One of the things I want to do now I have this swish new space is a series of blogs about books that have been particularly important to me, or made a lasting impact. I’m not sure how regular these will be (goodness knows I’ve plenty of books to write about in that respect) but I’ll be aiming for around once a month. It’s nigh on impossible to choose just the one book by Stephen King, and I’m sure I’ll be coming back to him more than once for this series, but to start with I’d like to talk about It. No, not that, you filth wizards. The other It.
IT tells the story of the Losers Gang, both as children and adults, as they attempt to face down the terrible predatory force of “it”, a being able to disguise itself depending on the fears of its prey. The creature often appears as Pennywise the Clown, giving an entire generation of readers a life long phobia of weirdoes with painted faces.
It is a big old book, born of those delicious days when King wanted to tell you the back stories of every minor character- a habit that makes for doorstep sized books, but I have always loved that aspect of his writing; King is brilliant at creating believable characters precisely because he seems to know their entire back stories. This book is full of people you can care for and understand, and that is why the terrifying force of It is so effective; if you can remember being afraid of the dark, or watching a horror film you really shouldn’t have just before bed, or have ever felt uneasy walking across an abandoned piece of wasteland, then It will scare you silly. I think it’s scarier than The Shining, scarier even than The Stand, and in fact the only book he’s written that freaked me out more was Pet Sematary, and that is largely because it is so relentlessly grim. No one is safe in It, and no one gets out unscathed. Just the opening scene is so shocking that thinking about it now gives me the creeps.
It’s not a perfect book mind, and aside from accusations of bloat, I have heard people say the ending is very weird, and there’s a scene that takes place in the sewers when the main characters are children that has drawn raised eyebrows and frowns from everyone I’ve mentioned it to, but to me this is King at his best; a story that is relentlessly scary, tremendously compelling and ultimately redemptive. He’s known for his pitch perfect depictions of small town American life, but for me the doomed town of Derry was the best of them, and the one that will haunt me the longest.