Fiction Review: It
He touches his wife’s smooth back as she sleeps her warm sleep and dreams her own dreams; he thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood . . . its beliefs and desires.
- Stephen King, ItIt defeated me the first time I attempted to read it. I was introduced to Stephen King by a classmate in, if I recall correctly, in my junior year of high school. I borrowed a number of her copies and acquired my own from the local Waldenbooks. For whatever reason, I was never quite able to finish It. I made it through many of his books (The Gunslinger and The Stand were my favorites at the time) but It was a bit too much.
Fast forward to 2011 and I finally got around to completing It, reading it in audiobook form. What's really odd is what a gap was. My recollection is I tried reading It in 1989 or so, so it was about 22 years later. It itself takes place in two time periods, 1958 and 1985, with the 11-year olds of the 1958 period now 38-years old. Similarly the 17-year old I was when I first attempted the novel was then a 39-year old.
I reflect on this because so much of It is not about the horror that plagues the Maine town of Derry. Rather it is about growing up and what we lose - and what we gain in so doing. It is about the horror of falling out of touch with the friends who meant the world to you once upon a time. The girl or boy you were madly in love with. The bike you absolutely had to have. What terrified you as a child. What you dreamed of. It's hard for me to read It without thinking of the child I once was.
The protagonists of It are "the Losers' Club", a group of seven kids who come together in summer of 1958. Pretty much every childhood outcast is there in the group. You've got their leader Bill, who has a stutter that worsened after his brother was killed by It. Ben, the clever fat kid. Richie, the geeky wise-cracker. Beverly, the only girl in the group, poor and having a physically abusive father. Mike, the only black kid in the group - in a town where his family are the only African-Americans around. Stan, the Jewish kid of the group. And Eddie, whose mother inflicts upon him a variety of phantom illnesses.
The monster of the story is simply "It" - a creature that can take the form of whatever one fears. It lives off of fear and prefers children. The Losers' Club defeats It in 1958 - this is no spoiler, as a large part of the plot is them reassembling in 1985 upon learning that It has survived and returned. However, all of them save Mike initially have no recollection of what happened back in 1958 - or even of each other for that matter. Though they were the best of friends, they had literally forgotten each other by adulthood. Mike remembered as he stayed in Darry - serving as the "lighthouse keeper". Those who left Derry all became fantastically successful. Some are happy - Bill for example is a successful fiction and movie writer, married to an actress. Others have repeated mistakes of their childhoods - Beverly married an abusive man and Eddie is married to a mirror image of his mother.
As the Losers' Club comes back together, its members begin remembering what had happened to them back in 1958 - and they begin to realize that whatever magic they had back in 1958 as kids will need to be recaptured by these adults. Can they do that?
For me, the conflict with It is an awesome part of the book but not the best part of it. Rather, I was totally taken by the examination of the magic of childhood, how we leave that behind as we grow up, and the need to keep some part of it alive. But adulthood isn't bad - for you can truly come to appreciate your childhood from the lens of adulthood.
King has always had a talent at creating great characters and those of It are among those that I find myself wondering what they are now up to as senior citizens. I'm looking forward to the upcoming film adaptation, which is splitting it into two movies, covering the Losers' Club as kids and adults (and moving the past period to the 1980s so the contemporary period can be in the present day). One unfortunate effect of doing this will be making the story linear whereas a large part of the book is about the adults slowly piecing their childhood memories back together. It's an understandable decision, but likely one of unfortunate necessity.