Any of you who have followed this blog for a while now will probably have picked up on the fact that I really enjoy Stephen King. I like the way he writes people, the way he builds tension and the atmosphere in his stories. Sometimes his endings don’t quite deliver after the build-up but regardless I love his stories and nothing will ever change that.
Today I want to talk about IT.
With the second part of the remake out this year, I thought it a perfect time to talk about the story which fostered in me (and a lot of others) a terrible fear of clowns.
The story has two timelines and it jumps from one to the other regularly in the book, so for the sake of keeping things clear I’ll keep this as linear as I can. I will also try to keep things brief and to the point, this is a long book and I don’t want to regurgitate the whole thing here.
In 1957 Georgie is killed by Pennywise the clown after coming across him in a storm drain, this is a brutal death, Georgie’s arm is torn clean off and he bleeds to death.
The following summer a group of kids, Ben, Eddie, Bill, Richie, Stan, Mike and Bev, known as the Losers club, come to realise that they have all, at one time or another, encountered Pennywise (who happens to be an ancient shape-changing alien who feeds on fear). Pennywise had taken the form of what each of them fears most in order to terrify them. They dub Pennywise IT and manage to link IT to a series of child murders. The Losers Club also believe that IT has some level of control/influence over the town. They discover that Pennywise is awakened every 27 years (usually by something awful, e.g. a mass accident etc) and it then feeds for a year/ year and a half before going back to sleep.
They decide to kill IT (as you do when an ancient shape changing, murdering alien sets up shop under your town). They believe silver will hurt it and so go into battle armed with two silver slugs and a slingshot. They go to the house where IT has appeared on multiple occasions and attack. Bev manages to wound IT with a slug. They leave and Bev is assaulted by her father who also attempts to kill her, the Losers Club is then chased into the sewers by the local bullies who want to kill them.
We get a brief point of view change and see things from the perspective of IT and we learn that it comes from the void between universes. It boasts for a while, explains why it kills kids and also that it suspects that the Losers Club is working for the Other (another eternal space creature) as nothing has been able to hurt IT before.
We are put back into the sewers with the Losers Club and the bullies. IT attacks the bullies killing two and driving the third mental. The now mental bully is blamed for all the dead kids (handy that).
Bill discovers a ritual that will allow him to go and confront IT in its own universe, thereby discovering IT’s true form (a big orange ball of lights known as deadlights) Bill also meets the Other who is actually a Turtle. Turtle explains that he made the universe by vomiting (gross) and that the only way to defeat IT is via a battle of wills. We learn of a third creature called the Final Other who made the Turtle and maybe IT as well. Turtle helps Bill fight and defeat It, putting IT back to sleep.
They leave the sewers (I’m not mentioning THAT these are children after all) and promise to come back if IT ever wakes up.
In 1984 a homophobic attack which includes a sighting of Pennywise along with a string of child murders alerts the now adult Losers Club to IT’s awakening. All the Losers except Stan come back to Derry, having left to pursue exciting careers. Stan kills himself rather than go back and face IT. When the remaining Losers arrive in Derry they don’t seem to remember much beyond a promise to come back and a feeling of terror, but Mike fills them in. They decide to kill IT properly this time and go on their own private journeys to remember IT, they encounter IT in a variety of forms.
Bill finds the silver slug left over from last time and holds on to it.
However, Bills wife is coming to town, as is Bev’s abusive partner and the mental bully who has escaped from an asylum (IT helped). Mental bully nearly kills Mike, he later attacks Eddie breaking his arm but also getting killed himself. IT shows himself to Bev’s abusive partner and gets him to capture Bills wife and bring her to IT. He does this and Audra becomes catatonic after seeing IT, while the abusive partner dies.
The losers minus Mike and Stan recognise that they are being forced into a confrontation with IT. They head into the sewers once again, Bill and Richie use the ritual to go and face IT, they learn that Turtle is dead (bummer), and fight IT injuring IT. However, as they come back from the ritual Eddie’s arm gets torn off and he dies. IT legs it, Bill, Richie and Ben pursue and find IT’s eggs (gross), Ben smashes them. Bill and Richie keep chasing IT, Bill manages to get inside IT (gross) and destroys IT’s heart.
They leave the sewer, taking Audra with them. While all this has been going on a massive storm has basically destroyed Derry. Everyone whos still alive forgets about Derry, IT and each other (bummer), Audra snaps out of her catatonic state and everyone (who survived) is happy.
There’s been a lot said about IT over the years since its publication and I’d rather not repeat too many points that have already been discussed by those smarter and more articulate than myself.
That being said I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t talk about the use of subversion in this book. On the surface, Derry appears to be a nice place, filled with family’s, small-town values and nice people. But scratch that surface a little bit and you find murder, racism, child abuse, and all kinds of terrible things. The people of Derry (perhaps due to the influence of IT) are not nice people. This is spelled out in the scene where Bev is threatened by the Bully and the adults notice this and walk away. No one cares. No one cares that kids are dying on mass in this town, no one cares about any of the bad stuff, they bury their heads in the sand and let it go unchecked.
IT is a reflection of the town, he appears most often as the clown Pennywise, something that is traditionally meant to bring joy and laughter to children but instead he terrifies them and kills them.
Subversion is a tool that is used a lot in horror writing, hence why we have adorable dolls who kill people, children who are actually evil etc. The horror genre thrives on subversion, it loves taking something that has good connotations and twisting them into something dark. Horror as a while does this because its effective and Stephen King’s IT does this in spades.
What did you think of IT? Have you read the book? Watched the original TV Series? What do you think of the remake? I’d love to hear from you.