This is the story of a town, King’s infamous Derry, under seige by a malevolent entity that often manifests itself as a clown. Only children can see it (rather, It) – something to do with a child’s open-mindedness. To grown-ups, Derry is a normal town, but to a particular group of kids (known as the Losers’ Club), Derry is the feeding ground of a monster that lives in the sewers. These children – Bill, Richie, Eddie, Stan, Ben, Mike and Beverly – must do battle, to end the terror that stalks their town. Worse still, in later life they learn that their efforts back in 1957 were incomplete. It is back with a vengeance, determined to avenge Itself. Bill has his own personal axe to grind: he knows that It is responsible for the death of his younger brother George, while George sought to retrieve a paper boat that had accidentally swam into a storm-drain. The two stories – the children in 1957 and the adults in 1985 – are told concurrently.
I first read this massive one-thousand-page tome when I was about fifteen years old. It was quite an undertaking, and it probably took me a couple of months, but the experience was no chore. This was my first oh-so-rare experience of never wanting a story to end. Although I found the “grown-ups” sections of the novel a little tiresome, the childhood parts were pure magic. They were so good that I didn’t even care about the horror story in the background. I just loved feeling like I was a part of the lives of these children, as they played down in the Barrens or faced off their bullies. If anyone had asked me, from the time when I was fifteen to when I was twenty, what my favourite novel was, I would have instantly replied, “It.”
My, how times change. I’m now thirty-five. And what took me two months to read in my teens took two years in my thirties. The novel is far less impressive to me in adult life. Interestingly, one of the major themes of the novel is the manner in which children view life differently from adults. Their minds are more open to ideas like magic. It’s perhaps not so surprising, then, that an adult (this adult, anyway) finds a story that clings to the notion of magic far less interesting than he found it as a teen. I even found it a tad pretentious at times.
Stephen King has always demonstrated a considerable strength at portraying child characters. This is where the novel still holds up well. But the horror story that these terrific characters inhabit isn’t really up to much. It’s far too wacky to be scary. After reading a few hundred pages of this, I realised that it was failing for me. The magic had gone. I persevered, hoping that it would return, but it didn’t. And so, over two years, I slogged my way to the end in fits and starts, reading other novels in between, because this one was just too darn big and just not good enough to captivate me for commitment of time and energy required to read it.
King’s most frequent “failing” is that he has a tendency to go into detail overkill. Whilst this has the effect of slowing down a story’s pacing, it also adds a richness to the drama in later parts of a story. So, it’s maybe not correct to call this a failing. Many of King’s novels walk this uncomfortable line that risks a reader becoming bored, and if there was ever a King book that was in need of a substantial haircut, it’s this one.