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The Terror Of The Ballpit – Fazbear’s Frights Book Review #1

Cover image for Fazbear's Frights number 1

Into the Pit by Scott Cawthon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The rabbit stopped in front of a door with a sign reading PARTY ROOM and beckoned for Oswald to come inside. Oswald was shaking with terror, but he was too curious to refuse. Besides, he kept thinking, you can’t hurt me. I haven’t even been born.

Into the Pit is the first book in the Five Nights at Freddy’s – Fazbear’s Frights series and from the unpredictable twists and turns of the first short story it sets the tone that the series intends to maintain throughout the anthology. This series to me feels in many ways like the spiritual successor to R.L Stine’s Goosebumps, presenting horror that taps into core fears, insecurities, and life uncertainties in its intended audience, while giving them a fantastical flavor that removes them just enough from the weight of our own reality.

In writing the Frights are far from derivative, striking their own distinctive tone and opting for a slightly darker slant, with some underpinnings of science fiction woven covertly through their tales. In the Frights, the protagonists do not always receive a cathartic end to their stories and the world they inhabit can seem arbitrarily cruel or unfair at times.

Each novel contains three individual short stories, capped off by a mini “stinger”. This anthology is based upon the video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s, which has become a cultural phenomenon over the last decade. The video game is difficult to sum up succinctly but could be distilled down to the recurring motif of a night guard spending a week fending off haunted pizzeria animatronics, all infused by the essence of children killed by a serial killer in the eighties. The games provide only the key frames of the storyline and leave large swathes of it up to speculation, this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the series itself.

Although these books can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, there is an important interaction between the intentionally obfuscated plot line of the games and this book series. Scott Cawthon – the sole indie creator of FNAF and one of the authors of this series – is well known for including hints and outright undiscovered facts about his series in interrelated media. It is worth therefore keeping in mind that these stories are complimented by the game storyline that they cast light onto. They serve both as short stories and parallels for events and characters within the larger franchise. This elevates them above the simplicity of their initial impression.

An example of this cross relevance in action can be found in the eponymous story Into the Pit, which can be interpreted at its face value as an unusual story of a boy who finds his father replaced by an animatronic bunny suited killer who does not speak. This is given additional depth when the context of the video game is brought into consideration. In the games, one of the central characters and the son of the serial killer finds his father has been killing children dressed in one of the animatronic bunny costumes. The story can be read and appreciated in its literal sense, or as a grander metaphor about the feelings of lost childhood, horror, and fear that the killer’s son felt when he realised the man, he thought was his father was no such thing.

Into the Pit is a story about a boy who is at home over the summer due to the financial struggles of his family. He finds himself at an old worn-out pizzeria with a roped off ball pit. Oswald decides to hide in it one day and things take a strange twist from there, leading to what could be construed as time travel and his father being replaced by something that follows him back home.

This story is a vividly written one, full of rich nostalgic imagery and a larger metaphor about a boy’s changing relationship with his father. This is the strongest of the three stories in this book, really summing up the combination of features that make up this series.

To Be Beautiful is the second story and one which delves into a teenage girl named Sarah’s relationship with her own body image. She longs to be more attractive and to have all her negative features corrected so that she can be part of the popular group of girls that she terms the “Beautifuls”. One day, she passes the wrecking yard near her home and finds a girl shaped robot dumped in the trunk of a car who comes alive, telling Sarah that her name is Eleanor and she can make her wishes come true. What follows is not what Sarah expected.

I found this story an extremely sensitive and personal depiction of teenage insecurity that I would imagine almost anyone could relate to, Sarah’s vulnerability is very vividly portrayed and her relationship with her own self-image is very frank and earnest. This is a compelling story that I find almost difficult to reread due to the sincerity and unflinching nature of the subject matter.

The final short story in this novel is Count the Ways. In this story a young girl fascinated with death named Millie starts out in a concerning situation with an unseen voice that interrogates her about her thoughts on death, implying that she is now facing down a truly dangerous situation. In between talking to this voice, we catch glimpses of her life prior to that moment, hearing about her new friend Dylan and her growing resentment with her peers and grandparents.

This story for me was a jarring one. Millie is written well and there are some downright entertaining moments, but I found the factual and detached discussions of death a little too stark and brutal for my tastes. I found it a bit of an unpleasant slog to endure imagining every permutation of death imaginable. However, I feel like much like the other stories in this series, this story is once again a larger commentary on an incident from the games. Millie does not deserve the prolonged verbal torture she sustains in this story, but the murderer she parallels certainly does. As previously mentioned, it can be difficult to discuss these stories without also discussing their strong links to the larger context of the FNAF series.

I think the decision to end each volume of the anthology with a stinger story that provides a linked narrative to the stories within was a clever way to add a feeling of cohesion to what might otherwise feel like scattering of disparate and unrelated narratives. This throughline – starting out with a Detective investigating a mystery – gives the hint of a larger puzzle to be solved and reminds the readers that these stories take place in an interlinked fashion, hinting at the larger network of links that lie even beyond the bounds of literature itself.

Scott Cawthon is incredibly talented at Intertextuality and employs it in every aspect of his work. These stories are no exception to that.

All in all, I found that Into the Pit was a strong start to the series, where the authors are finding their feet and the ongoing tone of collaboration they wish to strike. Though several of the stories here are eclipsed by the quality of later ones, I find this novel to be an excellent starting point on the long and strange horror journey that is Five Nights at Freddy’s – Fazbear’s Frights.

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