Let’s talk about IT

I’m a Stephen King fan. Have been for most of my reading life. A good number of my friends are King fans, too – and we take great pleasure discussing which books are our favorites and which ones maybe missed the mark.

Clearly at the top of the consensus list are The Stand, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, Different Seasons, Misery, while others like The Green Mile, Skeleton Crew, 11/22/63, and Pet Semetary vie for inclusion in the top strata. Other books are less successful such as…

King

King

What’s that you say? I missed one?

Oh – THAT one. Yes. IT. Let’s talk about IT.

You see – I’ve never been a fan of IT. In fact, I started reading IT once in the late 80s and was so annoyed by it, that I stopped and tossed it aside (which I almost never do), chalking it up to being another one of King’s bloated, drink-and-drug addled, no-one-can-edit-me-anymore 80s failures like Needful Things or The Tommyknockers.

And for 20 years or so, I stuck with that opinion and scoffed at those that put IT up there 1-2 with The Stand. Please. But as rocks are eroded by waves, the constant refrain of “But IT’s my favorite!” from too many friends made me reconsider. So, I downloaded the audiobook – all 44 hours of it – and took a trip to Derry, Maine in 1985 and 1958 to watch a group of childhood friends (and then adult friends) fight the monster under the city, the monster that appears to children as a clown.

It_coverThe time in the 50s is reminiscent most to me of the feel of The Body (the novella that is the basis for the film Stand By Me) and focuses on a group of pre-teen friends that discover and seek to destroy a monster that is killing the town’s children. The time in the 80s deals with them as adults attempting to finish the job. Going back and forth in time, the narrative veers between the children’s coming-of-age and loss-of-innocence to the adult’s realization of mortality and the power of memory and friendships we had as kids.

Ostensibly about a kid-devouring other, IT’s real power is to pull the veil back on the ugliness of simple human hatred and evil, especially that which dwells just out of view in a “wholesome” small town. The friends must face down their demons, whether in the form of bullies, an abusive parent or spouse, racist neighbors, or okay, a kid-devouring monster.

One thing I noticed is that people who are IT advocates often read the book when they were young – in the same way that many devotees of The Stand were pre-teens or teens when they finished that novel. As King suggests in so many stories – it’s hard to beat the relationships you forge at that age.

In the end, I liked IT, and am glad that I gave the novel a second chance. There’s part of me that still thinks it was too long and I was actively rooting for the death of one character I know I was supposed to be rooting for. And don’t get me started on that one scene that cost this book an entire star.

Three stars out of five.

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38 thoughts on “Let’s talk about IT

  1. Steve, I am not a big King fan preferring to be scared by Dean Koontz. But, have you read King’s Dark Tower series? That I have read and loved every minute of all seven books. Maybe I will give some of other books a chance! Andrea

    • Andrea — I really enjoyed The Dark Tower — and am already trying to figure out when I will re-read it. :)

      I thought both 11/22/63 and The Green Mile were excellent — and neither one is what I would classify as horror.

  2. I’ll have to give IT a try! Thanks for the re-review!

    I was so young when I read it, but I seem to remember liking Firestarter. And the short stories; was that Lawnmower Man?

    • IT is a fairly monumental undertaking and it seems like one of those seminal books that any aficionado ought to know.

      I think King’s short stories and novellas are actually his best work.

  3. There are many King stories I have enjoyed, and many that I have absolutely loathed. I have tried “It” again, and I still loathe it as much as the first time. Sorry, Steve. I wanted to be convinced by you, yet I’m not. It’s not as bad as Tommyknockers, for sure. But I don’t have enough years of reading time left ahead of me to re-read it yet again, in hopes of a different outcome. (And by the way, while I agree with a lot of your list, I detested “Misery” for the general, overall mean-natured and hateful tone of the whole book.) Now The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Green Mile, Pet Sematary (yes, it’s really spelled that way, folks), and The Body, I thoroughly enjoyed. Recently, I quite liked Dumas Key. But “It” is just never gonna happen for me, I’m afraid.

