First thing’s first: I first read IT circa 1987. I was 12 years old, which might strike the uninitiated as a tad young to tackle King’s gruesome, relentless, complicated, and just plain unwieldy horror epic (the 1986 printing was 1,138 pages). Fans, of course, will know that it was the perfect time to read it. Not only was I the same age as the seven protagonists (in the 1958 chapters, anyway), but I was also battling through my own version of Derry’s terror-filled sewers: middle school.
King was my savior. There is nothing original about this. He was a lot of people’s savior. If I finished a test early, if I had a couple minutes before class started, out came whatever King book I was reading. Around the time I got IT, I’d also purchased a novelty item from the local dime store: a faux-leather sleeve that you could slip over your paperback to give it a hardcover feel. It was black and came complete with a white-ribbon bookmark, and word started getting around that it was a Bible. That skinny kid Kraus couldn’t stop reading his Bible.
They were wrong, but they were also right. IT, for a time, was my Bible. It didn’t matter what terrible shit I was going through at school. Physical roughing up from bullies, teasing from the same, worries that I’d never get taller, clenching anxieties about classes, about gym, about friends, about enemies, about girls who, I was quite sure, would never, ever want to talk to me. And it was all in the book. Every one of the these fears was reflected in those 1,138 pages, except magnified into roaring, capering horrors that made, for those snatches of time during which I could read them, my own troubles wisp away.
I’ve always called IT my second-favorite King book. (First favorite: his nonfiction horror history Danse Macabre; my reasons are a story for another time.) (And a caveat: Though I read the first three Dark Tower books as a kid, I have since held back, waiting to make a marathon read of the whole thing.) The reason I’ve rated IT so highly is that it doesn’t exist in my memory so much as a book as it does as a part of my life.
There is just so much in IT. So many characters, so many incidents, so many disasters, so much physical and emotional pain. IT is about growing up—it cuts between the characters as adolescents and as adults—and something about this theme further blurs the line of fiction and reality. Are these my memories? Or King’s inventions? Or is there a third option, which is no less than the magic of books: Because King invented them, have they become my memories?
A re-read threatens to alter that compelling confusion; I’m divided on whether it’s a good idea. Nevertheless, my goal with Stephen King’s IT Parade is to take the book in chunks and just, well, talk about it, riff on it, analyze it, see where it draws its power from, see what I can learn from its failures. It may lead somewhere grand. It may lead me straight down into a dead-end sewer, where Pennywise the Dancing Clown will pantomime crying and offer me a balloon full of blood. But like the kids of Derry, Maine, IT is calling to me, and I can’t resist the toothless maw of that drainage tunnel and the jaunty calliope music coming from within.
Note: I’m not going to belabor plot details. This will be most satisfying for you if you’ve read the book. There will be lots of spoilers. If you want to follow along closely as I reference page numbers, you’ll want to obtain this edition of the book (at 1,488 pages, it’s even larger, but has generous margin space in which to scribble).
There is . . . one other thing. Here’s where it gets a little weird in any deep discussion of IT. Near the end of the book, when our 11- and 12-year-old protagonists are lost in the Derry sewers, Beverly, the one girl in the bunch, proposes that the boys have sex with her. All of the boys. This is my memory; it could be faulty. But I recall her taking the boys’ virginities, one by one, as some sort of ritual to bring them back together, to achieve wholeness and unity. It is easily one of the most WTF scenes in King’s oeuvre, and yet, I approach it this time with a wide-open mind. King does so much right with IT that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, right down to the adolescent gang-bang. I am, however, going to be searching for clues as to why the characters take this weird action—or simply why King, given what clues we can drawn regarding his mindset, had them do it.
So here’s the plan: I’m going to give you a week and a half to get your act together. Obtain the book, clear your reading schedule, oil your creepily creaking doors, etc. On Monday, July 10, I’ll write about Chapters 1-3. You’ll want to have read that far so that you can participate in the discussion or, if you prefer, just shake your head in dismay. Every Monday thereafter I’ll post on that week’s assignment. Ten weeks later, on September 4, we’re done, and then you can go see the new movie adaptation that weekend. Follow @booklistreader for updates.
Join me, won’t you? It’ll be a long, dimly-lit journey through scummy waters, but don’t worry if we slip from time to time. We all float down here.
YOUR FIRST ASSIGNMENT: CHAPTERS 1-3
DANIEL KRAUS has landed on Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2015, won two Odyssey Awards, and has been a Library Guild selection, Bram Stoker Finalist, and more. With GUILLERMO DEL TORO, Kraus co-authored Trollhunters, which was adapted into the Emmy-winning Netflix series. Kraus and del Toro also co-created The Shape of Water, the movie version of which will be released in December 2017.