“IT” by Stephen King

Clowns are no longer regarded as the bringers of tomfoolery and laughter they once were. Thanks to examples like the Joker from The Dark Knight and Captain Spaulding from House of 1,000 Corpses, we see right through their make up to the murderous souls within. Hell, an entire film was made as a spoof of the concept of evil clowns, as seen here:

But the reason that this happened, that the term ‘clown’ now has ominous overtones, is largely due to Stephen King’s novel, IT. He was the first to address the issue of clowns being unnerving to behold and spun an entire novel out of it. The fact that it has spawned a legacy that continues to develop even today is testament to how iconic this novel was during its release.

What may come as a surprise to some is the fact that the clown itself is only a small part of the novel, the part which many people took on board, rather than the other, less memorable bits.

The plot: Seven children living in the town of Derry come together on the summer of 1958, united by a terrible secret. An evil entity, known only as It, lives in the sewers preying on children, hunting them down by using their fears against them. After subduing It, the children make a promise. That if the killings were to start again, they will return to Derry, to finish what they started. And in 1985, when they have all lost their childhood innocence and beliefs, It returns…

The premise is the sell of the novel, and it has massive potential. Jumping between time-lines allows for some interesting narrative devices which King fully exploits. And as It can take the form of children’s worst fears, he is free to terrify all he wishes. So it is surprising that the novel isn’t actually that scary. He starts off exceptionally well, giving It an air of absolute venom and mystery. The opening pages in which It kills Georgie, Bill Denbrough’s little brother, are the most powerful. Very little is explained and the perspective of little Georgie allows for some intriguing descriptions of childhood fears.

However, King makes the all too tragic mistake of trying to explain every detail of It’s existence. A monster that hides in the dark and preys on the unsuspecting? Terrifying. A monster that is written to appear relatable and with a human-like personality? Far less terrifying. It has it’s best moments when It is in the background, when the main characters are contemplating It’s actions. When It comes to the foreground, especially in the later sections of the book, it becomes more of an adventure novel than a horror.

Whereas this is a significant problem in terms of the fear factor, the actual narrative remains quite enjoyable. The relationships between all of the children, and how they develop in later life, are all well crafted and well written. Some issues beg to be examined in more detail (such as Eddie’s Oedipal complex or racial tensions) and one gets the distinct feeling that King tried to cover too much material, despite the sizable page count.

The central story and its central characters remain quite likable. The majority of It’s problems arise in its final pages. Once everything has been explained regarding the Creature, it fails utterly to be fearful and becomes a major anticlimax. A number of decisions made regarding this ending call to question King’s intentions. It’s final form, the method of finally killing It being just some examples.

Another issue is King’s preoccupation with sex. Initially, it is used as an effective tool to strip his characters down to base animals, functioning on fear and pleasure primarily. However, in the final pages, this becomes less effective. Certain scenes feel misplaced and pointless, used for cheap shock value and little else.

IT is a novel that begins at its pique and continues to descend through the course of its narrative. The premise is undeniably excellent, and you have to admire the creative mind of Stephen King to conceive such a memorable concept. However, it isn’t executed as well as it could be. While the narrative merely dwindles for the most part, it dive bombs in the final chapters, which is disappointing.

Rating: 6/10

“We all float down here.” – Pennywise the clown

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • Rumours have circulated that Stephen King himself had sunk into deep alcoholism and drug abuse while writing the novel. Whereas I cannot confirm these rumours (as Wikipedia does not go into further detail on it), it would certainly explain the heinous ending.
  • I can easily testify to the horrifying nature of clowns. I have a creepy clown mask that I had planned to scare a friend of mine with last Halloween. The doorbell rang, so around the house I went to sneak up behind…a group of young trick or treaters, and completely scarred them for life.
  • The official term for fear of clowns is Coulrophobia, and this lady has it:

This book is kind of like:

  • A very adult rendition of The Goonies


  • A carnival run by Vincent Price
Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It actually isn’t as good as people would have you believe. Fantastic concept but badly communicated. A lot of WTF moments towards the end…It’s like having Rob Schneider make a cameo at the end of The Shining

  2. I’ve been meaning to read that for awhile, but I haven’t had the time. I only saw the sci-fi mini-series and it kind of scared me.

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