Have you read it? And, by “it,” I actually mean It the 1,142-page horror novel by acclaimed author Stephen King. I know that you all know who Stephen King is, but have actually read It?
I found the 1986 horror tome to be surprising, entertaining, and kind of dragging at some parts (blame my high susceptibility to boredom for that last point) rather than frightening. My lack of fear came as a pleasant surprise to me, as I had shied away from King for years and years and years because I thought his stories would keep me up at night. If you are like me and get spooked by the opening credits of horror films, you too have probably found yourself hesitant to pick up a novel about a killer clown.
I want to talk a little about It (sans spoilers) because if you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, you (like me) probably don’t really know what the story is all about.
“We all float down here,” bellows Pennywise the orange-haired, wild-eyed clown from the murky depths of the sewer drain. This is essentially how the book opens, but you may be surprised to learn that the clown is not the center of attention for a good portion of the book. Instead, we focus on a band of misfit friends in the small town of Derry, Maine in the late 1950s. There’s “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough, jokester Richie Tozier, overweight Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kaspbrak the asthmatic, Beverly Marsh the only girl in the group, also because this is the 1950s in a small white community, Stan Uris is remarkable as he is the Jewish boy, and Mike Hanlon because he is the only black kid.
Derry, as you may suspect is no ordinary town. Children are going missing, and some are turning up not only dead, but also slaughtered. There are signs plastered upon the walls of the public library, urging residents to heed the police curfew of 7pm. Children in this town must not talk to strangers. The danger that lurks at night is most pressing to Bill, who lost his younger brother to the man, the clown, the beast-creature, or whatever it is that appears to be feeding on the town’s young.
Thirty years later, after the summer when everything changed in their town, the friends, now separated by time and distance catch wind that the murders in Derry are happening once more. To the now-adults, the events of the fateful summer are all but a haze, however, they strongly believe that they can stop it, because hadn’t they done so all those years before?
The story is told primarily between the two time lines — the summer before everything changed in the late 1950’s and the present day (i.e. the 1980’s). Similarly, perspectives switch between the group of friends and a large collection of supporting and even minor characters in the town of Derry.
It is long in part because actions and descriptions are saturated with rich, contextual detail. For example, at one point, instead of stating something along the lines of “after a half mile of walking, the unconscious woman slung over the man’s shoulder became unbearably heavy,” King will say something (more eloquently!) along the lines of “the actress was tall and handsome and weighed about 140 lbs. However, she was set to star in a film, portraying a drug addict. The director decided to film the opening scenes of the movie first, which featured the actress as an emaciated woman. For this reason, the actress followed a restrictive diet in which she only consumed a few foods, tuna included, and managed to drop 20 lbs in just a few weeks. Even so, upon carrying the now-120 lb catatonic woman for a half or even three quarters of a mile, the man struggled under the weight of the actress, which felt like 200 lbs.” Additionally, the plot does not simply follow the group of protagonists in their fight against It, rather a number of mini stories that involve side characters are recounted in great detail (like, for example, tales of segregation in the U.S. army and racial discrimination in the north, bar fights, and the like).
With a prodigious talent for threading words together, I found many of King’s lines, observations, and characterizations to be witty. For example, when describing how many residents are being swept away by a flood of biblical proportion, one narrator wryly remarks that “God favors drunks, small children, and the cataclysmically stoned.” Also, in describing a particularly deplorable setting, one character looks up at the dirty seagulls, flying overhead and muses that they are “probably just fat old dump-gulls who didn’t give a sh*t if they ever saw the ocean.”
With that last quote, I will note that It is NOT for children. Not only does King use all the bad words (with the N-word and F-word sprinkled into sentences like powdered sugar on a jelly donut), but he also depicts acts of brutality (especially in the form of bullying), sexual violence, violence against homosexuals, domestic violence, and straight barbarism.
Should I read It? If you are over the age of 18, are really curious about the story of It, are interested in a long and winding tale, want to know what It really is, are into action, and have a lot of time on your hands, then, yes, go for it! However, if you are coulrophobic, looking for a quick jump scare or a fun, fast-paced read, then, It is probably not for you.