It: A Novel, by Stephen King
I decided to re-read this now that a new edition is out some 30 years after the first publication as part of the “major motion picture” release.
The town of Derry, where the book is set, is a town that has had a dark past for hundreds of years from the influence of a being that shows itself in the guise of a clown named Pennywise. This entity has an impact on the psyche of the citizens and it expresses in two ways, either through horrible acts by citizens or through the blind apathy to those acts by others. These incidents reach their peak every 27 years, normally in a series of child killings but there are other murders as well. This includes the destruction of a shack set up as a place for black enlisted men to drink, this fire started by white residents of Derry kills several black soldiers.
Something I realized in this reading is how often the horror of the monsters in King’s books are secondary to the horrors caused by humans. The group of children in “the losers’ club” is tormented by older, bigger sociopaths led by Henry Bowers. The residents burn soldiers to death. The “It” clown figure kills children but in between killings the humans are as bad or worse. Think of The Shining in which wannabe writer Jack is the major danger in the haunted hotel, or Carrie in which the real horrors are caused by Carrie’s religiously extreme mother, the prison guards in The Green Mile, or Annie Wilkes in Misery. If Stephen King has nightmares I’m betting most involve the evil of regular human beings.
Another trend in his books is the number of times a writer character is the hero, victim, or cause of horror. (It, Misery, and The Shining in order.) This probably expresses something about his own daydreams about his life coming through in book form, or may just be his version of “write what you know”.
In addition to violent acts some new readers have pointed out the “child orgy” of the book during which young Bev allows all the members of the “losers’ club” to have sex with her. This happens shortly after the group of sociopathic older kids masturbate together and one of them offers to have sex with the leader. In a recent tweet the author said with all the other sins in the book he has trouble understanding why there’s attention on these two brief passages. It’s hard to say exactly what the sexual activity with Bev accomplishes, though it does seem to bond the group and give them more power to fight the monster, and everyone in the group forgets the incident until they have to return to Derry as adults to fight It again.
It’s still a powerful book with vivid cultural references to the late 50s and mid-80s when the main action takes place. There are few writers with a stronger memory for the past and childhood than King (which he points out is a talent of Ben Hanscom).
With the book fresh in my mind it will be interesting to see how the movie handles so much activity. The older miniseries with Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown and the late John Ritter as stuttering writer Ben Hanscom had the time to cover a long book fairly well.