By Stephen King
Background: Published in 1986, this leviathan novel is over 1,000 pages. But, unlike The Stand (in my opinion), every one of those pages is well-earned. If you are interested in the story, don’t just watch the mini-series with Tim Curry; it pales in comparison.
What it’s about: Two narratives drive the story of a group of seven outcasts, one in the ’50s when they were kids, and one in the ’80s when they return to their hometown of Derry, Maine, all grown up, to face their childhood fears.
In the ’50s, they were terrorized by a shapeshifting monster that most often appeared as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. They dub the monster “It,” as it is so foreign a thing, and slowly their worst nightmares come to life. Of course, the adults don’t believe them, so the children are forced to contend with the beast on their own.
Meanwhile, in the ’80s, one of their number has committed suicide, and they are all asked to return home by the one who stayed in Derry. They converge, their memories of childhood fuzzy. Apparently, adulthood makes you forget about the psycho clown you once fought. But sure enough, Pennywise insinuates himself into their lives once again, and they are forced into the realization that they did not, in fact, best the creature back when they were kids.
The two narratives are woven together so that the climax of each of the timelines happens at the same time, doubling the tension as you scramble through the pages. The monster leads them down into its home, the sewers, for each final confrontation.
Why it will keep you up at night: Yes, the mini-series scared you when you were 5, but now it’s sort of silly, even (especially) the part where he turns into a giant spider. You are left thinking that Pennywise is a weird clown/spider, and that’s it.
Pennywise is a creature of Lovecraftian proportions and is much, much scarier in the book than in the movie. The creature’s real form cannot be perceived by our puny eyes, as the creature comes from a void outside of our universe. Its true form, which exists outside of our matter, is called the deadlights and appears to us as a swirling mass of orange light (and if you see it, you’ll promptly go insane).
In the book, the group must perform the Ritual of Chüd (which is a complicated way of metally biting on the creature’s tongue) to destroy it, and the climax is so surreal and outside of our perception that it is no wonder they didn’t try to render it visually in the movie, but instead left it as a silly face-off with a giant spider.
The book is so much more nuanced and complex than the movie, which is not surprising, as it is a long-ass book. It’s also creepy as hell. If you had nightmares about Tim Curry as Pennywise, just wait til you see all the horrifying stuff in the book that they left out. This one gets five stars from me, as it is my favorite Stephen King book.
Read It now!