Front Tagline: Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?
Back Tagline: What Big Teeth You Have!
Official Book Description:
There's something horrible happening in Fever Swamp. Something really horrible.
It started with the strange howling at night. Then there was the rabbit, torn to shreads.
Everyone thinks Grady's new dog is responsible. After all, he looks just like a wolf. And he seems a little on the wild side.
But Grady knows his dog is just a regular old dog. And most dogs don't howl at the moon. Or disappear at midnight. Or change into terrifying creatures when the moon is full.
Or do they?
In what has to be some kind of coup for these books, narrator Grady and his sixteen year-old sister Emily have both moved to a new house andtheir parents are scientists. Their father, Dr. Tucker, studied deer in Vermont until he came into possession of six "Swamp Deer" from South America. Because of this, Dad had to move with his scientist wife and the two kids to Florida so he could test his revolutionary hypothesis: Deer can live in Florida. Though he keeps them in a pen in the backyard for now, Dr. Tucker intends to release the deer with tracking collars into the wild. (Topical Eve joke goes here)
While lazing around the new backyard, Grady spots a crane with his binoculars and attempts to get Emily to accompany him into the swamp to follow the bird. Emily, not being Colin Meloy, declines until their scientist father exits the house holding a clipboard and tells her to follow that bird.
The two kids go exploring in the swamp. Emily learned all about forests and swamps in school so she fills Grady in on all the scientific details. This goes on for like ten pages and so just reading the Werewolf of Fever Swamp counts for as much as 20% of the science curriculum in smaller schools.
After some riveting discussion of peat moss occurs, Emily and Grady suddenly find themselves lost in the swamp. They wander around, eventually finding a small shack. A crazed white-haired man exits the shack and chases after the two children, who run around until finally they find the exit to their house. Once inside, they tell their parents about the wild man. Dad cooly tells the kids that he's just "a swamp hermit." Then he no kidding says three different times that the guys at the hardware store said the swamp hermit was completely harmless.
Later that night, Grady is just kicking it in the backyard when another twelve year-old boy, one of his new neighbors, introduces himself as Will. Will is a big kid and tells Grady that the only other kid their age on the block is a "weird girl." Will walks over to the deer pen, picks something up and utters the instant-classic line, "Yuck. Deer Slime."
Will tells a cheerful story about how Fever Swamp got named. A hundred years ago, everyone in town caught something from the swamp that started with a fever and most died and those who didn't die went crazy. Late that night Grady comes down with a fever, which I'm sure is the equivalent to when I read a medical book and become convinced I have cervical spondylosis. Woken from a fever dream, Grady hears howls coming from outside. He goes down to the kitchen to investigate and hears scratching on the exterior door. Emily wakes up too and the two siblings sit in the kitchen, listening to the howls and scratching at the door. Grady bravely opens the door but sees no one outside, and since it's midnight, doesn't go outside to investigate further. The two siblings listen to the sounds some more and then their Dad wakes up and insists on taking both of their temperatures.
The next morning, no sooner does Grady leave the house than he is attacked by a lovable but huge, 100lb+ dog. The dog starts licking Grady's face and Emily comes out and pets the dog, figuring this is the source of the scratching from the previous night. After some discussion which basically amounts to "Oh I guess we should huh", the parents decide that a huge giant stray dog would be fine to let into their house with no precautions.
Will shows up to go investigate the swamp with Grady, and suggests to the family that the dog might be part-wolf. So they name the dog Wolf. Too bad it wasn't part-an-actual-dog-name. The two boys leave the dog at the house and are not in the swamp for more than a few minutes before Wolf shows up and accompanies them into the thicket of foliage. They tool around the swamp for a while and then Wolf starts growling as he spots the Swamp Hermit. Despite what the guys down at the hardware store say, Will thinks the Swamp Hermit, whose shirt is covered in blood, might in fact be dangerous. They remain still as the Swamp Hermit quietly leaves their line of sight.
