Reviews In The Machine : Stephen King’s IT, part two
I think Pennywise is one of the most intriguing villains or monsters in the Stephen King universe. The fact that it can take on so many physical forms is so appropriate and reflective of the multifaceted nature of the character itself. Where does it come from? Why does it do the things that it does? What is it that it ultimately wants? I think that while the questions aren’t necessarily answered as thoroughly as we might like, it’s the kind of thing that sparks enough interest that it makes me keep coming back to the book.
I think that there is an interesting duality just in the way in which Pennywise represents itself physically to the real world. On one hand you have the clown, who would seem to be intended to lure children in by presenting a jovial and friendly character that proves to be far more dangerous. But then there are the other sides of Pennywise, the other ways in which it physically manifests itself. What I find interesting is that whenever Pennywise takes on a different form to a specific person, it often ends up being in the form of whatever that person fears the most. Pennywise has been described at times as being a sort of psychic vampire that feeds off of the fears of his victim. It gets inside a person’s head, draws out whatever fear it finds in there and uses that to sustain itself. I liked how this aspect became a way of deepening the connection between the heroes of the book, that all of them could potentially see Pennywise as a werewolf because that was how Richie had seen it.
Personally, I see Pennywise as a sort of anti-losers club, an amalgam of all the dark and evil things in the world combined and clarified down into one physical being. One of my favorite parts of the book are the interludes between sections. While they don’t necessarily move the story forward, they are terrifying to read and really sink in the depth of evil inherent in this character. Perhaps Pennywise represents the darkness that was present in the very beginning of time itself. What I do know is that Pennywise answers to no one, coming across as a kind of petulant god, taking pleasure in all of his various playthings. The book is inherently a story about the ultimate confrontation between good and evil so it stands to reason that there needs to be a dark counterpoint to the heroes of our tale.
Pennywise certainly fits the bill.
One last thing I wanted to touch on before I send you on your way is my love for the town of Derry. For as much as has been said of Castle Rock, I have always been fascinated by the mythology of Derry and any of the books which have returned there. I love the idea of a town itself being infected down to its very core with darkness and a pervasive sense of wrongness. It was chilling how, in IT, the entire town became a sort of manifestation of various aspects of the monster. One common theme I have noticed throughout King’s books is a tendency to put his characters into a situation where they are isolated from everyone and everything else. To make the town itself part of their enemy was, I thought, a brilliant way to accomplish that. I liked how the unusual nature of Derry came up in his later book, Insomnia and how, in Dreamcatcher, King managed to capture an atmosphere of unease and menace with the simple line of graffiti, “Pennywise lives.” And I loved the section of 11/22/63 when King returned to the town of Derry, shortly following the events of the kids’ portion of the book.
King is famous for establishing his shared narrative universe and I always thought it was really smart to set so many of his books and stories in similar settings. Castle Rock and Derry in the eighties were sort of the Metropolis and Gotham City of the Stephen King universe so I thought it was kind of appropriate that, like Gotham, Derry represented the darker aspects of the two towns. Castle Rock certainly saw its share of tragedy and violence over the years but Derry seemed to be the place of bleak nightmares, the place you drive past with a slight shudder as you see it but don’t know why. Derry seems to be a sort of metaphorical barrens where the wrongness of the world seeps down and collects into the gaping jaws of the most horrible creature imaginable.
This really is a masterpiece of modern popular literature. It is the kind of work that elevates a career from great into the realm of legendary. It’s a long book, to be sure, but I can honestly say while reading it that there is never really a moment where I’m thinking to myself, “why the hell is this in here?” This is a book about a terrifying and powerful monster and the conquest against it. But it’s also a story about coming of age and the challenges and fears involved with that transitional period. It’s a story about growing old and losing touch with things, re-discovering the essential parts of your life you may have neglected. It’s about death and our own limited mortality. And for as big as all those topics are, this book is necessarily large in order to accommodate them all. I think the book is brilliant in its conception and the way King manages to weave the narrative together is staggering for me. By the end of the book, he is rapidly jumping back and forth between the past and the present, from one character to the next, and the way in which he connects the language from section to section is pure genius in my opinion.
I think that anyone who has an interest in writing horror fiction should definitely read this book. I think that you would have a harder time finding a better example. All the elements of what makes horror great is here. And ultimately, if you want to become a great writer of any genre, you have to at least have a sense of what that great writing should look like.
And for as many words as I have committed to this, I still feel like I’ve only brushed the surface of this book. But I think I’ve hit enough of the major points to sufficiently express how much enjoyment I have taken over the years. If you happen to be wavering on the question of whether or not you want to read this, I hope that I have helped shove you in the right direction. It’s books like this that make me passionate about reading and even more passionate about writing.