People 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.