Hello all you traumatized children linked together by a cosmological Turtle! Here we are, the review I’ve been avoiding writing for since before this blog was this blog. I’ll never shut up about how hard it is to write about the things you love and I love this thing more than any other thing. This is my all time favorite book by my all time favorite author with my all time favorite monster. This is the book I’ve read more times than the amount of years I’ve lived. This is the book that makes me want to write while simultaneously making me feel like nothing I write will ever be good enough. This is the only book that I would gladly pay thousands of dollars for a signed first edition.
This, of course, is IT.
Why didn’t you know that? What the hell have I been talking about all month ya dinguses! Don’t you all have egg on your face.
So let’s get this out of the way. IT is a perfect ten. It’s beyond rating for me. It transcends any petty mortal rating scale. I have to say that up front so that you know this is barely a review. This is just me gushing about a book for a billion years. So be ready.
You should all know the story by now. A group of kids brought together by a string of grisly murders to fight a paradimensional demon in the shape of a clown. They come back together 26 years later to fight it again. S’fine, you all know that. The story is actually kind of simple which I think is one of the book’s strengths. On its surface the book is almost an adventure novel. It’s a gritty reboot of the Hardy Boys. You can easily enjoy it as a simple story about a group of kids way more badass than you fighting a monster. Sometimes I’ll do readings of the book that are just that – skipping the long interludes and skimming the chapters to get to the action. But beneath the adventure story is a deep rumination on fear, grief, sadness, and abuse. King’s specialty has always been inserting very real characters into very unreal situations and I think IT is the prime example.
And the writing itself is just beautiful. King has a tendency to be a bit schmaltzy. His books are all written with a lot of sentimentality. Sometimes it’s handled well, sometimes it’s egregious; but in IT I think he does it perfectly. The sections where the Losers are kids are full of palpable nostalgia. You can practically feel King longing to go back to his childhood and experience the magic once again. But he also cuts through that nostalgia at each turn to reveal the darkness underneath. But even amongst the gruesome killings and psychotic bullies, there is hope. There’s courage and love and friendship. And these things have power.
There’s actually a very common idea in a lot of King’s books. If I may go off topic for a bit and talk about The Dark Tower; in the final book the main character Roland finally comes to the eponymous tower and confronts the big villain that’s been behind all the shit. He’s called the Crimson King and we’ve never seen him before this book, but we’ve heard about him. His followers are all horrified of him and barely want to speak his name. We hear he’s been working at destroying all reality for millions of years, that he’s older than time, that he’s the most powerful sorcerer to have ever existed. He can destroy worlds on a whim, he commands legions of twisted demons, he creates plagues with a whisper. And then Roland confronts him and…he’s an old man trapped on balcony shrieking curses and throwing bombs. He’s beaten by a guy painting him and erasing him. He’s a chump.
A lot of people were disappointed by this but really they should have seen it coming. Because the theme that King writes about over and over is that evil is really very small. It makes a lot of noise and it’s really good at making you afraid, but if you just stand up and confront it, it’s really much weaker than good. IT is the first time I ever noticed this theme in King’s writing. The Losers are able to beat Pennywise because they stand together and face it instead of turning from it and sweeping it under the rug like the rest of Derry. It’s really a very beautiful sentiment.
And then there’s all the crazy cosmic stuff. So Pennywise isn’t a clown or a fucking spider; it’s really a paradimensional horror. There’s this whole scene where the Losers get high on smoke inhalation and Richie and Mike see a vision of Pennywise’s invasion of Earth. And he may have been the comet that made the dinosaurs go extinct. That’s how I read it when I was a kid and I refuse to believe anything else. If you read King’s other works it’s pretty heavily hinted that Pennywise is actually a creature from a place called Todash space, which is basically the space between dimensions. And his species is actually what’s behind all the trouble in Under the Dome. And part of how the Losers beat Pennywise is by talking to a giant space turtle who literally barfed up the universe. The Turtle is also mentioned in The Dark Tower series. I love it. The Turtle’s so cool. AND then Richie basically beats Pennywise by telling it really terrible jokes. It’s great!
