Front Tagline: Heads up!
Back Tagline: Two Heads Are Better Than One!
Official Book Description:
What has two eyes, a mouth, and wrinkly green skin? Mark's shrunken head. It's a present from his Aunt Benna. A gift from the jungle island of Baladora.
Mark can't wait to show the kids at school his shrunken head. It's so ugly. So gross. So awesome.
But late one night the head starts to glow. Because it's no ordinary head. It gives Mark a strange power. A magical power. A dangerous power...
A good book expands your perception of the world around you, challenges pre-existing notions, and forces you to reconsider past assumptions and positions. By this definition, and only by this definition, How I Got My Shrunken Head is a good book, as previously I had thought nothing was more boring in the world than watching someone else play video games. Turns out there's one thing worse: reading about someone playing video games. Narrator Mark, a chubby twelve year old who prefers the company of video games to actual human interaction (whoa, way to nail your market audience RL Stine!), regales the reader with in-depth discussions of his favorite video game, Jungle King. Wait, did I write "regale?" I meant "borezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." How much does this kid love his Jungle video game? He even came up with a battle cry he yells out whenever he makes a particularly good move: "Kah-lee-ah!" Ugh, had this book been written ten years later, there would be very little stopping Mark from being a YouTube sensation.
Unfortunately, it's hard to get others to share in his embarrassing hobby. His eight year old sister Jessica will only play with him if she can kill herself immediately because she likes the sound it makes in the game when she dies, and Mark's two friends, Joel and Eric, are too busy playing a version of solitaire where the cards themselves fight. So there is just no one to join Mark in his Jungle-loving adventures, including the reader, who by this point had surely stopped skimming the book at B. Dalton's and moved over to the Boxcar Kids section.
Mark's video game playing is interrupted by a visitor. Opening the door, Mark comes face to face with a leathery, authentic shrunken head. The head is presented as a gift for the boy from a older woman wearing sinister black specs, who claims the head is a gift from the boy's Aunt Benna. The woman introduces herself as Carolyn, a co-worker of Aunt Benna's on the island of Baladora, where the two do scientific work. Of course, more scientists!
Carolyn assures the family that Aunt Benna had written of her visit in advance and Mark's mother invites Carolyn to stay the night. Overnight, the strange shrunken head begins to glow as it rests on top of Mark's dresser, eventually shining brightly and floating towards him in bed. Mark understandably freaks out and runs around screaming that the head is alive. No one believes him because he's fat. He takes his mother and sister back into his room to show them the glowing head, only to find the head missing. Jessica produces the head from behind her back, where she has given it a long scratch from roughhousing. Look, little girls love playing with boiled human faces, I think Mark should have been a little more understanding. As it is though, Mark freaks out about her mishandling of the head, as now if he will have to list it as VG instead of NM, and who knows if a buyer would A+++++ Would Buy Again from him at that quality-level? Mark calms down and heads back to bed, but not before noticing Carolyn staring at him from the hallway.
The next morning, Mark's mom surprises him with the best news he could receive so early in the day. No, not that there would be both bacon andsausage for breakfast, so I guess second-best news: Aunt Benna sent Carolyn to visit so she could bring Mark back with her to the island to visit! Thanks to video games, the only thing Mark loves more than pipes and ducks is jungles, so in celebration, the fat preteen gets out of his chair and does a celebratory dance around the breakfast table. Jessica complains that she wasn't invited, since the thing eight year old girls love second-best behind shrunken human heads is hot sweaty island jungles, but twelve year old Mark continues to gloat and dance, bragging that the jungle is just too dangerous for kids.
Carolyn and Mark fly out to the small island on a little Red Baron pizza box plane and the pilot informs them that since he never learned how to land, they'll have to jump out of the plane. Oh and also there's no parachutes, so they should aim to land on something soft. The nutty pilot then reveals he's just a jokester and that he said that to prepare Mark for thinking fast in the jungle. I don't know how peeing your pants in fear will help Mark survive in the jungle, but I guess if he was a pregnant woman and needed to kill a rabbit, this would have been a very valuable lesson.
