|Publisher:||Hodder & Stoughton|
Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.
I didn’t want to read this book for an incredibly long time because I am completely and utterly terrified of clowns. In a very real way. For years I have been listening to my friends regale me with nightmarish stories of their youthful experiences watching the film IT in the nineties. I was mortified. Clowns are not an uncommon fear but I do believe my fear to be completely irrational as I have never had a particularly bad clown experience. I mean there was that one time as a kid when I saw a clown at a local art’s festival/fair stumbling out of a beer tent with a cigarette dangling from his lips and his makeup all smeared. That was traumatic to be fair, but was it traumatic enough to make me avoid a Stephen King masterpiece? The answer should be a firm no, but instead I stuck to this mental block that this book was all about clowns and I hate clowns and that was the end of that. Until now that is…
I have since changed my mind. Not about clowns, as I believe I am still firmly afraid of those darn things, but the book IT written by my absolute favourite, Stephen King, is about so much more than just a creepy clown called Pennywise. This is ultimately a book about friendship, and the absolute power of that. It is also a book about fear – our obvious fears, our inner fears, our subconscious fears and our fears of the unknown. This book is also about childhood and what that entails.
IT is about a group of childhood friends who became friends by default in 1958 in a town called Derry in Maine. The Losers (they call themselves) are made up of Bill, Richie, Stan, Ben, Mike, Eddie and Beverly, a group of kids who never quite fit in and through several acts of so-called ‘fate’ ended up becoming not only friends but allies in a town that is not as it at first appears. You see, Derry is not what it appears on the maps. It’s a town that has the deepest and darkest of secrets that lurk in all the places of the subconscious. It’s a force that feeds off the fears of children and their ability to imagine the impossible. In this town of hidden horrors children keep going missing and/or are found murdered in terrible ways and yet no one seems to be doing anything about it. In Derry it seems a lot of grownups like to look the other way.
Twenty seven years ago in 1958 the Loser Kids experienced all the horrors that a bunch of kids could possibly experience, and it seems they are needed back in Derry to fight those horrors again. The problem (amongst many) is that in 1985 they are no longer kids and Derry is one scary place. Now the Losers must return to Derry when the only remaining member of the group who still resides there, Mike, calls them back again. It seems the horrors have started up again, and they learn that IT will return every 27 years or so unless they kill IT for good.
Stephen King is so good at small towns and so good at helping his readers reimagine what it’s like to be a kid again that I fell in love with the whole gang from the first page. It is their hopes and dreams that will remain in my heart for a very long time, and I think it is also perhaps a really important lesson for us all: never to lose our childish enthusiasm for the world.
It is worth noting that King is really good at embracing the shock factor and does not shy away from taboo subjects. His characters are flawed and not here to win morality contests but it is easy to fall in love with their humanity. I have yet to dislike a King novel, but I will admit that there are a few scenes in this one that truly shocked me and I am no longer easily shocked. Perhaps like his characters that needed to relearn how to be kids again we need to learn to truly embrace our once active imaginations and remember that being afraid of the dark is not necessarily a bad thing.
*Sidenote: if you are a true King fan there are references to The Dark Tower series and The Shining hidden in the narrative.
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