It – Stephen King (1986)

I’ve done It. Or to be more precise, I’ve read It. I have to admit that as much as I am a fan of the recent two movies by director Andy Muschietti which adapted Stephen King’s voluminous novel It, coming in at nearly 1100 pages of fine print reading the novel seemed a daunting task. But having increasingly read more King these last few years I’ve come to appreciate the author’s talent at delivering engaging prose with interesting and well defined characters that make it easy to read no matter how long the text. Despite the two movies clocking in at over five hours in total I could not clear my mind that there could be so much more hidden creepiness to the story yet to be enjoyed in the ‘brick’ of a novel. I was not disappointed.

Assuming many reading this may already be familiar with the main elements of the films (or even the less successful, but also faithful television mini-series which aired in 1990) I’ll only give a very high level plot synopsis here.

Small town Derry, Maine has been experiencing a repeating historical pattern of child disappearances every 27 years or so. When Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie becomes a victim in 1957 Bill becomes fixated on finding out what happened to him. He and six friends slowly decipher Derry’s strange past of missing kids and other anomalous events that have occured there over the years. But each of the kids, Richie, Ben, Stan, Eddie, Mike and Beverly have experienced their own personal encounters with this unknown entity they simply refer to as “It” and which is often seen in the personification of Pennywise the clown.

They finally track and battle It by the end of that year and each goes their separate way until 1985 when the abductions resume and the now adult group make their way back to Derry to rid the town of the evil entity. So powerful is the evil force that they have forgotten most of the memories of that first encounter. Led by Bill, the motley group have formed a bond that is the essence of their power to perceive It while others are oblivious and even controlled by It. But can they still muster the strength to combat It a second and final time?

The characters in this novel are indeed much more fleshed out than in the cinematic versions for both the teenaged kids and their later adult lives. Aspects that are merely hinted at in the films, such as Ben’s success as an architect (and a particular precisely timed habit of appearing at a bar in remote Nebraska) provide some riveting reading. There are multiple horrific tales of town history which are not directly tied to our protagonist group, but which add to the mystique of It and the subjugation of the town. As exclaimed at one point, “Derry is It!”

For those that are fans of King’s other works and the man himself, there are plenty of royal nuggets to enjoy. For one, Bill grows up to become a successful horror writer and King manages to address questions writers like himself are deluged with such as “Where do you get your ideas from?”. Bill becoming neglected and invisible to his parents after Georgie’s death is nostalgically reminiscent of The Body In Different Seasons (later filmed as Stand By Me). There are also building blocks that would later turn up in other stories such as “a cavalcade of creatures darting a shrouded landscape” (The Mist). And the section that describes a sentient 1958 Plymouth Fury (Christine) roaming Derry was a nice thrilling surprise.

And then there are those parts excised from the films as they wander into sexual taboo territory. I’m not just talking about sexual exploration such as the teen masturbation portion, or more to the Bill-Beverly-Ben love triangle which is in the film, but a pivotal point near the finale where all the kids engage. Never saw that coming.

The novel is written from a non-chronological perspective, alternating between the events of 1957 and 1985, but that aspect becomes increasingly interlaced towards the end of the novel when the adults are basically retracing the actions they took as teens. The last section of the novel uses chapter transitions in which a sentence at the end of one chapter is completed in the next where the setting and context are entirely different, yet the sentence remains apropos. What I find most fascinating in this is that comic writer Alan Moore used this technique so effectively in his masterpiece Watchmen whose issues were released between 1986 and 1987- almost exactly the time King was writing It. I can’t help but wonder if one of them borrowed the concept from the other. (To be fair, Moore’s use was superior in the quality of the transitions, also daring to go further by blending more than just two separate timelines.)

Going back to Muschietti’s film adaptations, he has stated that he actually filmed a lot more than what was shown in the theatrical release for both films and that he would someday like to put out an edition with all of those extra scenes. I for one hope that he does so, and now having read the novel can only wonder which missing bits from the novel made it into those extra scenes. To be sure there are favorable points in the film that were never in the script such as Bill’s surprising guilt-ridden confession to the others for why Georgie was really out that day he went missing.

I can go on and on about the novel. Just read It!

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: