Stephen King’s IT – Reread, Reviewed

In excited anticipation of the upcoming movie release of King’s IT I decided to re-read the book, all one thousand four hundred and eighty nine pages of it! The first reading was back in 1986, back then I read everything he published as soon as I could get my hands on it. I’ve been a dedicated, constant reader since the Carrie. An older friend had given me her copy of Carrie after she finished it and said it might be something I’d like – as a girl in school at the time – it rocked my world!  I still have it.

By the way, I’ve read that the movie is based on the first half of King’s novel where they’re telling the story from the point of view of the kids and then they’ll make a second movie from the point of view of the adults…. and potentially cut the two together.  I’ll be reviewing the movie here after I see IT next week.

So, I’ve re-read a few of King’s books. I think I’ve read The Shining three times; once when it came out, again after Kubrick’s version was released, and again with the publishing of the sequel, Doctor Sleep.  I read The Stand at least twice, the first version and then the fuller version.  The books of The Tower seemed to come out so far apart that I’d re-read them before reading the new one, that got kinda ridiculous so I still haven’t read the last two books!  And I know I’ve re-read many of his short stories and novellas. And I’m not really a repeat reader. It’s him, his characters are friends of mine, companions from long winter nights or muggy, buggy summer days.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge King fan – he’s our HP Lovecraft, the master of his genre in this age – but I’m not quite as keen to his new stuff and I was the earlier works; his old stuff is nothing short of art.

While I was reading IT I basked in his verbosity and the incorporation of words that you’d just never think as appropriate for describing something but damn when he uses them it nails the moment perfectly! To me he turned a phrase as well as Twain. I felt that way when I re-read The Shining this last time. I didn’t feel that way when I read Doctor Sleep. Reading Doctor Sleep reminded me of how I write – fast, pouring out the character’s story as they tell it to me, and skipping over lots of the description. Maybe that’s why I don’t religiously pick up every King book as soon as it’s published the way I use to do.

But re-reading The Shining brought me no real surprises – whereas there were several things about IT that had not stuck in my memory from the first reading.

IT is full of death and horror, from beginning to end it is horrific. I think it must be hundreds who die. I wished I’d kept count. From being absorbed in the Deadlights to exploding while sitting on a toilet, the creative manner of dying is probably unprecedented particularly at the time it was published. And true to his word in Danse Macabre he explains horror as something subjective. What scares you may not scare me – we all have our boogie men and to each his own in IT as well.  And the number of characters he constructs and keeps up with is another thing – as a writer I was in awe of that.

As I re-read IT I could not help but wonder if it would be published today. Perhaps with the power he has gained from so many decades of success King could get it published but an unknown writer today would never, ever get a publisher on board with it.  Our world today is not enjoying free speech as much as it should, our world is full of social justice warriors, snowflakes, and politically correct policing, all of which would scream “HATE SPEECH” and “RACIST” with regard to all the racial and religious turns of phrase within this story.

And that’s not even the most controversial part of the book. How the hell did I forget that Bev pulled a train!?! And she was 12 years old at the time! My mouth dropped open and I laughed out loud when read that part. First because I couldn’t believe that I didn’t remember that scene – which means it must not have struck me as surprising or shocking in any way back when I read it thirty-one years ago – and secondly because I found it so shocking now, and lastly because I thought about what the former mentioned groups PLUS new age feminists plus the extreme religious right would have to say about it nowadays. After a good laugh I just sat and marveled for a bit about how very much things have changed in three decades. In some ways for the better and in some ways not.

Something else I’d forgotten about was the true origin of the evil character in the book. I didn’t remember at all that it was somehow other worldly – not even alien but something even more foreign than that.  When I recently re-watched the mini-series I thought, “So is that clown somehow the manifestation of the devil / a demon? “

I know that I read the book before I saw the 1990 mini-series and I’m guessing, like what usually happens, the memories of the movie somehow supersede those of the book (although that certainly didn’t happen with The Shining or The Stand) but I still find it really surprising that I didn’t remember some of this stuff. Memories truly are deeply flawed.

Overall it has been a unexpectedly interesting experience to re-read IT.

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