The pilot safely drops them off on the island and leaves. Carolyn informs Mark that Ernesto, the pilot, is their only contact on and off the island, but he can arrive within an hour of them calling the mainland or their flight is free. Mark is very excited to see his aunt, whom he has not seen since she last visited him when he was four years old. Carolyn leads Mark into a scientific-looking building where he meets a white haired scientist named Dr. Hawlings, whom he initially mistakes for his aunt. Hey Ernesto, I think you needed to scare this kid a couple more times before he's even ready to survive in a strip mall much less a jungle.
Dr. Hawlings introduces Mark to his twelve year old blonde daughter, Kareen, who has shining blue eyes just like her father. Mark tries to be nice to the pretty girl but Kareen's a bit of a brat and complains a lot, although granted, Mark's idea of small talk ("You're in sixth gradetoo?!?!") leaves a lot to be desired. Mark asks where his aunt is and is informed that, well, no one knows. They brought Mark to the island not because his aunt invited him, but because they thought he could help them find her. You see, Carolyn and Dr. Hawlings believe that Mark has-- wait for it-- Jungle Magic. As a special early Christmas gift to everyone reading, I will refrain from making a "jungle fever" joke.
Kareen tries to get her father to lay off Mark, but Dr. Hawlings is convinced that Mark's Aunt gave her nephew Jungle Magic for safe keeping when he was four years old, and that Mark can use the Jungle Magic he possesses to help them find his missing aunt. Mark and Kareen both have a hard time believing in Jungle Magic, mainly since it's Jungle Magic and is called Jungle Magic. According to the notebooks Aunt Benna left behind, since Mark saw the shrunken head glow, he must possess Jungle Magic. Other items revealed in Aunt Benna's notebook include three pages of aborted attempts to map polynomials via the Tschirnhaus transformation, a timeline of the Battle of Ringgold Gap, and several hearts with arrows coming out of them drawn around the name David Livingstone. Dr. Hawlings stresses that the ancient jungle tribe of the Oloyans were the ones who shrunk not only the head in Mark's possession but the hundreds of other shrunken heads which line the cozy outdoor decor of the scientific workstation, and that Mark must use their magic to find his aunt.
Kareen convinces her father and Carolyn to lay off Mark for a little while and they start to bond. The next night, after everyone has gone to bed, Mark sneaks out and explores the workstation. He grabs a flashlight and begins reading his Aunt Benna's journals. One particular passage, the one about how Carolyn and Dr. Hawlings are evil and want to use Jungle Magic to do evil, catches his eye. She writes in her journal that she gave her nephew the secret of Jungle Magic to keep it safe, as he lived 4,000 miles from the island of Baladora. She fears that once the two villains possess Jungle Magic, they will shrink her head. Mark doesn't stop to consider that perhaps his aunt could use the psychiatric help, because Aunt Benna also believes the two will murder Mark as well! He slams the book down and heads (pun?) out of the workstation to escape his certain fate of death, only to be stopped by Kareen, wearing only her nightshirt.
Kareen admits that her father and Aunt Benna had their differences, but assures Mark that her father isn't evil. She then offers to aid him in sneaking out to find his aunt. Armed with the shrunken head, Mark sets off into the jungle alone. Kareen tells him to let Jungle Magic guide the way. Mark still doesn't know how to do that, but Kareen tells him he'll figure it out, and that she'll stall for him back at the station.
Mark wanders around in the dark and finally stops to rest. He is later woken up by giant ants who have swarmed all around him. Oh to be attacked by ants when looking for an aunt, Stine you ironic devil!. He can't swat them off fast enough and it looks like all is lost until, gripping the shrunken head, he lets loose his video game battle cry, "Kah-Lee-Ah!" The ants instantly flee from his body. Mark realizes the key to Jungle Magic is the word he thought he'd made up, his battle cry would lead him to his aunt!
Mark encounters more obstacles on the way to finding his aunt, including falling in quicksand and encountering a tiger, yet saves his own life every time by uttering the magic word while holding the shrunken head. After falling into a pit to escape the tiger, he finds himself stuck and upon uttering the magic word, Kareen appears a the top of the deep pit and she lowers a vine in to help him climb up.
