What I have come to think of as the hardest book to Google, “It” has kept more people awake and made a fear of clowns something not to snicker at but as a generation of readers, our own type of Losers Club that only we understood. What better way to kick off the fall season of movies than with this movie, that terrified millions and made them lose countless nights of sleep?
None, I say.
The first time I read this book, I was twelve. I will never forget the look of horror and confusion on Mr. Perkins face when I pulled it out of my black and pink backpack for our silent reading time in sixth grade (my parents didn’t censor my reading material at all). This book, at that age, was probably something I should have waited a couple years to read, but as a child the same age as the main characters it left an impression, to say the least.
“It” is arguably Stephen King’s most popular book to date and his second longest, just 15 pages shorter than “The Stand”, according to the American hardcover editions. Even if you haven’t seen the 1990 TV miniseries or read the book, Pennywise the Clown is probably well known to you through pop culture. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, there are certain aspects about both that will surprise you. Since we’re here to discuss the book, we’ll get to it.
“It” took four years for King to write, which isn’t exactly surprising to his loyal readers. What is surprising is that he wrote the first draft in 1980 and left it alone for a year before returning to it. King was reluctant to write about traumatized children, having come off of quite a few books that feature children such as “Carrie”, “The Shining”, “The Long Walk” (written as Richard Bachman), “Firestarter”, “Christine”, and “Pet Semetary”. As a father of a nine-year-old at the time, that was just one more reason for King to be wary of the project. While writing “It”, King said that he put himself in a dreaming state, one that would allow him to remember his own childhood and recover memories that he had long since forgotten. The more he wrote, the more he remembered. Not all of these memories were entirely pleasant to recall.
As for the book itself, as long as it is, it has both its strengths and weaknesses in spades. More has been said about this book, by King and his fans and the critics, than I could possibly cover and without giving too much away, there are many things to discuss and dissect.
At its base, It is Evil personified and takes on the shape of what you fear the most. The book skips between two times: 1958 and 1985. In 1958 we meet the Losers Club, the kids that have been bullied and pushed out of the more mainstream circles of their school’s social hierarchy. We watch through the eyes of these children, between the ages of 11 and 12, how It chooses to shape itself and seek out what will cause the most destruction before it kills them. This is what I believe is the core of the book; kids fighting a monster.
Of course, with 1,000 page+ book, there is always more to add.
It is also one of King’s saddest books. There is a running theme of saying goodbye to people and parts of their lives in this book. It’s easy to say that when the book spans 27 years because of course there would be endings to parts of these kids’ lives that is an inescapable part of growing up. However, “It” also is an allegory of losing one’s innocence in a sudden and violent way that is comparable to 1950s America to the late 80s and early 90s. To look back on one’s childhood is nostalgic by definition. Everything that a person is able to remember is seen through a rosy haze. However, “It” is a sharp contrast to that, the ugly underbelly that children inflict a type of cruelty on each other that adults don’t see.
Which is where one of the weaknesses of the books come in. I remember, as a 12-year-old, being envious of these brave kids, these smart kids, that put together things that adults refused to see. I remember agreeing with King’s description of adults – hiding behind locked doors, afraid, harsh, and in the best case scenario, kind of amusing. But rereading the book, with the eyes of a critical, cowardly, harsh adult, the kids were unrealistic to a point that they were bordering on ridiculous. The times we do get a sense of the adults in 1958, they create an idealized version of childhood. These aren’t real children, not as we (the adults and/or parents) know children to be. This is wish fulfillment at its highest and the story pays for it.
But King has a lot of literary credit with his faithful and noble readers, so we trust him and go along with the story.
Without a doubt, this is a huge book, spanning years and characters, theology, and a battle between good and evil. It’s a massive undertaking and not one that you can casually read. This is a book that doesn’t even really begin to dig in until around the 500-page mark. The core of it, the kids and the monster, the series of goodbyes, the pain of becoming an adult is not a topic that could be covered in less than 250 pages. But it satisfies. In an age where there is a continual cycle of sequels, of remakes, of spin offs, where we don’t have to say goodbye to our favorite characters, this book provides an ending that satisfies in a way that only Stephen King can.
So don’t be afraid.
It will be over before you know it.