ItPeople don’t talk about it, but there’s something wrong with the town of Derry. People may talk about the wrong things–for example, when children start disappearing, a curfew is established and everyone goes on alert. But no one talks about the fact that a rash of disappearances seem to happen every 27 years or so. Nor does anyone talk about the strange happenings in between—or the strange clown who people see hovering around and in pictures throughout the town’s history. It’s almost as if they don’t quite see what’s happening.

But the children can see, and they can see that it’s all wrong in Derry. And in 1957, a group of seven children decided it was time to do something about it. In 1985, they returned–were called back to a Derry they barely remember–to fulfill a promise to finish the job.

When I started reading Stephen King novels, I avoided his scary ones. That left me with plenty of King to read (and plenty still to read), but I gradually gained confidence in the fact that evil rarely wins in his novels and that even the scariest scares and worth it when the story is good. (I also probably got harder to scare.) I read The Shining and Bag of Bones and Misery with no nightmares—just good, honest fear that I could put aside as needed. So I knew I could handle It—and Jenny knew it too, because she put this on my list of books to read this year.

So is It scary? Yes, It is. Not so scary as Misery perhaps, but there are images that do not erase easily. Pennywise the clown is the one most people know, but I think I’ve seen enough pictures of Tim Curry as Pennywise to become immune to that guy. I was prepared for him. But the bleeding picture? The voices from the drain? The kid who locks animals in a refrigerator? Those are the images that kept me up at night.

So yes, this is a scary book, but is it a good book? Or is it just terror and bad dreams? For me, this was a good book, one of King’s better books. It’s not up there with The Stand or the Dark Tower series, but it’s good. Although there are some blunders, the book doesn’t totally fall apart at the end, as some of King’s books do. And despite its 1000-page length, it doesn’t feel drawn out. Some might find the tangents about Derry’s history to be off-point and dull, but I liked them, partly because I liked the character, Mike, who told those stories. It has great characters. The seven friends—the Losers Club—just feel right. They feel like they’re meant to be. It took many chapters for this ka-tet to form, but I was as in almost as much suspense about that as I was about seeing the creature they call “It” be destroyed. These kids seem meant to be, and the novel is a tribute to that kind of perfect friendship, where jokes and heart-to-heart talks flow easily and everyone accepts everyone else.

I call these friends a ka-tet because the word, one King uses for the friends at the center of the Dark Tower series, feels like the right one. There’s a sense of destiny around their friendship and their quest, just as there is for Roland and his ka-tet, and this world appears to be adjacent to the world of Roland and the Tower. Always in the background, behind and above the “It” that terrorizes Derry, is the Turtle. And when the Turtle is gone, the One who made him remains. They’re not named, but these must be Maturin the Turtle and Gan the Creator. The more I read King, the more of these connections I see. These little nods add to the fun of reading King’s books but they aren’t so in your face as to make those who’ve read less of his work feel left out. You don’t have to know about Maturin to recognize the role and importance of the turtle in this book.

This is one of King’s better books, but I have reservations about parts of it. As is often the case with King’s books, there are times when it feels like he has too many good ideas, and some of them don’t end up feeling fully developed. There are a few too many human nemeses, and most of their ends seem to come too swiftly and easily. And the monster itself is not as terrifying as I expected. Describing a monster in concrete terms is always a risk. I don’t have the particular visceral fear that would make It’s actual shape so terrifying to some.

But the part that I had the most trouble with was a plot development late in the book involving Beverly, the only girl in the group. When the Losers Club go to fight the monster in the 1950s, a point comes when seemingly out of the blue, they need to be more closely bound together so that they can be their strongest. Beverly has an idea for how to strengthen their bond, and it works, but it’s troubling, and I wish that chapter had ended up on the cutting-room floor.

There’s an explanation for the scene from King himself on the Stephen King message board, and I find it only moderately satisfying for a couple of reasons. One is that as a woman, I’m seeing it from Beverly’s point of view, and it’s hard to get away from the idea that she’s being used, and the fact that she volunteers to show her love in this way makes it sound as if this is the only and best way to show love. As for the idea of moving from childhood to adulthood, but if going into the tunnel to fight a being that adults can’t be bothered to even see isn’t enough move you toward adulthood, well, I don’t know what to say. I guess the battle they’ve fought doesn’t have symbolic import or something. For me, I’m too attached to the characters as people to be able to pull away enough to see what happens to them as symbolic of something else. If you’ve read the book I’m curious as to what you though about it. Did it seem out of place to you?

