I actually read It by Stephen King once before, when I was around 15 years old and it first came out. Back then I thought that it was one of the best King books I had read mainly because the book had so many powerful (and icky) images and the heroes were a bunch of misfit kids trying to stop a child-murdering monster that prowled their home town below the sight line of most adults. Now, 20 years later, I’ve re-read the book and once again think it’s one of the highlights of King’s career, but for additional reasons.
What King really, really nails here is what it’s like to be a kid. Most of the book is set in 1958 where a group of 11-year old kids become the only ones to realize that a rash of killings in their small town is being caused by a shape shifting monster they simply call “It.” The titular monster preys on children because they have such imaginative and elastic minds, but it turns out that these same qualities are also what saves these self-proclaimed members of the “Losers’ Club.” As with the first reading when I was a teenager, I’m impressed by the accuracy with which King portrays what it’s like to be a kid in the world of adults. Parents and other elders simply look past you most of the time, not taking you too seriously and not putting much stock in what you say or do, nor the very real dangers of school bullies. All you’ve got are your friends, who know what it’s like and who know how to stick up for each other.
Now compound all that with a monster who eats kids after taking on the shape of their worst fears –from giant, blood sucking bugs to werewolves to a psychotic clown– and you’ve got a recipe for a horror book that should resonate with most people who can remember what childhood was all about. I mean, just think about how frightening it would be if everything you were ever scared of turned real and none of the adults around you could not (or, worse, would not) help. That’s powerful stuff that King hits squarely on the head.
It is also impressive from a structural standpoint. King interweaves the story of The Losers’ Club with the story of the same kids as adults, coming back to town to face old fears and finish It off for good. And even then, King breaks up those two main threads into strands for each character, deftly manipulating and pulling on each until the cohesive whole comes together in the last few hundred pages. It’s the kind of stuff that I like to point at when people scoff at King and suggest that he’s a no-talent hack.
Even still, my good will towards the whole book is almost completely undone by a disturbing scene late in the book where Beverly, the only female member of the pre-pubescent crew, resorts to some cringe-inducing acts to calm down the other Losers. I don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of Google’s automated indexing of certain undesirable words with this site, but suffice to say that that scene is amongst the most reviled by Stephen King fans, more so for its complete absurdity and unnecessary nature.
Still, really good book. It’s among the first that I’ll recommend for anyone looking to dabble into Stephen King, even though it’s one of his longest at 1,100+ pages.