IT

Author Seanan McGuire sings the praises of a hor­ror master

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - First contact - by Stephen King, 1986 Seanan McGuire’s Ashes Of Hon­our is out now in paper­back.

You can’t get away from Stephen King. He’s as recog­nis­able as a movie star ( and has been a movie star, sev­eral times). He helped to de­fine the mod­ern shape of the hor­ror world. As a child with a pas­sion for the macabre, he was sec­ond only to Vin­cent Price in my per­sonal pan­theon, and I cam­paigned re­lent­lessly to be al­lowed to read his work. Bit by bit, I wore my mother down, un­til I was granted per­mis­sion to be­gin work­ing my way through King’s oeu­vre.

I loved every­thing I read. I was an un­crit­i­cal, rav­en­ous reader. Un­til the day I picked up a book with a clawed hand reach­ing through a sewer grate, and learned what it re­ally was to fall in love with a work of fic­tion.

It is a hard book for me to talk about, which is ironic, given that I talk about it con­stantly. I fell in love with it so hard and so com­pletely, at such a young age, that there is ab­so­lutely no way for me to be ob­jec­tive about it. This book is one of the ones that made me. Be­cause of that, there are things I just can’t see, no mat­ter how hard I look for them. It is a hard book to talk about, pe­riod, be­cause it’s huge. Some peo­ple view it as King’s best work, and they’re not wrong. Oth­ers view it as sprawl­ing and self- in­dul­gent, and they’re not wrong ei­ther.

Some­thing ter­ri­ble is hap­pen­ing in the city of Derry, Maine. Busi­nesses tend to thrive there; dis­as­ters that be­fall cities of sim­i­lar size and sim­i­lar eco­nomic stand­ing tend to pass it by. But ev­ery 27 years, the wheel turns round, and tragedies haunt the sleepy streets. Chil­dren dis­ap­pear, and while their par­ents mourn, other adults seem to al­most brush it off, as if it were nor­mal. Tem­pers flare. Things worsen over the course of a sum­mer, un­til they cul­mi­nate in a huge, cat­a­strophic event that can claim hun­dreds of lives, and which ends the cy­cle… at least for an­other 27 years.

Ev­ery cy­cle, most of the dead and dis­ap­peared are chil­dren. Ev­ery cy­cle, no one re­sists… un­til 1957, when a group of mis­fits, “the Losers Club”, come to­gether and suc­cess­fully fight It, driv­ing It away be­fore the fi­nal catas­tro­phe can oc­cur. They swear a blood oath to come back if It ever re­turns be­fore they scat­ter to the winds, leav­ing only one of their num­ber in Derry to keep the home fires burn­ing: Mike Han­lon, who grows to be­come an ama­teur his­to­rian, trac­ing It’s in­flu­ence on the town, back to where every­thing be­gan.

The adults re­turn to Derry, now with adult con­cerns cloud­ing their minds, and must ask them­selves whether it is even pos­si­ble for them to con­front the an­cient evil for a sec­ond time – and whether, if they do, there is any chance that they will be able to walk away.

There are is­sues with the book. Some of King’s han­dling of Bev­erly ( the sole fe­male char­ac­ter to ap­pear in both 1957 and 1984) is clumsy and even shock­ingly un­nec­es­sary, with se­quences that made me un­com­fort­able when I was a child and still do now ( and not in that good, squirmy way that hor­ror can some­times achieve). Some of the di­gres­sions from the main plot ta­per off into noth­ing, adding lit­tle to the text, and I know a lot of peo­ple who were dis­ap­pointed with the end­ing, which can seem to come out of nowhere.

All told, whether you’re a fan of King or have sim­ply been look­ing for the one book that can tell you what all the hype is about, It re­mains a stel­lar out­ing from him. It was al­ways a pe­riod piece about the 1950s; now it’s a pe­riod piece about the 1980s as well. And that’s just fine.

We all float down here.

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