The novel “It” by Stephen King has been lauded for three decades as a horror masterpiece. Due to my age, I came to “It” quite late, only first reading it in my late 20’s; however, I had become well-acquainted with Stephen King as an author, by that point. Even so, I found “It” went well above and beyond my expectations and became one of my favorite Stephen King novels. It truly is a modern-day classic.
“It” tells the story of a group of kids, living in the fictitious town of Derry, Maine in the late 1950s and their battle against an unspeakable horror that is devouring their small town, one young victim at a time. The monster “It” generally takes the form of an evil clown named Pennywise, however, the children must all come to face Pennywise in the form it chooses to manifest to each of them. When they fail to completely vanquish Pennywise as children, they must then come back to Derry to face “It” as adults.
“It” is expansive and cosmic, and at about 1,100 pages, King leaves no detail untold. At times, the book reads more like a vast town history, marking every instance back through the centuries (about once every 27 years) that It has awakened from its slumber to wreak havoc and devastation on this tiny portion of New England. The scale of the novel is awe-inspiring and, at times, overwhelming. King has so thoroughly developed the town of Derry and fleshed out each character with such clarity, that the reader feels as though they’re in Derry, watching these events unfold. The smell of blood, the crunch of gravel, and titter of childish laughter in a drain feel all too real, particularly when reading late into the night.
With the release of the much-anticipated film adaptation fresh on everyone’s mind, some may wonder if the novel (and the film) live up to the hype both have received online and in the media. Though the book may be dated in some ways, the core of the story remains as germane and horrifyingly human as the day it was published. As Jean-Paul Sartre quipped, “Hell is other people, “ and a dark evil like Pennywise the Clown has the ability to amplify that Hell. In King’s story, though, the deep-seated good of these children, “The Losers,” and the raw, unwavering love they have for one another, even into adulthood, shines bright in the chasm of darkness that “It” has created in Derry. “It” compels us thirty plus years later, not only because of the murderous clown, but because we can see ourselves in those children and even in the worst of the Derry townspeople. Reading “It” is, at times, like being forced to look into a mirror and not always liking what you see staring back. These days I would argue that a little self-reflection might do us all a bit of good.