IT by Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 15 September 1986
Length: 44 hours 53 minutes
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I really love Stephen King, but I’ve had a huge gap in my reading for years — I had never read IT. Possibly his most famous novel, IT has been frightening readers for over 30 years. I decided to tackle this weighty book — my physical copy clocks in at right around 1,400 pages –but decided to go the audiobook route.
Welcome to Derry, Maine …
It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real …
They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.
There’s not much to be said about IT that hasn’t already been said. It’s a wonderful combination of ‘the best summer of your childhood’ and ‘your worst nightmare come to life’ — it is sweet and heartfelt one minute, then gory and terrifying the next. The Loser Club faces down IT twice in their lives — once when they are preteens and again when they are adults. Unlike the recent film, the timelines swap back and forth, sometimes rapidly, and the whole story is teased out over hundreds of pages. This is an incredibly effective storytelling method, particularly toward the end when the time jumps are rapid fire. King is, of course, the king of tension and suspense and IT is the perfect example of this.
It’s so easy to love the seven main characters — we can relate to them, no matter what our age, and we can easily put ourselves into their shoes. My favourite characters were Ritchie and Ben. There’s something about them — Richie with his obnoxious jokes and Ben with his quiet passions and insecurities — that I just loved. It’s easy to love Bill Denborough, who serves as the de facto leader of the group, or Beverley Marsh, the only girl in the gang, but I found myself drawn more to these two characters in particular. Maybe I just wasn’t, and still am not, as unintentionally cool as Bill or Beverley when I was a kid.
This should have been a five star read for me, but I do have a few issues with the book. First of all, the ending is terrible. Stephen King has a bit of a reputation for poor endings and I think that IT suits the bill perfectly. I find that the moment you actually see the monster in a book or film, their scariness is immediately stripped away and IT is no exception. I found myself saying ‘really?’ when all was revealed, however this was not the first time this has happened with a King book. The first 1,000 pages or so were ace though. How many books can you say that about?
So now we have that out of the way, let’s talk about reading IT in the modern context. I’m very open to reading older books and understanding the context in which they were written, particularly when it comes to concepts and phrases that are out of place with a modern audience. However, sometimes there are certain aspects of books that really strike you as being wrong, regardless of time period. For some modern readers of this book it is the racism — which is completely intentional and makes sense in the context of the novel — or the outdated language that gets to them. For me, this manifested in the form of Beverly Marsh. Like the other members of the Loser’s Club, we do see her as an adult, but she’s 12 for the majority of the book. The way that King describes her is really distressingly creepy. He commits the crime of ‘she breasted boobily down the stairs’ that modern male authors are called out for more and more these days. Except she’s 12 years old.
He’s constantly talking about her breasts, her legs, and her body in a way that seems wildly inappropriate and creepy, you know, because she’s 12. There’s a particular scene later on in the book when he’s describing the shorts she wears and it’s…pretty awful. There’s also that scene. The way in which they escape from IT’s lair as children. Yes. The less said about that the better. I don’t want to give spoilers, despite this being over 30 years old, but it wisely hasn’t been included in either of the adaptations so feel free to ask me what I’m talking about if you want to know.
To his credit, I do think that this is something that just wasn’t considered as big of an issue when King wrote the book and I don’t believe he does this sort of thing anymore, but the sexualization of young Beverley really does lend an unintentionally creepy and deeply uncomfortable air to the book. I think he was trying to make her into a symbol of childhood purity and innocence, but yikes. Talk about getting it wrong.
Overall, I really enjoyed IT. The audiobook was the best route for me and the narrator was absolutely fantastic. The story is told in such an unusual way and I think the narrator really nailed it, all while managing different voices for the massive cast of characters. While IT isn’t my favourite King book, it’s certainly up there among his best, awkwardness aside.
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