Twenty years ago I was a big Stephen King fan. I devoured his novels left and right (except, for some reason, the Dark Tower books). At some point I stopped, and I am not sure why. I do know I have in the years since occasionally picked up one of his newer books and read them over and, while none of them struck me as being particularly bad, none of them grabbed me the way his work did twenty years ago. Was his work as good as I remembered it?
In light of enjoying the movie version of half of IT, I decided to reread the book and see if it held up.
Good news for me! It (mostly) did!
Rereading this book reminded me of why I used to dig King. The man’s prime work (probably at least partially fueled by cocaine) had a high amount of energy and passion to it. King spent a lot of time on this sucker (something like four years according to the last page), and it shows – this novel certainly exceeds the average length of a novel and stands at an impressive 1138 pages. One early chapter shows the different adult members of the Losers Club getting the call to return to Derry and face off with It yet again. The first to get the call is Stan, and rather than King showing us the inside of Stan’s mind, instead we get a detailed history of Stan’s poor wife, a seemingly normal woman who had settled down with a nice guy and then…well, something happens after a phone call and this character King spent pages developing is never seen in the book again.
He does this many times.
True, there might be a sense that this is just adding to a page count, but IT has an epic scope to it. King takes his time creating characters that help to create an emotional bond to people that might otherwise just be a throwaway character. The tragedy of what happens to Stan is seen through the eyes of his wife, and how it affects her is what is important here. She’s the survivor of the incident, and she doesn’t even know why it happened, and there’s no one there to really explain it to her.
Furthermore, King uses the book to thematically ruminate on childhood. The Losers as adults do not remember their childhood friends except for the one guy who stayed behind (and he, fittingly, works for the town library). While this is something that is made out to be some sort of supernatural side-effect of facing off against Pennywise the Dancing Clown, how many people truly keep in close contact with all their childhood friends, or even stay in the same town they grew up in? Furthermore, the fears of children are amplified here. Things adults would find silly come across as frighteningly real to the children, and it is that childhood imagination and excitement that ultimately saves the day two times over. The individual Losers are mostly well-crafted (arguably Stan gets the short shrift for very good, and Beverly is probably just too much of a token female character for the others to all fall in love with), but the book isn’t without its flaws.
The two that bothered me the most were one very obvious one and one I might have given a pass to when I read it the first time. The obvious one is the one anyone who has ever read the book can name without trouble, and even knowing it was coming, it was even more disgusting this time around. Thank God no one even considered adapting it for any live action version.
The second was the character of Bill. Bill is the leader of the Losers, the ones the others look at with awe and reverence, the one that stands up to It more than any of the others and gives his strength at ages 11 and 38. And he’s a successful horror novelist by profession, the one married to a beautiful actress and who gets the girl in the past. A horror novelist? Really? Any fan of King’s knows he tends to make his protagonists writers or English teachers (if not both), but that was a bit too much of King fluffing his own ego.
At any rate, I’m glad I went back, though I don’t think I’ll be trying any more rereads of King’s other works anytime soon. Nine out of ten cosmic Turtles.