Only Stephen King could write an eleven hundred page novel about the innocence and wonder of childhood, and kick it off with a six-year-old boy getting his arm ripped off by a clown. Much like the titular monster that lurks within its pages, It is many things – it’s terrifying, it’s sweet, it’s disturbing, it’s sad. But more than that, it’s an incredible story.
To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.
It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing . . .
The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.
Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as IT stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.
It is one of King’s most enduring novels; it’s crossed over from just being read by his fans, and become a part of a wider cultural consciousness. There’s something universal about it; something that feels like a summation of King’s previous work in the horror genre. In his previous works, King creates his novels by simply taking things with the potential to be creepy and intensifies the horror in them. It is no different. His use of classic horror tropes here was wholly intentional; and, by using them, he created what is likely his scariest novel in the process.
One thing King does well is managing to create seven likeable kids and then being able to write them as adults and making them seem like the same people. The way he writes and portrays the sheer terror that each character feels at one time or another is incredible – while he shows them being brave when push comes to shove, they each have moments when they’re pushed to their limits.
The novel has weight, not because of its monsters, but because it tells a larger story about the discovery of evil.
As the kids become adults, they learn more and more about the history of the city they grew up in, and find out that it’s history is not a pretty one — full of racism, homophobic bullies and sexual predators — and each kid is haunted by a different part of it. Mike, who is black, is tormented by racist bullies; Beverly is horrified by the sexual advances of her father. All of these disparate evils would have existed anyway, but they are exacerbated by It—a creature that, in addition to eating children, “feeds” by fanning the flames of violence, hatred, lawlessness, racism, misogyny, and sexual predation while disguised as a clown.
It’s this evil — not the typical obvious evil of the clown — that disgusts the children, and the Losers Club defeats it by feeling disgusted, rather than afraid. Together they judge It, and, animated by moral clarity, call It to account. In the final, psychic confrontation, It tries to pull their minds to a zone of mindless nihilism — it tries to pull them into an adult mindset of acceptance or repression. But they refuse, dragging It into the metaphorical sunlight.
At the end of the novel, King writes:
“Drive away and try to keep smiling. Get a little rock and roll on the radio and go toward all the life there is with all the courage you can find and all the belief you can muster. Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.”
— Stephen King, It
It ends on a psychedelic note because bravery and rage aren’t enough to defeat It; what’s really needed is imagination. This is the real and overlooked message in It by Stephen King — the acceptance of evil is a trap from which we must dream ourselves free.