I entered the theatre with no prior knowledge of Stephen King's It other than the small notion that the story involved a killer clown, completely underestimating the brilliance in storytelling I would then witness. Though I may seem macabre, I left the theater thinking, "what a thoroughly enjoyable experience." The film focused solely on the childhood of the self-proclaimed "Loser's Club", and after discovering that this was only half the story in the novel, I knew I had to read this tome to discover what happens to the adults these amazing kids would become.
What I discovered while reading It was that the most frightening aspect of this book lies in the forgetting. The readers follow the protagonists as adults who have lost all recollection of Derry despite their love for one another, and by revisiting Derry their memories that had seemingly been erased, surface as clear as day. Perhaps I do not fear monsters because I have been monstrous to myself, because as I inhaled each page I never once felt this work scary so much as a coming of age story wearing a horror skin. King wraps the concepts of loss of innocence and childhood, and the importance of self realization brilliantly through the lens of these adults who have yet to put their traumas, both as individuals and as a collective team battling It, to rest.
Each character experienced a trauma of varying degrees in their youths, fueling Pennywise's abilities to target them directly and indirectly via citizens of the town. Their ability to survive lay in speaking these manifestations of It to one another and clinging to the belief that they could defeat this monster together, much like a trauma victim can heal when able to speak freely without the fear of judgement. As children, their first thought was simply survival, but through their trial they realize that not fully killing It would only mean a possibility of its return, signaling a reopening of their mental & emotional scars as well as a dismal future for the children of Derry.
King masterfully infers the need for adults to claim responsibility for future generations. This idea of doing better for children who are not your own offspring resonates with me on both a personal and political level. Working in the field of childcare, I had to kill the notion that the manner in which I was raised is the right way to raise others. I possess the handbook of what not to do; and though the babies for whom I have cared and for whom I currently care are not my own, I am always mindful to strive everyday to foster a sense of freedom to experiment, openness of feelings, and an overall love for those with whom we interact. On the larger political picture, though tackling injustices is strenuous and anxiety inducing, I try to act on supporting the policies changes that would make the United States a safer place to live for all. I hope to see a future where citizens young and old do not have that fear of authority, but a cooperation between our elected officials and the people they are meant to serve. Each of the Loser's Club members is wildly successful and childless, and though each could choose not to face their childhood terror and return to their lives outside of Derry without consequence, they choose to rid the city of It's cycle of terrorizing children and feeding off of their fear. How easy would it be to just think of ourselves, our own happiness, our own survival, without thought to Earth's future inhabitants? Sometimes I wish I could do just that, but I simply know better, and like the Loser's Club, I know there is no turning back.
Another aspect of this work that strongly resonated with me was the natural progression of slipping away from key people in your life- people you love, truly with your entire being. I think about the people closest to me in my formative years, and how that number has dwindled over the course of my adulthood. I often experience that bittersweet longing for the days of losing time playing music or finding an empty field to smash glass bottles with a baseball bat or one-on-one sessions of figuring out the grand scheme of the afterlife or driving down the wrong side of the road in the middle of the night pretending we're in England.. a yearning for all of the things that shaped me and afforded me an escape from my home life, much like the Loser's Club; but unlike the Loser's Club, I was hyperaware of the distance between me and those I loved as the years marched forward. I wonder if I had known that letting go of the circumstances/the town that brought us together would naturally lead to us disbanding as a group, the shift to full personhood may have been more gentle on me. I wonder how I might have felt if I had read this book after moving away from my hometown, if perhaps it would have eased the transition into my independent adulthood. Maybe knowing this story of love and loss of memory would have made me feel less alone, less likely to try to implode. King is able to poignantly capture that bitter truth that losing what it is that brings a group together, there runs the risk of the group falling apart despite the important roles you may play in each other's lives. This lesson helps to reconcile the phenomenon where, when we run into someone from our past, we tend to tell the same stories, the same "remember that time"s, laugh at the same jokes, and feel a satisfaction that though not exactly close now, your friendship truly was and always will be, even if only within that time capsule of recycled memories.
I find this book incredibly frustrating on an emotional level because of how beautiful and poignant it is despite having been reduced as a novel about a killer clown terrorizing a small town in Maine. It also frustrates me on an analytical level because I would love nothing more than to dissect the metaphors and the symbolism, gather quotes from primary and secondary sources, and write a full on thesis paper on this beautiful work, something for which I know lack the time. I have already spent the better part of the past two weeks trying to condense this post into a digestible, concise overview of why I love this story. I am frustrated that King is so brilliant and has the ability to cover so many issues ranging from what it means for a maturing girl to navigate the male gaze, to racism, to abuse including emotional, physical, psychological, and domestic, to anti-semitism, to survivor's guilt. He shows what it means to unknowingly carry your past into your present, and how the only way to heal is to confront that past head-on, and in healing oneself can we hope for a better outcome for future generations. If you have the guts to stomach the horrors in which the Loser's Club finds themselves, I highly recommend curling up with this beautifully effective tome the next time you find you have some to spare for the written word; and if you have the chance to see the film in theaters, please do! It is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and edited effectively. The film, of course, differs slightly from the novel, but I believe the screenwriters made smart changes, and I am itching to see what they do for the next film.
I did my best not to include details that would spoil the book or movie as I enjoyed knowing nothing about the story as I watched and read it, but if you would like to give your take or talk specific parts please do let me know on my corresponding Instagram post in the comments, and if you need a copy of It for yourself, you can buy a copy here.