Kareen explains that she got worried about Mark so she followed him into the jungle. Mark shows Kareen the head and how every time he steps closer to where his Aunt Benna is, the head glows, and when he moves in the wrong direction, it fades. He also tells her about the secret word and recites it for her, to her delight. She is convinced that he'll find his aunt and save the day. Mark expresses more doubts as to her father and Kareen assures Mark that her father isn't evil, that though Dr. Hawlings and Benna disagree, they still have respect for each other and he would never want to wish her harm. Mark buys this because he is mad-crushing on this girl.
Finally the pair come across a lone shack in the middle of a clearing. Mark calls out his aunt's name and she appears, shocked but happy to see him. She then gets angry at Mark for coming to the island, and when he tells her that he brought Kareen, Aunt Benna gets furious. Mark tries to explain that Kareen is on their side when Kareen starts hollering into the distance, flagging her father and Carolyn down to the shack. Kareen screams "They're over here" and Mark realizes he just got PUNK'D.
Dr. Hawlings tries to get Aunt Benna to reveal the secret word and she refuses. Unfortunately, Mark told Kareen, so she proudly tells her father that she knows it, but before she can vocalize it, Mark slaps his hand over her mouth and wrestles her to the ground. Aunt Benna takes the cue and tries to attack Dr. Hawlings. Unfortunately, the tag team of middle-aged woman scientist and fat child is no match for two fit sinister adults and their preteen cohort, and Aunt Benna and Mark find themselves held prisoner beneath the shack.
That night, Aunt Benna tells Mark that the secret to Jungle Magic is two-fold, and that to enact it, you must both grip the original shrunken headand utter the secret phrase. She tells him that when she gives him the signal of three blinks, he is to produce the shrunken head and utter the phrase, saving them. If she gives two blinks: slow pitch curve.
The next morning, Aunt Benna and Mark are trotted outside. Dr. Hawlings and Carolyn have been preparing a giant boiling pot. With guns (!) raised against the two, Dr. Hawlings again asks for the secret to be revealed. Aunt Benna refuses and Dr. Hawlings informs the two that since they won't reveal the secret, it will simply have to die with them. As Dr. Hawlings prepares to shrink their heads, Mark waits for Aunt Benna to give the signal. Once she does, he pulls the shrunken head out of his pocket, but before he can say the word, Dr. Hawlings smacks Mark's hand, sending the shrunken head flying into one of the exterior piles of heads.
Mark ducks away from the doctor's hands and dives into the pile of heads, trying to find the right head. They all look so similar, and then Mark remembers Jessica scratching his head. Mark grabs the head with the white mark on it and utters the secret word. The two adult villains andKareen (!) all shrink down to the size of mice and flee into the jungle. Aunt Benna transfers the power of Jungle Magic back to herself, and her and Mark prepare for a safe journey home.
But the Twist is:
Mark is allowed to keep the shrunken head. The first morning before school starts, as he walks towards his friends to show them the head, he looks down and sees the head's eyes turn towards him as it says, "Hey kid, let me tell the part about the tiger!" Whatever.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Mark and the devil's daughter Kareen, who appears halfway thru the book.
Oh sure, we could be angry with Mark's mom for allowing him to go on a long trip with a strange woman, but I'm sure she thought it was the only chance the fat computer geek would ever get to spend time with a non-relative human female, so let's not be quick to judge her intentions.
Early 90s Cultural References:
Koosh balls, the name Kareen.
R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
Koosh balls, the name Kareen.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Mark finds out he has Jungle Magic. This is confirmed as the next chapter starts. Somehow the phrase "Jungle Magic" never fails to deliver in this book.
Great Prose Alert:
"It's not a toy. It's a human head," I told my sister.
With a real and tangible threat against the protagonists (I can't remember any other Goosebumps book where the characters are threatened with guns and having their bodies boiled alive) and a fairly credible (for this series at least) plot, this is a higher-tier entry in the series, Jungle Magic and all.
Goosebumps: How I Got My Shrunken Head (Book Review)
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Front Tagline: Heads up!