." The blog is consistently updated, so I'm not worried about the pace. Some recaps I just want to read a lot more than others.

And I forgot to re-mention The Sitter, Eye Candy and Superstitious, his adult novels which I'm guessing are written at about the same level as Fear Street but have extra sex and swearing.

Anonymous said...

But of course the kid was the evil one! "It was the obvious person" isn't a twist unless you spend some ambiguity points on it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and pigs are easily scarier than cats because cats are manageably small - not too small, like spiders or something, you know.

A. M. Stine said...

Anon, you are wrong. Pigs are delightful and delicious, while cats have FIVE sharp ends out of six. Cats win hands down.

Anonymous said...

Pigs can eat your hands. Cats don't have big enough mouths.

A. M. Stine said...

Hahahah I don't think I have a response to "Pigs can eat your hands"

L. K. Stine said...

Do pigs being delicious make them less scary, though? Pigs being scary makes me feel better about them being so delicious.

Devika said...

Haha murder of crows! I can't believe that's an actual phrase. At first I thought it was a weird typo which resulted from your exuberation about another evil black bird murder in an R.L. Stine book (I could be projecting a little), but I discovered from a poetry buff co-worker you are poetically correct. A particularly hilarious review, if I do say so myself.

L. K. Stine said...

It's a phrase I've always wanted to use. Leave it to R. L. to give me the opportunity!

Keeley said...

Orphan trains did exist, although they didn't work on the hop-on-hop-off principle. It was a way to get orphaned kids out of the crowded east and into the midwest and west of the US, to pioneer families. There did end up being issues with people using their adopted kids as slave labor, and siblings being split up across hundreds of miles (which wasn't such an issue in city orphanages.)

Broken1again said...

I loved this book to when I was younger and I love it still! :) and i'd say one vote for cats, well if they are big cats like tigers and lions eek!! Although I saw a huge pig get hit by a car not to long ago and it just got up and trotted away...those wild pigs are kind of hard core!!

Broken1again said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mikey B. said...

The entire time I was reading about the Orphan Train I just kept thinking about Joan Lowery Nixon's The Orphan Train Adventures, a quasi historical series of books intended for elementary school children. I cannot remember the plot of an Amy Tan novel I read in college, but I vividly recall this series of books from my childhood.

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