You’ve probably heard of IT, the movie based on the Stephen King novel by now. Heck, with its $475+ million take at the box office, you’ve probably seen it. Even if you haven’t, I strongly suggest you buy yourself a copy of the book. Because there’s a reason it’s on multiple lists of “Best horror novels of all times.”
I’ve never been so strongly impacted by a horror novel as I had been with IT—and as a former first reader at Weird Tales magazine, I’ve read plenty of horror.
IT is the story of children who have to fight an ageless evil that has returned to their town of Derry after a long slumber; the story is told in two parts, and in the second half, the children return to Derry as adults to finish the job of finishing IT off.
The eldritch horror that is IT isn’t their only enemy. The new movie downplays it, but the gang of bullies, led by Henry Bowers, who torment our heroes are just as menacing as IT (particularly Patrick Hockstetter, who when he was 5 killed his infant brother). Think about that for a second. The interdimensional evil is only slightly worse than the thugs of Derry.
But here’s where I was most impacted: There’s a scene where IT finally unleashes its horrific power against Patrick. IT doesn’t just kill its victims, it prefers to frighten them first. Patrick, who gets sexual pleasure from torturing and killing animals, is afraid of only one thing: flying leeches. Guess what IT does to Patrick?
Of course, IT doesn’t kill Patrick all at once. Patrick is awake when the leeches begin to feed. It was take-my-breath-away frightening.
I was so scared by the descriptions of mutilation in IT that I…stopped being afraid. I wasn’t just scared out of my wits, embedded in the bowels of a novel. I was scared back into them again. Rather than being caught up in a scary book, I suddenly realized I was in bed and reading. I was so scared that I went beyond scared and into cold-blooded rationality.
And that’s what I love about IT: It was one of the most reality-bending experiences I’ve ever had as a reader.
Yes, IT has an infamous scene in which Beverley has sex with all of her male friends. Perhaps I was just grateful not to be terrified, but I saw that moment as a bonding experience. At the time, it didn’t strike me as being unusual because I had just read about a clown-monster decapitating children and ripping half their faces off.
Even if horror doesn’t appeal to you, consider King’s thoughtful prose, which is alway strong. But on these pages, his words are arresting.“He sat there studiously bent over his work (Bill saw him), which lay in a slant of crisp white winterlight, his face sober and absorbed, knowing that to be a librarian was to come as close as any human being can to sitting in the peak-seat of eternity’s engine.”
Reading IT is the closest you can come to sitting in the peak-seat in the theater of the macabre.