Freshman year was one of the most memorable school years of my high school life. That was the year my best friend Josh introduced me to Stephen King. He made me a fan. He led me toward falling in love with reading. I remember looking forward to recess and lunch time each day because it was during these times when Josh would talk about the latest Stephen King book he was reading. He discussed the horrors of Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining. But most fall, he talked about It, and how terrifying and wonderful the novel was.
“We all float down here!” – Stephen King, It
He spent a long time talking about It, probably because of how lengthy the book was. My paperback copy is 1,090 pages long. I listened to him narrate the novel over the course of a month or two. Josh was a great storyteller, and he got me hooked on Bill, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Mike, Richie, Stan, and their Derry adventures with Pennywise the Clown long before I bought a copy of the novel.
I had a couple of false starts reading It, partly because I felt the book wasn’t living up to the way Josh narrated it, at least at the start. Mostly it was because I was lazy. I thought I already knew the story from start to finish, as if I listened to the audio book version of It—but I didn’t. I knew Josh’s version of the story, which was great. Now, I have my own version of the story, and that’s even better.
“Your hair is winter fire
My heart burns there, too.” – Stephen King, It
It tells the story of seven friends who grew up in the small city of Derry. These friends would have had pretty normal childhoods, except that their hometown was haunted.
Correction: It was haunting. It was hunting. It was hurting. It was killing the people of Derry. They defeated It when they were kids, almost killed It. But now the monster has resurfaced and is out for revenge.
Sounds pretty simple, but there is so much story and depth in this massive novel. Most of it is set in 1958, when Bill, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Mike, Richie, and Stan were kids.
That year was an eventful one. It was when these seven losers and outcasts, became friends, partly because of their shared experiences of being constantly lonely and bullied.
It was also because they all survived their encounters with It, also known as Pennywise the Clown. Together, they managed to defeat It that same year.
“We lie best when we lie to ourselves.” – Stephen King, It
I love how Stephen King shifted between the points of view of all seven protagonists as kids and as adults. King even gave the points of view of antagonists, side characters, and even seemingly inconsequential characters who die or leave the story after several pages. No character is the same, and I found myself relating to many of them in different ways.
This novel focuses on the power of childhood imagination. Children are able to survive the terrors of It because they had the power to imagine, accept the reality of even the most monstrous and terrible horrors.
“Come on back and we’ll see if you remember the simplest thing of all – how it is to be children, secure in belief and thus afraid of the dark.” – Stephen King, It
As children, we believe Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy in the same way we believe in the monsters lurking inside our closets and under our beds. As children, we aren’t afraid to let others know that we are afraid of the dark.
Adults forget or refuse to believe in imaginary beings from nightmares and fair tales. When they come face to face with impossible, they just can’t face the reality of it.
“What can be done when you’re eleven can often never be done again.” – Stephen King, It
The problem our seven protagonists face is whether or not they can kill, much less defeat it again, now that they are adults themselves. Fortunately, there are adults who still retain the wonders of childhood. There are still adults who believe in fairies; who believe they can fly. In a sense, King’s story is in some ways a much darker version of Peter Pan.
Stephen King’s It is a terrifying read. I imagine it would have been even more scary to read it as a teenager, but the impact of this story does not diminish with age or time. I think this is one of King’s best novels, and I am placing it among my favorites together with Carrie, The Shining, 11/22/63, and The Dome.
Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating: