It - Novel
Updated: May 2
WARNING: This review will reference sexual activity, so read at your own risk.
To tell you the truth, I’m very fond of stories, no matter what medium they were told in, that endorsed a level of growth in the main characters through certain circumstances. Also, I consider myself a sucker for stories that used epic scopes to not only tell its story, but also to tell it right. Over the past couple of months, I was fortunate enough to have launched into one kind of story that took advantage of both of those elements. Except it did just that with a truly frightening foe to create a memorably frightening experience.
That story would be Stephen King’s IT.
Taking place in the late-50s (for the first half, anyway, but I’ll get to that soon), IT focused on seven children:
Bill Denbrough, nicknamed ’Stuttering Bill’ for his stutters,
Richard Tozier, a boy who constantly did one impersonation after another,
Mike Hanlon, an African American kid whose family were local farmers,
Stanley Uris, a young kid who liked to study about birds,
Ben Hanscom, a fat kid who had a talent for architecture,
Eddie Kaspbrak, who carried an aspirator wherever he went,
and Beverly Marsh, a young girl who regularly swore and was a tomboy (something that her girl classmates didn't take kindly to),
who all lived seemingly normal lives in the quiet town of Derry, Maine, until a series of gruesome, unexplainable deaths cropped up all over the place, shaking the town to its core and causing the seven kids to react to it with suspicion. Their curiosity over this disconcerting phenomena started when Bill’s younger brother George went out to try out a paper boat they constructed – in the middle of a heavily rainy day, no less – when he ran into what seemed like a clown in the sewers and was killed right then and there.
Adding fuel to their curiosity were the eventual run-ins they had of their own with...well, IT. Only IT changed its form to match mostly what what the children dreaded the most. In Ben’s case, it was a decaying mummy. As for everyone else:
Bill: The moving picture in George’s picture book that bled and also sliced up Bill’s hand (I think).
Mike: A giant flying bird he found at the Ironworks.
Beverly: Blood spewing out of the bathroom sink at her house.
Stanley: A ghoulish flood speaking in the voices of those who died in Derry Standpipe (where he was) that trickled down to his feet.
Eddie: A leper he found in the basement of the house on Neibolt Street.
Richie: A giant statue of Paul Bunyan as it came to life.
These kids all came together, half of them after they dealt with pretty nasty run-ins with local bully Henry Bowers. In fact, the first thing I noticed Henry do to one of the kids still makes me wonder how he didn't get incarcerated sooner. But that‘s beside the point. These encounters not only brought these seven children together, but once they shared their experiences with IT with each other, they all agreed to investigate the matter further.
Without giving anything further than that side of the story away, I'll also say that after their first major confrontation with IT, they made a collective vow to return to Derry, Maine, no matter where they would've gone, or what they would've done, if IT ever resumed its murder spree in town.
Cue the other half of the story. Once IT actually got back to it in 1984, starting with the murder of Adrian Mellon, the adult Mike Hanlon decided to make the fateful calls to his childhood pals to return to Derry so they can resume their investigation on the events and on the creature wrecking such havoc. Before then, Mike, who was working as head of the Derry Public Library during then, was doing extensive research of his own on IT, mostly in the form of interviews he had with local citizens who reflected on certain strong phenomena from the past that they dealt with in Derry. In the midst of those interviews, Mike slowly caught on to a certain link these events shared that hinted that the creature they were dealing with may have had a much longer history in Derry than he or his friends would ever have thought possible.
This was one of the most massive books I ever read at this point; the last doorstopper book I ever read was Gone with the Wind, and it took me months to get through. So, I had to carefully budget my time for this book. But thankfully, not only did IT take me just around two months to get through, but the journey I took with it was so worth it.
One of the biggest, and all-in-all best aspects of the story was its ability to balance the adventurous, fun, comedic, and touching elements of childhood, mostly via the seven children – or, as I should describe them as they should be described, the Losers' Club – with the frightening, gory, nerve-wracking, and downright dangerous elements of reality, as shown through IT or even people like Henry Bowers. The Losers' Club, like I said, bonded together after putting up with some trauma of their own that didn't deal with IT. Only it went beyond just encounters with Henry Bowers; it also included:
Bill dealing with the grief that followed after his brother's death, and the fact that his parents, also in mourning, almost never spoke to him since then didn't help.
Beverly had tons of issues to deal with, such as the fact that she and her family had to live in a crummy small-scale apartment AND the fact that she had a heavily abusive father who always said, "I worry about you. A lot."
Eddie had an embarrassingly overbearing mother who always stressed out about his welfare, mostly his healthy welfare. She acted that way towards him ever since his father passed away. That would also have explained why he carried his aspirator everywhere.
Mike and his family held personal grudges against the Bowers family for up to a generation, starting with Will Hanlon's grudge with Oscar 'Butch' Bowers. Most of this conflict stemmed from the Hanlons' enthnicity; this was set during the 50s half, when African-Americans still had to put up with racism. And as Mike's encounters with Henry mounted up, the culmination was what led him to join Bill and the others in the first place.
I don't know if Stanley, Ben, or Richie had any drama they dealt with outside of Henry, but all their misfortunes helped them to band together as a team in the Barrens and grow closer as friends. They also did many fun things that we'd expect children to do, like go to see scary horror pictures (this was the 50s, after all), or build clubhouses (only in their case, theirs was in the ground instead of, say, up in the trees).
One of my favorite sections of the story was when Ben had the hots for Beverly, starting with when he wrote her a haiku just after school let out for the summer. It really embellished the feelings that any kid expressed when they had a crush on someone they liked. Their communications with one another as they bonded with the others were really sweet, too. I especially found it interesting when Ben acknowledged how much Beverly had the hots for Bill, and while he was slightly unnerved about it from time to time, it never got to a point where he was left green with envy, since Bill was his friend, too. It's one of those times where even what you'd have dismissed as seemingly basic childish activities can leave you amazed.
Another particular section of the story I thought was weirdly funny – or rather, more grotesquely funny – was what Henry Bowers and the gang did in the Barrens junkyard while Beverly was hiding from them. As she was hiding, she eavesdropped on them to notice them using matches to light their farts with. Some of them were successful, others were not. Just like Beverly, I couldn’t help getting a chuckle over how absurd this all was.
One seemingly funny, yet important and progressively stressful moment I remembered well was when the Losers' Club got the idea to find out what IT was or where IT came from by filling their hideout with fire smoke, AKA the Smoke-Hole Ceremony. They got the idea from an old-style Native American tradition that Ben read about from one of the books he read, and the hope was that they'd hallucinate to find the answer.
And this leads to the frightening sides of the story: the side that truly unnerved its audience and demonstrated it with the kinds of monstrosity that IT could've established itself to be. IT was known to take multiple forms of whatever it desired if it matched whatever the biggest fear was of the child it sought after. One of its most iconic forms was that of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown, who had a silvery suit with orange pompom buttons, had white makeup on his face with red markings, and almost always held onto some balloons. Adding to his creepiness was that whenever he spoke with someone he intended to kill at some point in the future, he simply told them things like, "We all float down here, and you will, too". His iconic status as the clown was only strengthened when he was portrayed onscreen by Tim Curry in the 1990 miniseries and by Bill Skarsgård in the two-part movie.
But what makes it even scarier was that it wasn't just IT that was causing problems, but also what the kids also had to deal with, like bullies or abusive parents. There were even goings-on in Derry that didn't directly involve the Losers' Club that still aroused such uneasy reactions, like a section on the anything-but-stable nature of the Corcoran family. They were shown in all of their uncompromising hostility, and it left us with a sick feeling in our stomachs every time.
I'd even say that this carried onto when the Losers' Club grew into adults; not only could IT have targeted adults as easily, if not as frequently, as it targeted children, but the Losers' Club dealt with issues that adults can easily identify with. For instance, the fact that an adult Henry, who was just incarcerated several years back and more maniacal than ever, escaped from jail at ITs command to track down the then-reunited Losers' Club. Or how about when Beverly had to put up with more abuse and mistreatment, this time from her husband, Tom Hogan? In fact, first, Beverly had to survive her childhood under the ‘worried’ fists of her brass, abusive father, and then, she had to deal with that same unacceptable intolerance as an adult from her husband?
Is it just me, or was poor Beverly born under the wrong people at the wrong time?
Whether as children or as adults, the Losers' Club had a great urge to fight against whatever injustices came their way, especially when it was a supernatural force that not even other adults, let alone the police, could've put their finger on, and it all tied into their inner struggles. It even juggled what they embraced about their childhood with what they held onto about their childhoods and what they had to confront as part of entering adulthood.
I already knew Stephen King was a fantastic writer as I read Misery, but whereas the situations in Misery felt realistically crazy, the threatening situations in IT felt real. And given that the threat has been easily recognizable as a clown, I don't think that's an easy feat to pull off, and I congratulate King for that.
This story went all out there with both its heart and its scares, and the end result was a truly creepy yet epic portrait of fears that children and/or adults can identify with, how it all may be connected, and how they can be overcome.
Long story short, IT knows just how to warm our hearts and freeze us stiff.
I did indeed read the part where Beverly deliberately had her friends from the Losers' Club have sex with her in the sewers, one by one. That had to be the most uncomfortable I ever felt as I read something about children. It felt awkward as I watched Arya strip herself in Game of Thrones: Season 8, but this really took the cake. Would this ever count as one extreme case of learning about the birds and the bees?I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this.