Who Should Read This Book – Constant Readers who have not gotten to it yet or any adult who likes a ripping good story that is considered horror but is much more.
What’s the Big Takeaway – Childhood fades away and we forgot the monsters under our beds…but does that mean they’re not real?
And a Quote – “Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”
I feel like someone owes me an apology.
I never read Stephen King in my teen year or twenties, or even much of my thirties. My reason was that I did not really like horror stories and since King was (is) the master of horror, his writing wasn’t really for me. But I do enjoy fantasy, so around five years ago I began the journey to the Dark Tower. Along the way I dipped my toe into some of King’s other works that are related to the Dark Tower. A few of these qualify as horror, such as Salem’s Lot, but for someone who does not like horror much, stories vampires are the sort of hire I can read. I also quickly learned that to think King is merely a horror writer is just plain wrong. Two of my favorite books of his – Hearts in Atlantis and 11/22/63 – are not horror at all.
And yet…It seemed a bridge too far. But every time I saw a list of King’s best books, It was right there at the top.
So after finishing a reread of The Stand and as I contemplate journeying to the Dark Tower again, I thought it was time to give It a try. And it certainly qualifies as horror. Pennywise the clown (but not really a clown) is scary. I’m not gonna lie, when I went downstairs to the bathroom before bed the other day, I was kind of creeped out. I joked with my wife that I can get through reading this because after reading a chapter or two, I always read some evening prayers and spiritual wisdom from books like The Philokalia or The Book of Common Prayer which gets my mind in a good place for sleep.
On that note, I think if I was living in a horror story, I’m the religious guy – the pastor or priest type – who is uncertain the supernatural really influences life but then gets eaten by the clown or vampire. Maybe that’s why I resonated with Father Callahan in Salem’s Lot…
Anyway, back to the apology. It is SO MUCH more than horror. Yes the clown is scary but at its core this is the story of a group of kids growing up, confronting their fears and using the power of their imagination. We adult readers are reminded of the hazy memories of our own childhoods – friends and neighbors we barely remember and the silly games we played. There’s so much more here than a scary story.
I think I expected “horror” to mean some sort of slasher movie filled with blood and guts but not much substance, sort of like the slasher movies (Saw, Scream) I’m not a fan of. But again, this book is so much more than that type of horror. When I finished, I wasn’t left thinking about Pennywise but about what it means to leave childhood behind and to meet up with old friends perhaps only in dreams.
Speaking of Pennywise, there’s a part in the story when one of the kids realizes that adults are the real monsters. That is a theme throughout and though it was thinking of scary clowns that creeps me out in the dark of night, in the story it is the school bullies and abusive spouses who are the real monsters. Here too we touch on the real world for whether there are real literal demons out there, we all have seen the monstrous demons that humans can descend into being.
Overall, this is a fantastic book that I wish I had read a long time ago. Many people debate whether this or The Stand is King’s best work. I think I’ll go with The Stand (and maybe 11/22/63 and Hearts in Atlantis). But It is up there. The big caveat in this is the deeply uncomfortable two pages near the end which if you’ve read the book you know what I am talking about. Its not necessarily gratuitous but it is weird. Thankfully the story moves past that part quickly but it’s certainly disturbing.
The only question left is, do I watch the movie?