The cover shows a shrunken head sitting on top of a 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...
Mark Rowe, a chubby twelve-year-old who prefers the company of video games to actual human interaction, describes to the reader his favorite video game, Jungle King. His eight-year-old sister, Jessica, will only play with him if she can kill herself immediately. The reason is that she likes the sound it makes in the game when she dies. Mark's two friends, Joel and Eric, are too busy playing a version of Solitaire, where the cards themselves fight.
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 an older woman wearing sinister black specs, who claims the head is a present 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.
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. It eventually shines brightly and floats towards him in bed. Mark understandably freaks out and runs around screaming that the head is alive. However, no one believes him. He takes his mother and sister back into his bedroom 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. Mark freaks out about her mishandling of the head. He calms down and heads back to bed, but not before noticing Carolyn staring at him from the hallway.
The next morning, Mark's mother surprises him with the best news he could receive so early in the day. Aunt Benna sent Carolyn to visit so she could bring Mark back with her to the island to visit! Jessica complains that she was not invited, but twelve-year-old Mark continues to gloat and dance, bragging that the jungle is just too dangerous for children.
Carolyn and Mark fly out to the small island on a little airplane. The pilot informs them that since he never learned how to land, they will have to jump out of the airplane. Oh, and also there are no parachutes, so they should aim to land on something soft. Then the pilot reveals that he was just joking. He said that to prepare Mark for thinking fast in the jungle.
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. 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.
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 is a bit of a brat and complains a lot. Mark asks where his aunt is and is informed that 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 Jungle Magic.
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. Dr. Hawlings also believes 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 is 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. 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. They currently line the cozy outdoor decor of the scientific workstation and 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. Mark discovers a passage about how Carolyn and Dr. Hawlings are evil and want to use Jungle Magic to do evil. 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. He slams the book down and heads 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 the Jungle Magic guide the way. Mark still does not know how to do that, but Kareen tells him he will figure it out. She offers to help by stalling 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 that have swarmed all around him. He can't swat them off fast enough and it looks like all is lost. Then he grips the shrunken head and 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 had 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. He overpowers them by uttering the magic word, while holding the shrunken head. After falling into a pit to escape the tiger, he finds himself stuck. Upon uttering the magic word, Kareen appears at 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 will find his aunt and save the day. Mark expresses more doubts as to her father. Kareen assures Mark that her father is not evil and though Dr. Hawlings and Benna disagree, they still have respect for each other and he would never want to wish her harm. Mark accepts this, because he has a crush on this girl.
Finally, the pair comes across a lone shack in the middle of a clearing. Mark calls out his aunt's name and she appears. She is shocked, but happy to see him. Then, she gets angry at Mark for coming to the island. 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. She flags her father and Carolyn down to the shack and screams "They're over here.”
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. 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. Aunt Benna and Mark find themselves held prisoner beneath the shack.
That night, Aunt Benna tells Mark that the secret to the Jungle Magic is two-fold, and that to enact it, you must both grip the original shrunken head and 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.
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 will not 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. 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, but then Mark remembers Jessica scratching the head. Mark grabs the head with the white mark on it and utters the secret word. The two adult villains and Kareen all shrink down to the size of mice and flee into the jungle. Aunt Benna transfers the power of the Jungle Magic back to herself.
Mark is allowed to keep the shrunken head. The first morning before school starts, he walks towards his friends to show them the head. Then 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!"
Reprints and rereleases
How I Got My Shrunken Head received its first reprint in September 2003. It received a second reprint in May 2009 as the tenth book in the Classic Goosebumps series, and as a tie-in to the tenth Goosebumps HorrorLand book, Help! We Have Strange Powers!.
- The French version of this book actually translates as "Comment ma tête a rétréci" (How My Head Shrunk) which does not happen in the story.
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.