May 10, 2014

It: it's the protagonist of It

A lightning review of It by Stephen King (New York: Signet, 1987). Mass-market paperback, 1104 pp.

I have just finished reading Stephen King's It for the second time.

There's a weird feeling about it. It's not the same feeling as the first time, back when It was still on the bestseller lists. Nor is it a sense of accomplishment for making it through a monster novel—at over 1,100 pages, it's one of the longest books most people will ever read—I didn't feel the same thing when I finished Les Misérables in February, and it's longer than It by the length of another entire long novel. For some reason, it was rather like seeing off an old friend you haven't seen in years, after an all-too-brief visit. Closing the novel and putting it down compelled me to sit for about five minutes, pause, and consider. Selah.

An ancient evil lives under the town of Derry, Maine, and every 27 years It comes out of hibernation to feed on local children. It recounts two of these awakenings in parallel. In 1958, the cycle began with the murder of protagonist Bill Denborough's brother George, by a strange clown figure living in the sewer. Bill and a band of his social-outcast friends, drawn together through mutual enmity with the town's gang of bullies, all confront their own manifestations of It. They realize it is up to them to try and stop It. In 1985, the adult Bill (now a bestselling horror novelist and clearly a kind of Mary Sue for King himself) and his friends are reunited when the cycle of death starts again, and they resolve to end It's reign of terror once and for all.

It isn't my favourite of Stephen King's novels (that distinction belongs to his earlier epic The Stand), but I've often remarked that of all Stephen King's books, it's the Stephen Kingiest. It has all the trademarks of a good King yarn: ordinary people, often children or teenagers, thrust into extraordinary circumstances; a haunted town in Maine; an unspeakable horror lurking there; and antagonists who are (to varying degrees) violent, sadistic, or flat-out insane. And lots and lots of death.

Is It worth reading? Oh yes. Of course, if you're a Stephen King fan, you already have. But if you're wondering whether King is worth getting into, and you have the patience for an 1,100-page epic, then I can't think of a better introduction.