For the longest time, I told myself that I would never read any book written by Stephen King. To me, the majority of his work seemed too weird, too scary or something that was likely to give me nightmares. While I had seen movie adaptations of his less terrifying works such as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, it wasn’t until I saw the movie version of The Shining that I became curious enough to read the book. What I discovered as I read was that King was a writer who could be both terrify his reader with nothing more than a sense of mounting dread and suspense yet also delved deep into the inner turmoil of his characters.
Having liked The Shining much more than I thought I would, I turned next to the novel that some considered to be the most terrifying of King’s novels: It.
My decision to begin reading the 1,137-page novel was also inspired by the release of the first trailer for the movie adaptation and to discover what it was that made It so terrifying. What I discovered is that It is so much more than a story of a creepy clown who stalks and kills kids but it also a story about growing up, nostalgia and the importance of friendship. Not exactly themes that one expects to find a horror novel. In bringing out these themes—with a few scares along the way—are where King’s talent truly lies along with making the seven members of the Losers’ Club feel like a group of real eleven-year-old children with real-life problems. Yet, despite their different backgrounds, the seven children find themselves becoming friends in the summer of 1957 and ultimately, defeating Pennywise. However, after that summer as they grow up and move away from Derry, they gradually forget their childhood days until they are called back twenty-seven years later to defeat It once more.
Does the book have its scary moments? Of course. Particularly in scenes where It appears to each of the children in different forms depending on what scares them the most and how It disposes of its victims. Despite all of this, the book made me reflect more than once about how I had changed since I was a child and how my hometown had changed as well. Perhaps not as many years had passed for me as for the members of the Losers’ Club, but I had still seen businesses come and go. Friends that I may have hung out with in elementary school now lived across the country or I had simply lost touch with them. Experiences that we never thought would end, eventually do and we can never really experience them again as children as King writes in the book, “What can be done when you’re eleven can often never be done again.” No matter if you visit an old school or an old neighborhood, we can never see those places as we saw them as children.
Despite several terrifying moments, once I finished the book, I was left with a strange sense of sadness not only for the characters, as the adult versions of them begin to lose their memories of each other once they leave Derry again, but for myself. I realized just how much time had passed for myself since my own childhood. A sadness at the strange sense of nostalgia that the story had given me. Ultimately, King ends the book on a hopeful message. While we all grow up and move away from our hometowns, we shouldn’t lose what it felt like to be child or the excitement of life as he writes:
“So drive away quick, drive away from Derry, from memory…but not from desire. That stays, the bright cameo of all we were and all we believed in as children…Drive away and try to keep smiling…and go toward all the life there is with all the courage you can and all the belief you can muster. Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.”