As soon as the coast is clear, the boys continue exploring and come across a bloody mauled heron. The bird has been ripped apart and there are paw prints around the body. Grady guesses a dog did it but then Will tells Grady that dogs don't rip apart birds. I commend him for having that sort of knowledge available at will. Will goes back home and Grady enters his house only to be greeted by the single most terrifying image in the book, as he finds his Dad dressed in denim cutoffs and a yellow tanktop. Dr. Tucker tells Grady that the swamp is filled with scary stuff and that another bird probably killed the heron. The words of a scientist.
Grady gets permission to let Wolf sleep in bed with him, because his parents must have been really sold on the idea of allowing a giant stray dog to be confined in close quarters with their young son. Boy, these two are without question the worst scientists in the entire series, and that's counting the guy who chopped off children's hands.
The entire family is awoken in the middle of the night by crashing from downstairs. They all huddle together and make their way down to investigate. The noise was caused by Wolf, who has ran around the living room, smashing into the furniture in a desperate attempt to get out of the house. Dad gets especially dismayed when he discovers the dog had broken the lamp, and he refuses to believe either Grady's story about how a purple-breasted bird flew in the open window and broke the lamp or Emily's story of how a black and white-checked bird flew in the open window and broke the lamp. The dog starts ramming its body into the plate glass sliding door until finally Dad opens the door and Wolf leaps out of the house into the swamp. The family goes back to their rooms, but before long, Grady hears howling coming from the swamp again. In the light of the full moon, Grady can make out a four-legged creature in the shadows below his window. The creature leaves something resembling a rag at the foot of the deer pen and leaves. Grady goes down to get a closer look and sees a chewed up rabbit.
The next morning, after breakfast, Grady takes dad to see the dead rabbit. Wolf shows up and gently licks the kid's face. Emily is convinced that Wolf killed the rabbit and begs their father to get rid of the dog. Grady tells her she has no proof that the dog killed the bunny. Emily says there's no proof he didn't either. I bet this would all be pretty dramatic if I cared. Will shows up and tells Grady that a neighbor, Mr. Warner, has gone missing. Apparently Mr. Warner left early the day before to go turkey hunting in the swamp and never returned. They have turkeys in the swamp. A voice from behind them suggests that a werewolf did it. That voice belongs to a redhead named Cassie, the weird girl Will mentioned. Will tells her to shut up, that what she's saying is stupid. Cassie presses the issue and tries to convince Grady that the howls can only be made by a werewolf that has made a fresh kill. Where do these kids get this information?
Cassie freaks out when she sees the Swamp Hermit in the distance, yells and points at him. J'accuse! The Swamp Hermit has a wild turkey slung over his shoulder, leading the kids to wonder if he swiped the it from the missing Mr. Warner. The Swamp Hermit is close enough to hear these accusations and runs out of the swamp towards the kids, yelling "I'm the werewolf! I'm the werewolf!" over and over, cackling all the way. The other kids flee as the hermit grabs Grady's ankle, keeping him in place. The old man just cackles and waves at him with his free hand and tells Grady he was only playing. Wolf trots up and barely acknowledges the hermit, who lets Grady loose from his grip. The Swamp Hermit tells Grady to be careful about his dog and heads back to his shack. Then Grady gets bitten by a snake.
Wolf leads Grady back to safety and he tells Will and Cassie, who've I guess regrouped on his lawn, to get his parents. Cassie tells Grady's mom that he was bitten by a werewolf. If I was Grady, I'd definitely stick with that story over being grazed by a garden snake. Grady's mom puts an ice pack on Grady's ankle and jokingly tells him that his father is a werewolf and that she shaves his back every day so he'll look normal. Hey, gross. Grady persists that a werewolf could be responsible for the events in the swamp, like the howls. The mother replies that a lot of things howl in the swamp, even Grady when he got bitten. Man, when even your mom is scoring points on you...
Dr. Tucker tells Grady that since the moon will only be full for two more days, they'll know after that whether or not the howls came from a werewolf. Then he too starts laughing, as he said it to mock his son. I changed my mind about these parents, they're amazing. The mom picks up a newspaper and shows her black newsprint hands to Grady and tells him it's hair that's grown on her palms. Your mind already went there, so make that joke yourself; kids read this blog. Emily suggests that the dog is the werewolf. Oh I read the back cover too, Emily.
Cassie and Will come over that night to eat and after dinner Grady sits with the two as they trade barbs about just who in this book is the werewolf. This quickly turns into the two just calling each other names while Grady watches. Then each accuses the other of being the werewolf. This section of the book is a lot like The Crucible, but only in that it was written.
Laying in bed, trying to sleep, Grady hears the howls from outside again. Then a commotion below his window again. This time when he goes to investigate, he find one of the six "swamp deers" mauled, the other five deers huddled together in their pen, away from the gaping hole in the metal. Grady calls his dad down from the lawn to see the corpse. Using all his MacGuyver talents, Dr. Tucker patches the WOLF'D pen with a piece of cardboard. Quick, hire this guy to head FEMA.
After dragging the dead deer to his workshop (?), Dr. Tucker tells his son that clearly his dog is a killer. Grady's father tells him that tomorrow morning, he's taking the dog to the pound to be killed. Grady waits to see if this too is an elaborate insult at his expense, but it seems his dad's serious.
The next morning, Grady's dad tries to take Wolf to the pound but Grady musters all his intelligence and comes up with a plan. He tells his dog to run away and it does. Grady's dad tells him that was dumb, because the dog is bound to come back, and when it does, he's going to take it to be killed.
Wolf manages to stay out of sight all day and it isn't until late that night that Grady spots him from his bedroom window, lingering at the swamp clearing. Grady goes down to greet his dog and runs into Will. Will claims to have heard the howls and was trying to investigate when he ran into Grady. The two boys spot Wolf, who has edged back into the swamp. Grady runs after him, losing Will in the process. Following his dog, Grady ends up at the Swamp Hermit's hut. He hears the horrible howling coming from near the shack and he realizes the hermit was the werewolf.
Except no, of course not, because then Werewolf Will attacks Grady. The two struggle and Werewolf Will takes a big bite out of Grady. Rising up in the moonlight with the blood dripping from his jaws, Werewolf Will lets out a howl, only to be trampled by a leaping Wolf-- the dog! Wolf wrestles with Werewolf Will until finally Will slinks away on all fours back to his house. Grady passes out.
When he comes to, he finds himself safely inside. Grady's dad tells him that the Swamp Hermit found him and carried him home, and that he also saw Wolf fight off a large creature to save Grady's life. Grady's dad submits that they can keep the dog. After listening to Grady's werewolf story, Dr. Tucker figures he might as well try to see if his son could be telling the truth, so he goes to visit Will's house. Except, the house is empty, abandoned, as though no one had lived there for months.
But the Twist is:
Grady is so happy that he got to keep Wolf around because the dog makes for an excellent companion on nights when the full moon is out, as Grady became a werewolf when Will bit him.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Grady and his sister Emily, but we can't forget Grady's friend Cassie who appears halfway thru the book.
Dr. Tucker's response to his son being attacked by a werewolf is to briefly debate whether a scientist should visit a suspected werewolf's house.
We Get It Alert:
Number of times the reader is reminded that Grady's parents are scientists: I stopped counting after 20.
Reinforcement of Negative Stereotypes Alert:
Emily, a blonde, once was so freaked out by getting a flat tire that she abandoned the car and ran away. Not one of the better blonde jokes I've heard.
Miss South Carolina Alert:
RL Stine informs the reader that Vermont is a long way from Florida.
Great Prose Alert:
Mom is a scientist too.
In a book with too many characters, Stine still somehow manages to make the "surprise" identity of the real werewolf painfully obvious. The series will tackle much of this same territory to much better effect later withWerewolf Skin, which remains one of the strongest Goosebumps books.The Werewolf of Fever Swamp: less so.