Author Seanan McGuire sings the praises of a horror master
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.