    As for the Dark Tower, I read, and enjoyed it all the way to the end, and then I was infuriated. I threw the final book all the way across the room, and swore I’d never spend another penny on anything written by King again. I suffered through all those volumes just to end up there? Didn’t I see this once on the Bob Newhart Show? Parodying another popular tv show with a dream sequence ending? GAH. What a cop-out.

    Overall, I’d rather read Koontz. Out of all of his books, I have only ever read one that I truly hated. And only a very small number that I merely liked. The rest I have loved, all the way through. I know it’s un-American to prefer Koontz to King, but I’m afraid I do. I like the “heart” in his stories that tell me that no matter what bad & scary things happen, there’s good in the world, and it will triumph in the end.

    Oh, yeah. That works for me.

      • Marcia — I think that’s one of the great things about King’s writing is that there is SO MUCH to talk about. I would definitely suggest not to re-try IT. Life’s too short and everyone’s allowed their likes and dislikes — at least around here they are. I loved The Dark Tower (though I thought the last two books were unnecessarily long) and was okay with the ending, though I know a lot of people reacted the way you did. It must be the budding Buddhist within me that was okay with it.

        I liked Duma Key too, it was creepy and it was good to see him out of Maine! :)

        I haven’t read any Dean Koontz in a long time. Maybe I should give him a go-round again.

        • I agree, Steve. There is plenty of fodder for discussion with his books. And when King is good, he’s very good. But when he’s bad, he’s awful. Just awful. Of course, anyone who writes wishes they could be that awful all day long, you know. Myself, included. Even his awful stuff is mighty popular, so who can argue with that kind of success? Just because I don’t like some of it doesn’t take away from the almost mythic stature of the man and his work, that’s for sure. And I would guess it would be pretty darn hard to find anyone, anywhere, who doesn’t recognize his name. That’s quite an accomplishment, in itself.

          Koontz is very prolific as well, with a surprising amount of variety to his themes, though love usually shines through the horror to one extent or another. I was addicted to him early on after reading Lightning, which was a book that caught me completely by surprise. Some of his work is so intense, it can give you nightmares. Some has a sweeter edge, especially more recent works. I’m very partial to Odd Thomas, and have loved the entire series, though the first book was by far the best. Oddie is a character I will never forget. Let me know if you do decide to try Koontz again. I think I have read just about everything he’s ever written, though some have been a long time ago.

  4. The Stand is definitely my favorite. There were moments in It that were enjoyable, but somewhere towards the end the whole thing just started to lose me. It seemed like the themes he was grasping at just tattered and fell away, but perhaps that was my own problem. And that particular scene really revolted me to the point I barely finished the book. It was so… abusive.

    • Lindsey — yes, I still think The Stand is my favorite, though I’ll tell you, on the “scare-meter” nothing has topped Pet Semetary for me. I also thought the ending of IT was a bit warbly and when he got to that scene for a second I thought — he’s really going through with this?!??

  5. Okay. *sigh* I’ll read the book, but IT and its brethren from the 80s remain the reasons why I stopped reading King. When I first tried to read IT, I had this vision of this fat, lumbering beast waddling around underground, snorting and farting as it snatched children from the sidewalk. After awhile, I wondered if it was really Stephen King I was envisioning.

    *cough* Sorry. I’ll just find a copy at the library and read it, and see if my 30-something self and I have a difference in opinion.

  6. “…fat, lumbering beast waddling around underground, snorting and farting as it snatched children from the sidewalk. After awhile, I wondered if it was really Stephen King I was envisioning.

    Hahahahaha. I love it!

  7. Nice review, Steve. I haven’t read much of King, but I have ‘IT’ on my bookshelf. I hope to read it sometime, but everyone’s comments on that one scene makes me think twice about reading it. One of my friends who is a Stephen King connoisseur like you says that ‘Needful Things’ is her favourite. So it was interesting to see that it is in your list of least favourites. The size of King’s books are really intimidating – I don’t know why he can’t write 300-400 page books. Unfortunately, looking at his recent books it looks like he is firmly ensconced in the 800+ page chunkster-space and it might be too late for him to change.

