Stephen King’s IT is the bridesmaid of King’s novels. On every list ranking King’s novels, IT always comes in as number 2 or 3 — never number 1. To me it’s King’s best novel.
Quick synopsis: It’s 1958 and something evil is preying on the children of Derry, Maine. A group of seven kids, all at the bottom of the social pecking order, band together and confront the monster, Pennywise the clown. It’s an entity that uses the fears and phobias of its favorite prey, young children, to terrorize and destroy them. The Losers Club defeats Pennywise, but the kids vow to go back to Derry and finish the job if the monster ever returns. In 1985 – it does.
Why do I think this is King’s greatest work?
Because it’s not just about monsters. And it is.
• IT is a horror story, but it has many themes that resonate for anyone who’s ever been a kid or an adult trying to recapture the imagination that came so effortlessly in childhood. It’s about people on the outside looking in – societal outcasts, and about choosing between doing the right thing and the easy thing.
• As IT approaches its 30th anniversary in 2016, its themes still ring true. Bullies (remember Henry Bowers and his gang?) have become a trending topic in national conversation and, as we see every day in the news, monsters are not just the benign products of childhood imagination. They’re real. We have to deal with them.
• Yet another topical issue IT tackles is attitudes toward homosexuality. The story opens with bullies beating up a homosexual couple, Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty. These days, national headlines on the topic are centered on progressing rights on the LGBT community, whereas 30 years ago, headlines often featured violence against homosexuals.
• IT is the most chilling of Stephen King’s 45 novels. I think this is because the seven main characters come to life so fully, and each illuminates different facets of the book’s themes. Sure, one can argue King is a master of this with plenty of other works that arguably achieve the same (The Stand, The Shining, Carrie). But none match the complexity of IT.
• The clown thing … nearly 30 years ago, IT positioned clowns in a way that forever changed our feelings about them. The actual evil – It – is a free-form entity that takes shape in the fictional Pennywise, which is modeled after our real-world characters Bozo, Clarabell and Ronald McDonald. King’s decision to turn child-friendly clowns evil can be taken to mean many things; I think it’s a stroke of grotesque genius.
• King is renowned for his characters. Even literary snobs who rarely, if ever, throw King a complimentary bone will admit that his use of local color in his characters is excellent. I’d say this strength best rises to the occasion with IT.
It’s time for this King novel to ditch the wedding party and get the gold ring.