The cover artwork illustrates the shrunken head sitting on top of a cluttered dresser.
Two Heads Are Better Than One!
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...
Twelve-year-old Mark Rowe loves playing Jungle King on his computer. Whenever he succeeds in the game, he screams "Kah-Lee-Ah!", a phrase which popped in his head one day. While Mark is playing the game, a woman arrives at his front door. The woman introduces herself as Carolyn Hawlings, the assistant of Mark's Aunt Benna. The woman brought with her a hundred-year-old shrunken head, a gift from his Aunt Benna, an explorer. She mentions that Benna had written a letter to them, mentioning that Carolyn would be visiting, but Mark's mother, having not received the letter, concludes that the letter got lost in the mail.
The head is from the jungles of Baladora, which Aunt Benna has been exploring for over ten years. That night, when Mark goes to bed, he suddenly hears his name being whispered and believes it to be the head, but when he investigates, it's only Mark's sister, Jessica, playing tricks on him, jealous that he got the head and not her. Later that night, he thinks he sees the head levitate, and its eyes begin to glow. However, when he tries to tell his family, the head appears in a lifeless state. Carolyn seems strangely interested about it though.
The next morning Carolyn and Mark's mother tell him that his Aunt Benna wants him to come vist her in Baladora. He is promptly flown there by airplane, and he has brought his shrunken head as well. Mark meets Carolyn's brother, Dr. Richard Hawlings, and his daughter, Kareen, who is Mark's age. They inform Mark that his aunt has been missing for weeks, and they will only be able to find her if Mark can harness the Jungle Magic he possesses. It is explained to Mark that, when he was four, Aunt Benna taught him the secret of Jungle Magic, to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Sadly, this was so long ago that Mark can't remember how to activate it.
Late at night, Mark, looking for a drink, walks into a room filled with shrunken heads and finds a journal from Aunt Benna. It reveals that Dr. Hawlings and Carolyn are secretly plotting to use Jungle Magic to destroy the jungle and Baladora, and will stop at nothing to get their way. Kareen walks in, and Mark demands to know what's going on. Kareen insists that the journal entry was an exaggerated statement about a disagreement between Benna and Dr. Hawlings, adding that regardless of what her father thinks, she likes and cares about Benna. Mark believes Kareen and with Kareen's encouragement sets out into the jungle by himself, determined to find his aunt.
Mark travels deep into the jungle. Eventually, the boy falls asleep, dreaming of dozens of shrunken heads surrounding him, telling him to hurry. When he wakes up, he sees that he is almost completely covered in red ants. He panics and screams "Kah-Lee-Ah!", which makes the ants leave suddenly. Mark deduces that he unknowingly used Jungle Magic. As he ponders aloud, the shrunken head's eyes glow. After trekking further, Mark gets caught in quicksand. He tries the magic words again, but they don't free him. When he holds the shrunken head high, it lifts him up, out of the quicksand.
Soon, Mark encounters a tiger. The animal is on the verge of attacking him, but Mark uses the magic words, causing the ground beneath him to open up. Mark is lowered enough to avoid the tiger. Kareen arrives and frees Mark from the hole. Afterwards, Mark questions Kareen about what's going on between Dr. Hawlings and Aunt Benna. Kareen admits the two had a heated argument, about Dr. Hawlings wanting to develop the jungle to obtain some valuable minerals, to which Benna had disapproved, feeling the forest should be preserved in whole. Kareen insists that her father does care for Benna, and would never try to hurt her or anyone else.
The two kids eventually find Aunt Benna in a shack deep in the woods. Benna is overjoyed to see Mark, but is suspicious of Kareen. Her suspicions are founded when Dr. Hawlings approaches, and Kareen reveals she was working with him and Carolyn this whole time. Mark is furious that Kareen double crossed them, but Kareen simply claims that she was obligated to help her father. Aunt Benna and Mark try to escape, but are outnumbered three to two.
Mark and Benna are kept imprisoned in Benna's shack overnight, and are marched back to camp the next day. The Hawlings eventually bring the two to a pile of shrunken heads and a giant pot of boiling water. Dr. Hawlings tries to intimidate them into telling him the secret of Jungle Magic; he threatens to shrink their heads if they don't tell him how to perform it. Mark tries to use his shrunken head to stop Dr. Hawlings, but it gets knocked into the pile of heads. Aunt Benna starts to wrestle with Dr. Hawlings, and Mark dives into the pile of heads. Mark manages to find the right one due to a scratch put on it by his sister, Jessica. Dr. Hawlings tries to attack Mark, but, before he can, Mark recites the magic words while holding the shrunken head. This causes Dr. Hawlings, Carolyn, and Kareen to shrink to the size of mice. The three panic and run off into the jungle, never to be seen again.
Mark and Aunt Benna soon return home. While Benna has stripped Mark of his Jungle Magic, he gets to keep the shrunken head and plans to take it to school with him. Unexpectedly, the shrunken head opens its mouth and informs Mark that it wants to tell everyone about the tiger he encountered in the jungle.
Reprints and rereleases
2003 - 2007 reprint series
- The Classic Goosebumps reprint was released as a tie-in to the tenth Goosebumps HorrorLand book, Help! We Have Strange Powers!.
- In French, the title of the book was wrongly translated, due to a misinterpration of the original English title, as "Comment ma tête a rétréci", (How My Head Shrunk, or How I Got My Head Shrunk).
- In the Portuguese adaptation of the story there are some notable differences:
- Mark Rowe is called 'Miguel'
- Benna is called 'Berta'
- Dr. Hawlings is called 'Dr. Antunes'
- Kareen is called 'Cátia'
How I Got My Shrunken Head was adapted into a two-part episode of the Goosebumps TV series. It is the first (part one) and second (part two) episode of season four, and the sixty-seventh and sixty-eighth episode overall.
References in other Goosebumps media
- The Shrunken Head appears in Goosebumps: The Game as an item.
- The Shrunken Head has a hidden appearance in the Goosebumps film. It appears on the Muglani's staff.
- The Shrunken Head makes an appearance on one of the alternate covers of the first issue of Monsters at Midnight, along with the "University" banner.
- There is a level based on this book in Goosebumps HorrorTown.