    • Vishy — I think one of the great things about King is that really, there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking for some non-giant Kings to start with, I’d go with The Shining, Pet Semetary, or any of his short story and novella collections. Of the big reads, I’d go The Stand > The Dark Tower Series > 11/22/63 > The Green Mile > IT.

      • Thanks for the recommendations, Steve. I have ‘Pet Sematary’ and ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘IT’ right now, out of the books you have mentioned. I will try to read them first. It is nice to know that ’11/22/63′ is also one of your favourites.

  8. I’ve read many of his but “It” remains with me and I’ve not read much of his since.

    Why? Read it in the tent one summer in my early teens. By myself. *shivers*
    Still afraid of clowns!

    MJ

    • BD — I’m very curious about Doctor Sleep — there’s a part of me that didn’t want him to write it, because I liked the The Shining so much. But you know I’m gonna read it!

        • King also didn’t like Kubrick’s version of “The Shining”. I liked the film as a film, but it’s very different from the story. ABC when back and made a miniseries with that guy from Wings and Rebecca De Mornay (rawr) that was truer to the book and actually really good.

          • Oh, I liked that tv version better than the movie, too (in spite of Jack Nicholson’s iconic “Heeeere’s Johnny” moment). Steven Weber is the “guy from Wings.” I thought he was great. In fact, I think he was always an underrated actor, being able to do comedy as easily as creepy.

  9. I was still teenaged when I read IT (late teens). I wouldn’t have picked it up, having pretty much given up on King at the time. A friend was reading it and said something funny like, ‘Will you read this aloud to me? I’m too scared to hold the book when I’m reading it.’ So, we had Story Hour. I started reading and thought, ‘This is better than I expected.’ I finished reading it and when the film was put on TV, watched that — I’m almost certain it played on TV after I read the book.

    I loved Tim Curry as IT but in general, the TV movie was almost funny in comparison to the scariness of the book. I may be wrong but that *may* be the last King book I read until I started the Watchtower series a few years ago (and only made it through the first 2).

    • MT — I remember that miniseries — and I remember it being TERRIBLE. I looked around this past weekend to see if it was available to stream and I couldn’t find it. I wanted to see if it matched my memories — I do remember Tim Curry being really good though in it.

      I liked The Dark Tower series — but as he wrote it over ~30 years, the tones of the book sort of ebb and flow. I think Wizard & Glass (Book 4 of that series) might be my favorite King book, period.

      • I’ve heard it’s touch and go with Dark Tower. It’s just those first 2 were erm, kinda…just bad. Really. I get he was young and basically learning to write. That’s commendable. I just don’t know if I can hang with it! If I skip to #4, will that be alright or do I need #3 to build?

          • Wow. Yeah. Not my thing, then. Has it been a while since you read that? Also, I think you do audiobooks, which might be a bit more animated (wrong word) with a good reader.

            I can’t do audiobooks because I don’t have the time and can’t multitask (work or drive when it’s one). If I listen to an audiobook, I basically have to sit and look at the wall. Poor me! ADHD brain.

  10. I would rate “IT” the same as you, and for the same reasons. I also thought the ending came out of no where, but was willing to suspend my “Oh-Steve-You’re-On-Drugs-Again” disbelief.
    I recently read the latest ‘Dark Tower’ installment, and was ‘sorely vexed.’ He just trotted out some backstory from one of his notebooks and published it. I hate when he does that.

    • SW — I’m glad I read IT, though I almost certainly won’t re-re-read it, but I’m glad I’ll be able to give a fully formed opinion of it. :)

      I read “The Wind Through The Keyhole” and liked it — not so much for the story or its impact on The Dark Tower, but it was like a chance to go spend time with old friends. Also, I listened to the audiobook and King himself did the narration, so it was like getting to hang with him for a while… :)

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