Whatever you or I think about that one scene, I don’t want my feelings about it to overshadow my feelings about the rest of the book. It’s one scene out of 1000-plus pages, and most of those other pages are worth reading.

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9 Responses to It

  1. Andrea says:

    I also finished reading It last month. I also had the same issue with Beverly as you. Mostly because I found her childhood character so very strong and outspoken even though she was abused at home, but by the end she reverted to a very secondary figure and that scene just kind of stripped all that feminism out of her. Outside of that, a very worthwhile novel.

    • Teresa says:

      For me, a lot of the problem centered on the fact that King had gone through such pains in showing that, despite the growing sexual awareness among the kids, the fact that Beverly was a girl didn’t matter that much. He handled that tension really well and went to great pains to show that her relationships with the boys were first and foremost about friendship, whatever other feelings they may have had. Bringing sex into it seemed to undercut all that and make her father right about their friendships. It doesn’t keep the rest of the novel from being good, but it was a disappointment.

  2. gaskella says:

    I remember reading this when it first came out, but have forgotten everything except the clown. I don’t know if I’d have the time or energy to read it again (still having two of the Dark Tower books to read amongst other King novels). Glad it’s a good one on the whole though, as it would be awful to devote the time to read 1000 pages if it fizzled out.

    • Teresa says:

      I think most of King’s longer books are good perhaps because I like his the way he sets up and develops his stories and characters more than I like the way he wraps it up. Longer books mean more of what I like and less of what I don’t. Maybe that’s why I’m such a nut for the Dark Tower–it’s seven volumes of set-up and development.

  3. I’ve still never read a Stephen King novel. Partly I’m nervous of scary books, and partly it’s the length, and partly his list of books is so massive I don’t know where to begin. (Maybe not with this one, though?)

    • Teresa says:

      Definitely not the place to start, especially if you don’t like scary books. But there are lots of choices that aren’t scary at all. The Talisman and The Eyes of the Dragon are excellent fantasy stories. The first has some intense moments, but not scary ones, and the latter is mostly just a good story. He wrote it for his daughter, who liked dragons but didn’t like scary stories. Proper Jenny started me with The Dead Zone, which posits an interesting ethical dilemma without being scary.

  4. Jenny says:

    Okay, so obviously I love this book (I think I’ve read it three times), mostly for the characters but also for the anecdotal nature of it — I love the way It shifts to make itself as scary as possible to whoever It’s facing. That seems… I guess realistic isn’t the word, but a terrific idea for a monster. And the way the kids beat that aspect of it is so satisfying.

    Of course I was troubled about that scene with Beverly, too. I agree that it feels weird and out of place. But I have a theory about it that lets me move on without it being more than… sandpapery, I guess. First, it’s realistically depicted; King doesn’t make it this big flight of beautiful orgasmic love or something. Second, it’s her idea, which I know is scraping the bottom of the barrel but at least leaves her the one who is working the spell, such as it is. Third, I think King is working hard here against the usual trope in horror novels and films that sex=death. Normally a woman (or man, but usually woman) who has sex is automatically the Whore, and she’s destined to die for her sins. Here, King says no: this is positive, it’s life-giving, in fact it’s the one thing they really need even if they don’t really understand it right now. He’s taking an almost inevitable trope and subverting it, which I always enjoy. As for the notion that this is the only and best way to show love — nah. Beverly and all the others show love in dozens of other ways throughout the novel. This is just the right thing right now.

    At least that’s how I’ve explained it for myself. :) Who’s your favorite character?

    • Teresa says:

      That shifting idea was great–it made It’s final form a little anti-climactic for me, as I’m not afraid of spiders. I kind of like looking at them.

      Your reading of the scene with Beverly makes sense, and I fully agree with you that the fact that it was her choice goes a long way toward making it not an unforgivable plot development. I’ll have to give some thought to the idea of trope subversion. I suppose when the book was written that was more subversive that it seems today, when the Whore trope, while not dead, is also not adhered to as much. It’s a trope that doesn’t need subverting as badly as it once did, I think.

      My favorite was Mike. I liked how steady and even-keeled he was. I loved his relationship with his dad–it was a relief to see a happy family relationship, and I think that gave him strength to be the one to stay in Derry and carry that burden. The whole idea that he held those memories for so long, waiting, while the others could move on until he called them back, got to me.

  5. Pingback: Ponder This… #3 | The Literary Syndicate

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