R. A. Montgomery has a way of writing the strangest, most sudden and illogical plot twists one could reasonably imagine, yet still ending up with a story that has some good moments, and Return to Haunted House is a prime example of that. In the 1981 Bantam Skylark Choose Your Own Adventure book that precedes it, The Haunted House, your dog Homer chases a cat into a bleak and forbidding old mansion. After following Homer inside the big, scary house, determined to retrieve your dog despite the forbidding atmosphere of the place, you run across all sorts of bizarre adventures, many of which have nothing to do with Homer (or hauntings, for that matter). In Return to Haunted House, which takes place some time after you apparently solved the mystery of the haunted house, you're surprised one day to receive an intriguing offer from a highly unusual source: would you like to travel to other reputedly haunted houses around the world, and see if you can set the record straight about them as you have once before?
While Homer makes only a few brief appearances in The Haunted House, he's a major player in Return to Haunted House. I can't figure out exactly how he has gained the power of speech since your last adventure, or how his intellect has grown to match or exceed that of the greatest human geniuses earth has ever known, but it sure is a benefit to have a limitless source of historical information alongside you as you elect whether to check out a haunted house in England or Thailand. This time, instead of chasing Homer all over a spooky, abandoned manor, sick with fright and worried you might never see your pet again, Homer is beside you all the way, equal partner in the business of debunking the legends of haunted houses. Will you keep going no matter how frightening things get, until you've proven these houses aren't actually haunted? Is the stage set for further adventures in additional gamebooks about you and Homer, perhaps taking on other cases to help rid the world of fear and superstition?
There's little doubt in my mind that the best part of this book is the sweet, simple author's dedication before the story even starts, a section most readers will fly right by and hardly notice. "For Ramsey," it reads, accompanied by an illustration from Return to Haunted House of a trio of elephants surrounding You and Homer in Thailand. Few besides Choose Your Own Adventure cognoscenti will know, however, that Ramsey Montgomery, son of author R. A., died suddenly at the age of forty in 2008, two years before Return to Haunted House made its debut. Knowing this adds so much dimension to the dedication page's meaning, and the vaguely mournful look in the one elephant's eyes makes for a poignant moment before the first page of the narrative is even reached. But R. A. Montgomery expresses the sadness best in the March 4, 2011 entry of his blog: "The loss of a child is so overwhelming that it does not go away; you do not get through it; you re-arrange your mental and emotional furniture. Life is short; friends and family count the most; life is a true gift and you must not turn your back on it...Life is short. At least the life we are currently in--remember energy is never lost, it is only transformed--so, Rams simply jumped the line at the bus stop ahead of us." It's hard not to be affected by the powerful emotion within those words.
In comparing the original release of 1981's The Haunted House with Return to Haunted House, I was surprised the stories are so different. One may be considered a sequel to the other, but the two narratives share little other than the presence of Homer, and he is so different in Return to Haunted House that he might as well be a new character. I like the deep, carefully rendered background illustrations done by Disney animator Keith Newton, but still prefer the simpler black-and-white drawings provided by Paul Granger in the original version of The Haunted House; overall, I also prefer the first book. Return to Haunted House feels somewhat short, with only seven endings, but it's a nice diversion that has some interesting moments.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to KenJenningsJeopardy74 for the back cover scan.|
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Choose Your Own Adventure - Dragonlarks edition
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