The last time I read a Stephen King book, I was 15, more than half a lifetime ago. I still remember the Shining pretty well, and some bits better than others — like the carnivorous hedge animals and that oranges signify danger. Some parts terrified me when I was a teenager, especially the lady in room 237. As a reader, you can remember King’s writing and the events in it vividly, as most of the time he writes lucidly and economically.
However, I cannot admit that IT is economical by any means. Clocking in at almost 1,400 pages, I feel that some bits can be cut down, that there are dead ends, and in plenty of occasions the story simply drags. There are seven main characters here and we know their histories and family backgrounds all to a tee, and at times I mix up their family histories and who’s married with who. There are a ton of side characters who I just couldn’t care less about, like the bullies led by Henry Bowers, and all the spouses of the main characters some who dabble in the plot. And there is a really weird bit towards the end that we all know about and prefer not to discuss, so let’s not.
I do have a few other issues with the book, as there are aspects of the novel that I find barely credible. For example, Pennywise can easily kill children, but often let the kids in the Loser’s club go unscathed. I find it hard to believe that something that had existed since year dot were barely able to beat 7 socially handicapped kids. This is a shame, because this is the entire premise of the novel. I also find that Pennywise, in whatever form he chooses to take, barely raises any hair and often the horror comes at the anticipation rather than the physical form. But is the book worth reading? Yes, but geez I wish it is at least 600 pages thinner.
Yet, there is a lot that I loved in this book, especially its exploration on the nature of fear, like in this passage:
It’s offense you maybe can’t live with because it opens up a crack inside your thinking, and if you look down into it you see there are evil things down there, and they have little yellow eyes that don’t blink, and there’s a stink down there in that dark and after a while you think maybe there’s a whole other universe where a square moon rises in the sky, and the stars laugh in cold voices, and some of the triangles have four sides, and some have five, and some have five raised to the fifth power of sides. In this universe there might grow roses which sing. Everything leads to everything, he would have told them if he could. Go to your church and listen to your stories about Jesus walking on the water, but if I saw a guy doing that I’d scream and scream and scream. Because it wouldn’t look like a miracle to me. It would look like an offense.
It is a profound statement — fear offends our notions of reality. It is a spanner in the works of the gears of our daily life and basic understanding, and it is something that we want to protect. Our greatest fear therefore, is the loss of this control of our own reality. So then, if we handle this less as an offence and more of a new knowledge, something that we can accept, will we fear less? I’m still trying to figure this out. There are maxims and principles that define my concept of reality that I cannot break, and throwing a stone to the pond will only shatter the image rendered in the crystal clear waters.
But the biggest strength of the book, I find is founded in its structure, which allows the past and present to connect, separate, intermingle and find its resolution. The past and present are often partitioned by what I think is the best part of the book — the interludes. Each of the interludes add to the mysticism of Derry: stories of tragedies in the past that happened in Derry which adds to the nefarious mysticism of the town. A heavy essence of the book can be savoured in these interludes, beautifully written as secondhand stories as Mike Hanlon struggles to resolve the present with examples from the past.
Another little passage that I loved was how Bill became a successful writer after proving to his literature professor that a story can be just a story, and not an allegory with a moral message. In some ways, this reflects King’s career. He is rarely “accused” of literature, but it doesn’t mean that his novels are shallow. First and foremost King is a storyteller, and he seems to be doing well at that. But we, as readers, are entitled to take away what we can from the book, be it profound ideas or just a plain good story.