Book Review: It by Stephen King
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered. Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return. Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.
This tale is largely known in the States as “that scary clown story,” so for years I avoided it. I’ve been terrified of clowns for as long as I can remember. My parents tell me that the first time I ever saw one, I screamed uncontrollably. My only encounter with Stephen King’s It (as it’s known in the States) was with a diorama of the clown from the movie in a haunted house I went through in Salem, MA. It scared the crap out of me, so I was a bit nervous to read this book. However, having read the Dark Tower series, I wanted to read all of the other stories that King lists as taking place in the same general universe, and It was one of them. So I manned up and read it, and boy am I ever glad I did.
This is not a cheesy scary clown story. What it is is first a character study and second a commentary on growing up. The dual horror of being a kid and being excited and afraid to grow up and being an adult and being excited and concerned that you are grown up and may have lost a part of yourself in childhood. King very clearly demonstrates that being a kid isn’t all fun and games–most of the kids in the group of 7 have bad home lives–but there is an essential hope that children have that is hard to reclaim as an adult. A child is able to have a horrible experience with a shape-shifting werewolf or a bunch of bullies and then walk a couple of blocks and forget about it and be excited to see American Bandstand that night. Children are incredibly resilient, and King demonstrates that.
What makes the story though is the return to Derry 27 years later. King puts a hope in adults that although they may not remember exactly what it is to be a resilient child, they can still repossess that power in later life. Although the first inclination of kids to survive is to forget the bad, an adult can remember and still survive. For at the beginning, the characters don’t want to remember what happened to them as kids.
Did he remember? Just enough not to want to remember any more. (Location 1416)
Yet the characters are brave and face their childhoods. Yes, King personifies both the childhood evils and the remembering of them as an adult with It, but that’s part of what makes the story powerful. There’s a reason people refer to memories as personal demons. That’s how they feel. In the end, the way the characters grow and change and overcome is to find
A way to be people that had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands. (Location5631)
Beyond the excellent symbolism and allegory for the experience of surviving bad things in your childhood and facing them again as an adult, the horror itself is wonderful. It comes at just the right frequency so that the reader settles into a sense of security only to be blind-sided by a terrifically horrifying experience. There were sections that literally had me jumping at the sound of my own phone ringing in the silence. These are some of the better passages of creepy horror that I’ve read written by King.
Of course, the allusions to the universe of the Gunslinger are there. It gave me chills to recognize them as I read. Among just a few were the turtle, spiders, and other worlds than these. One particular line that gave me chills of recognition that other fans of the Dark Tower series will be sure to appreciate is
Eddie had drawn his aspirator. He looked like a crazed malnourished gunslinger with some weird pistol. (Location 20760)
Combining everything from the horror to the allegory of facing childhood demons to the allusions to the Dark Tower series make Stephen King’s It a remarkable read. I recommend it to fans of Stephen King, as well as anyone interested in the idea of childhood demons who feels they can handle passages of horror.
5 out of 5 stars