by Kobe Balod
Conceptually ambitious and emotionally cathartic, It by Stephen King continues to shock and horrify readers to this day.
Pennywise is an alien from the macroverse that shapeshifts itself to embody our greatest, most primal fears. Throughout the novel, it takes the form of classic horror movie monsters that reflect the 50’s era as well as the fears of each of our main characters.
It is a creature that feeds on fear itself, particularly those of little kids. After the death of George Denbrough, his older brother Bill and a group of losers (Ben, Beverly, Richie, Mike, Stan) work together to destroy the evil that terrorizes their hometown.
Pennywise is one of the most terrifying characters in all of fiction, and he is arguably one of the first characters (along with the Joker) to popularize our society’s cultural fascination with evil clowns.
One of the reasons it is so scary is because it preys on children, and the adults in the novel (who are supposed to represent safety, love and security) are usually ignorant, abusive, or apathetic.
One of the most admirable aspects of the novel is how it seamlessly transitions between the past and present as well as the points of view of many different characters. One minute you’re in 1985, the next you’re in 1958.
One minute you are Beverly, hiding in the bushes fearing for your life; the next you are Patrick Hockstetter, indulging in your solipsism and acting on your sociopathic nature.
Despite its non-linear structure, the narrative itself is never overwhelmingly complicated nor confused. The book has a clear and confident trajectory in its storytelling and it has an engaging plot with a well-defined, spooky atmosphere.
There are some scenes where the dread and terror of the characters are so palpable that it sent chills down my spine. There’s a delicate balance to Stephen King’s writing, finding a way to be descriptive yet precise, very rarely indulging in superfluous details that most authors (ahem, Dan Brown) fall victim to. It’s this balance that keeps the pacing brisk and helps make this a thousand plus-paged book feel more like 600-800 pages long.
Alfred Hitchcock once said that the terror is not in the bang, but in the anticipation of it, and the book follows through on that. It creates a disturbing and uneasy atmosphere, allowing the readers to feel the tension and discomfort of the characters. Though the gory details and sexually explicit scenes are unnerving, the fear isn’t physical, it’s psychological. And the story knows that.
Another one of my favorite aspects of the book is how it’s structured like a theatrical play. There’s a prologue, epilogue and several interludes that paint a clear portrait of a town haunted by it’s own demented and violent history.
The terror of the novel is driven by two things: fear of the past and fear of the unknown. The novel has a running theme about childhood trauma and how it affects our relationships as an adult.
Bill married someone who looked like his childhood crush, Eddie married someone who was essentially his mother, Beverly married someone who was essentially her father, and so on. It’s also about how our fears change the older we get.
Pennywise itself makes a point on how it prefers to prey on kids because their fears are more palpable and easier to represent. It’s interesting to see how the characters and their fears and relationships have changed twenty-seven years after defeating It, and it’s satisfying to see them come together and remember what they meant to one another.
The ending is poignant and bittersweet, colored by a climax with some of the most bizarre and conceptually ambitious ideas I’ve ever seen put to print.
All of the main characters are rich and complex, and there’s a terrifying familiarity to their troubles, making them feel like people you knew or have been when you were a kid.
Examples of which are Ben’s unrequited crush on Beverly, Eddie’s overprotective mother, Beverly’s abusive father, and Bill’s guilt over his brother as well as the growing distance between him and his own parents.
The characters all have distinct personalities, and it makes their friendship and comradery all the more dynamic and satisfying. Their friendship is perhaps the heart and soul of the story, keeping the readers on their as to whether or not these characters will be alright. There’s a sense of strength and unity whenever the characters are together. The only scenes in the book where you fear for them is when they are alone.
Above all else, It is a story about friendship, and how we must try and conquer our fears.
It’s important to remember that the connections and memories we make never truly go away, though they may be lost and forgotten with the passage of time.
So yes, 34 years after it was first published, the legacy of Stephen King’s It is just as impressive and horrifying as it was back then.
And I for one can’t wait for you to read it. ☁️