|Submitted by R Williams |
(Dec 28, 2005)
Despite his publishing so many novels over the years; When you run into a Stephen King fan they will (nearly always) mention one of his three most accomplished works: The Stand, The Dark Tower Series, or IT. I was exposed to IT in the spring of 1990, my senior year in high school by my then-girlfriend. She made a point of re-reading the book every couple of years. I have just completed my second journey through the dark corridors of childhoods' fears and foibles, and I am still amazed at how thorough a journey King has made it.
The plot is, like most of King's work, nearly gelded when explained in one or two sentences. In 1958, a horrible series of murders claim the lives of several children in a fictional Maine town called Derry. A ragtag group of seven outcast kids vow to destroy the monster that is responsible. The group of kids is headed by "Stuttering Bill", an eleven year-old who's brother was murdered by a creature that takes on any form it needs in order to terrify it's victims.
The murders are part of a cycle- one that has been in perpetuation for eons. Every 27 years an indescribable beast (possibly an alien creature that has lived under the town for a millenia) wakes, feeds on the terror it is capeable of causing, and falls back into a sated hybernation. This gives the people who's life IT has touched time to grow older and to more or less disregard the cycles or the murders that never get solved.
Although the children think they have succeeded in destroying [what they refer to as] It in 1958, they vow to return and finish the job it they ever have to. In 1985, each of the characters is called home, because It has come back.
The book is written like three different books, all mingled within themselves. A lot of folks will say that there are only two stories going on: The first being that of how the seven members of "the Losers Club" come together, become friends, and decide that they are the ones who have to kill the monster that terrorizes the town; and the second where the same people return as adults to finish the job once and for all. But chopped into a handfull of seperate asides there is a third narrative, described by the author as "Interludes" where we are treated to one of the characters' personal journal of the history of the evil force and how it had affected Derry even before the kids of the Losers Club were born. I can recall skimming past these interludes when I was younger, wanting instead to continue reading about our band of friends and their eventual double-confrontation with It, deep below the sewers of the small town.
But it's these series of Interludes that truly flesh out the magnitude of the story as it unfolds. It illustrates how roughly every three decades or so, a horrible thing will "kick off" a series of murders and "folks gone missing", and how after a few months, the murders and abductions would stop following an equally grim "closing ceremony". These tales, told in journal form by the town's head librarian and one of the original Losers, makes you understand the ancient evil, and it gives insight into how long It has had a chance to slowly shape and poison the entire town through it's own particular brand of magic.
In addition to "Stuttering Bill" and the eventual librarian, Mike Hanlon, we are also introduced to, and made to truly love, five other members of the Losers Club: Eddie Kaspbrak, a hypochondriac who's opressive mother keeps him in a constant state of control; Ben Hanscomb, a fat kid who loses himself in books- and who is a natural engineer; Stan Uris, an outcast in the town primarily because he is a Jew; Richie "Trashmouth" Tozier, who is none other than a picture-perfect protrait of that kid we all grew up with who just can't keep his mouth shut and who thinks he is a hell of a lot funnier than he really turns out to be. Finally there is Beverly Marsh, the circle's only girl, a redheaded beauty who's abusive father will supply a blueprint for the kind of men she will be drawn to later in life.
Each member of the circle has their role, obvious or not, and each contributes their outcast talents towards their eventual confrontation with It in 1958, and their re-visit with the thing in 1985. The stories of their youth and their first battle intermingles side-by-side with the updated tale, so by the end of the book you are reading about both climaxes simultaniously, with each chapter flipping back and forth through time. The overall effect gives the novel an epic feel; one that only a devoted Stephen King fan can truly appreciate.
I guess that last line deserves a little expansion. You see when you get right down to brass tacks, "It" is almost too much to handle. The book weighs in at well over 1000 pages, and plenty of it involves exposition that completes either the reasons why a character is about to make a decision that they make, or to further underline the power and the depths at which It has carved out for Itself for the thousands of years It has been around. By the time you are halfway through the tome, you are aware of what is coming. There is very few surprises or revelations by the time you get to the last quarter, and the resolution following the double climax is a little long (not in the "200 pages after the climax" in The Stand sense, but still).
And King does get a wee bit hokey from time to time. Beverly Marsh, as the only female member of the club, is adored by all, and serves as the sexual ideal of the men as they grow older. Her role as a sexual awakening for the boys is balanced in the plot by her ability to fight (and her near-perfect aim with a slingshot), but King traps himself by being so attracted himself to this fictional character that she can hardly do any wrong. We are given an outline of a young girl who was nearly molested and most definately beaten regularly by her own father- we are sketched a composite of how she grew up and dated other men who didn't hesitate to physically abuse her, and then we are abruptly shown how, in her late thirties, she is narrowly escaping being literally beaten to death by her insane husband. Where's the psychology of it? Where is her sexual denial? Where is the network of choices and chaos that takes her from being a beautiful tomboy who can hold her own with six kids who all adore her to a woman who would be subjected for 25 years to a barrage of jerks who would beat the shit out of her; only to have her re-emerge as a woman who is determined to go back and finish what she started. I suggest that as a reader, you can justify her actions in the book, but King never really fills in the gap and does it for you the way he handles the others and their motivations.
And the less said about the events after It is defeated in 1958, while the children are lost and scared and growing apart deep in the sewers below Derry, the better.
This might sound like harsh criticism. None of what I have mentioned will detract from the actual story. If one or two characters aren't completely arced properly, well, it's forgiveable, considering how magnificently others are illustrated. Ben Hanscomb is a favorite of mine. The fat kid. The loser who won't let the class bully cheat off of him, and subsequently fights for his skin, and ultimately his life, for the rest of the summer as a result. The explaination of how he goes from a 250 pound butterball to a slim, successful architect is interesting and exciting, and it's his unbridled love for his friend Beverly that makes it easiest to remember what it was like to be eleven years old and in love with one of your best friends.
The overall book is a fast read, despite it's length. King only loses track and focus once or twice (he could have lost the entire bit about Patrick Hocksetter and we would have never lost a beat) but keeps us engaged. That's a hard thing to do, and in my opinion, he hasn't done it since.