Also I do want to touch on the sex scene that everyone always brings up. In the wake of the movie’s success I saw a lot of people writing about it online and describing it as a “child orgy” which is…misleading. Most of them also seemed to think the scene was about the Losers forming their bond. This is wrong. Like, literally five pages later the Losers do their blood pact. A scene that is specifically mentioned as them forging their bond to return to Derry. The sex scene isn’t about forming a bond, it’s about losing innocence. The context is the Losers are trapped in the sewers, trying to find their way out, but they can’t. Pennywise’s magic turns the sewers into a labyrinth and the only way they can get out is to break Pennywise’s magic and the only way to break the magic is to not be children anymore. It’s not written in a way that’s meant to titillate, it’s supposed to be horrifying and disturbing and gross. It’s a scene about sacrificing childhood and turning into adults and the real visceral fear that can accompany that milestone. There’s a reason that it occurs during a part of the book where time is folding in on itself and we keep flashing back and forth between the Losers as adults and the Losers as children. And a major part of Bev’s arc is her fear about puberty and the way she feels apart from the boys because she knows they’re looking at her differently. Earlier in the book she sees two of the bullies playing with each other’s dicks and she’s terrified and curious and grossed out all at once. A feeling I think we can all relate to but one that I’m sure is much different for girls. She knows that she’s changing and that there’s something dangerous about that change. She’s acutely aware of the danger that men pose to her now even if she doesn’t fully understand it. The sex scene follows the theme of facing a fear to overcome it.
It also plays into another theme of the book: the cost of magic. The Losers undoubtedly use magic to defeat Pennywise and each time there is a cost. In a way Bev having sex with the other Losers is a sort of paganistic sacrifice. Which…is problematic for sure. And I’m not trying to say that the scene isn’t weird, it is, or that Bev being reduced to a pagan sacrifice isn’t problematic, it is; but it also fits with the book. To be honest I skip the scene in most rereads. I think there could have been another way to get the themes across…but then I also don’t think the book is made worse because of the scene. It was probably a bit of an artistic overreach on King’s part but it does fit with the message he was trying to convey and I really think he very skillfully handles Bev’s fear of puberty throughout the rest of the book. So yeah…it’s weird…but necessary. Maybe? But weird. It’s only like a page so it’s easy enough to skip.
Guys I’m not gonna lie. I had originally written, I kid you not, 3000 words here. Like…even I realize it was too much. So I cut it. I CUT IT ALL AND IT HURT ME. I want to talk about this book forever. I could talk about this book forever. I have talked about this book for literal hours to people who barely cared because I love it so much. I’m nuts about this book as evidenced by how rambly this had been and how incoherent the other 3000 words were. So instead of subjecting you to that I’m just gonna list a few of my favorite moments:
- The Story/Death of Patrick Hockstetter – Patrick Hockstetter is one of the bullies that hangs around with Henry Bowers and his crew and he is by far the scariest thing in the book. He suffers from solipsism – a severe psychosis wherein he believes that he is the only thing that truly exists. He murdered his baby brother and likes to murder animals in terrible ways. His death is incredibly gruesome and his inner monologue during actually somewhat parallels Pennywise’s inner monologue when the Losers are going to kill it. So that’s fun.
- For that matter, all of the scant inner monologues we get from Pennywise. It is a creature so outside of human morals that it’s always fascinating to get a look into its psyche. But also it really seems that its psyche is being changed by its long time among humans.
- Bill’s incredibly badass line “You shouldn’t have started with my brother,” right before they beat the shit out of Pennywise.
- Bev’s gunslinger moment. As she’s about to shoot Pennywise with a silver ball bearing the description of her mental state directly parallels the description of Roland’s mental state when he’s shooting in The Dark Tower books.
- All of Pennywise’s transformations into cheesy horror movie monsters. They ain’t so cheesy when they’re actually trying to eat you.
- Richie telling Pennywise horrible jokes.
- The Turtle.
- The Ritual of Chüd
Seriously guys. There’s no way for me to convey how important this book is to me. It changed my life and it was what really showed me that I wanted to write. I wish this post was more eloquent, I wish I was better at this so I could make you understand. But I can’t. IT is the quintessential horror novel. It’s beautiful and sad and frequently funny and it really distills Stephen King’s style. It is, to me at least, perfect.
And that friggin epilogue makes me cry every time!
Thanks for indulging me guys. Even though this is our blog and I can do what I want and you really can’t tell me otherwise…thank you for dealing with my crazy. I might have one more post up for Halloween that has nothing to do with IT! Probably. Hopefully.
Until then…tell me what your favorite horror stories are in the comments! I wanna know. Even if they’re not traditional horror. Go crazy with it! I certainly did.