Warning: This post is not spoiler free!
We all know at least a little of what this book is about, right? It’s one of the most iconic works of King’s forty year career and has inspired both a 1990 mini series adaptation and a 2017 feature film. Even those, who haven’t seen either have likely heard of Pennywise the killer clown; a sadistic villain who hangs out in sewers and preys on children. However, a few chapters into the book, it becomes obvious that there’s a whole lot more to It than a creepy clown costume. The titular “It” is a force of great evil who can appear to it’s victims in any form, generally taking on the appearance of what they fear most (yes, Harry Potter fans, It is pretty much a Boggart – but like, an ancient, really super evil one). Though It seems to most commonly appears as Pennywise in order to lure children. It haunts a small town called Derry, committing grisly murders and inciting fear and violence with it’s populace. After centuries of atrocities, It finally meets it’s match in the form of a group of misfit kids known as The Loser’s Club, determined to put an end to It’s torment.
To be honest, I really don’t know how to rate or review this book. Some elements of It are truly amazing, and the writing is undoubtedly superb. King captures the essence of childhood better than any other author I’ve come across, and the friendships between the members of The Loser’s Club are both realistic and heartrendingly raw. For the first few hundred pages, I was absolutely hooked. However . . . certain chapters and story lines I found genuinely upsetting. Ultimately, I read for pleasure, and I didn’t get a lot, if any, enjoyment out of the second half of It. While I had no problem with Pennywise’s particular brand of horror, certain things that the children did to one another (and to animals) were too disturbing for me, so ultimately, I can’t say that I liked this book. Yeah, It was brilliant in many ways, but there are definitely parts that I hated. The book also seemed excessively long (it’s approximately 1135 pages in length), after the first 700 or so pages I didn’t care about the plot at all, I just wanted the book to be over so I could start something new.
Here’s a bit more on what I did, and didn’t like about It.
- Themes of friendship, childhood, and belonging. Despite being one of the most infamous works of horror of all time, at it’s core, there’s something quite sentimental and sweet about this book. Each member of The Loser’s Club (Bill, Richie, Stan, Eddie, Mike, Ben and Beverley) has struggled to find acceptance in their lives, yet once they are all together, the seven find home in one another.
- Another thing I liked is that the level of detail in this novel is absolutely insane. We don’t just learn about the Losers. We also learn about their families, friends, teachers, and the history of their town. King doesn’t write about Derry on a superficial level, he details over a century of it’s history, as well as it’s geography and he even explains the functionality of it’s sewer systems.
- It’s hard to describe this last point, but one of the things I loved most about It is that it features such an epic tale of good versus evil. Pennywise truly is one of the creepiest villains to have graced the page. Meanwhile the Losers are such a lovable bunch of underdogs turned heroes that it’s impossible not to root for them.
- If I could name one thing, and one thing only, that I never want to read about, it would be animal torture. And It features two such scenes. The first scene, which is the milder of the two, describes a bully poisoning a dog because it belongs to his enemy, Mike. It’s not a particularly graphic scene, but like I said, this is the thing I hate reading bout most. Now, I admit, I’m super sensitive about anything to do with animals, but I literally felt sick when I read the second scene. Somewhere around 800 pages into the book, a new character named Patrick is introduced, and it turns out he’s even more sadistic than the bullies from the first half of the book. In one particular scene, it is revealed that he enjoys “experimenting” on animals by locking them in a fridge and seeing how long it takes for them to die. King also notes that it is common for Patrick to have an erection while engaging in his experiments.
- King also treats us to a Patrick flashback, in which he, as a five year old child, murders an infant. Though it’s not bloody, or gory in the slightest, it is highly detailed. This scene is straight up disturbing. And it’s not like this scene, or any of the Patrick scenes actually contribute to the story. Patrick isn’t even an important character! He just turns up, does a bunch of creepy stuff, then gets murdered a few chapters later. The inclusion of his character just seemed completely unnecessary.
- Of the eight main characters (It and The Loser’s Club), only one is female; Beverley. The extent to which Beverley is sexualised is just straight up creepy. Basically, almost every male character Beverley encounters is attracted to her. When she’s 11 we read about her “coltish” legs, her father’s obsession with her purity, and the desire that the sight of even her bare ankle incites in Ben. Even Beverley’s greatest fear, blood, seems uniquely sexual. When It appears to the boys as their greatest fears, it shape shifts into classic monsters – mummies, werewolves, ghosts, etc. Yet when Beverley sees It, she sees a bathroom full of blood. Many readers and film viewers have noted this seems to symbolises Beverley’s fear of her burgeoning sexuality and the influence it has on her father. In the chapters set almost three decades later where we see adult Bev, she continues to be objectified. Her fellow losers reminisce on their childhood crushes on her and note that her beauty has only grown. Whilst her husband is arguably one of the book’s most disturbing characters, for he derives great sexual pleasure from controlling and inflicting pain on Bev without her consent. This creepy story line culminates in an infamous group sex scene in which each of the six boys takes turns having sex with Bev. King has since noted that this scene is meant to be largely metaphorical, creating a link between the Loser’s childhoods and adulthoods. However, the knowledge of King’s intention doesn’t making reading a prolonged group sex scene between a bunch of 11 year olds any easier to read.
Generally, I like to end my reviews by giving the book a rating out of five. But I can’t honestly do that with It. Some chapters I loved, others I completely hated! In terms of how much I enjoyed the book, I would give the first half a solid 4/5 and the second half somewhere around a 2/5. However, even in the latter half of the book when I was alternately yawning with boredom and exclaiming in disgust, I could still appreciate that It is one of the most unique and quintessential works of the modern horror genre. Did I enjoy reading about underage sex and puppy killers? Uh, hell no!! But I did appreciate the book and the immense impact King has had on horror.