It (1986) by Stephen King Review
1. not intimidating, free of intimidation
2. not causing timidness or fear
See Also: Pennywise the Clown
1. a wild party and especially one in which many people have sex together
2. a period when there is too much of something, usually a bad or harmful activity
See Also: The Losers’ Club
1. too long, slow, or dull: tiresome or monotonous
2. progressing very slowly
See Also: It by Stephen King
I am a strong proponent of the maxim that is ”less is more”. This can be applied in many contexts, but what I find this adage to be superbly fitting for is to horror; any kind of entertainment that deals with the supernatural. Through the unknown, one is thrust into an elevated feeling of dread, finding the scare to not be at what’s there, but at what’s not. To me, there’s a sentiment that’s really agitating when the reader is not given any answers, when there isn’t a clear picture of whatever gruesome or horrific thing is lurking within the shadows. The subtle terror of a thing unseen is much more terrifying than any monster anyone can conjure up.
That’s the best kind of horror, well, for me, at least. That’s why I find films like Mitchell’s It Follows to be a terrific masterpiece; the viewer is left wandering in the dark as none of the supernatural concepts the film has introduced is explained. Instead, the person is left with a palpable dread, a suffocating sense of doom, and a chilling fear of all the warped forces that cannot be rationalized. As much as I am a Stephen King fanboy, he sees things differently.
He believes his readers are simpletons. I am saying this not as ad hominem, but as an assertion without any definitive proof but this book. He believes that It requires a guide or a manual at the end to explain the hows/whys of this terrible creature that has been terrorizing Derry for over a thousand pages. When he does it, everything becomes silly. Think of it like this. You are watching an extremely fascinating movie that deals with larger-than-life, ambiguous concepts. Maybe Aliens? UFOs? Unearthly figures? That’s great, but imagine what will happen if the movie decides to have a big reveal of the creature at the end, providing a deep and radio-like voice of the creature explaining why he has come and how he will rule over the world (hardy har har). Like a fake jumpscare, the moment the antagonist is shown in all its glory, its power as a scary being is dramatically lost. It is because the viewer has the chance to conceptualize the creature into something he/she can understand, resulting the viewer to look at the antagonist just as something to be beaten, not as an object of fear.
In the book, it or Pennywise the Clown, is seen a hundred of times over the course of a thousand pages. Even with one of the kid’s encounters of it during the first 200 pages, King malevolently describes it’s brutish features, his red hair, and his glaring yellow eyes up to the minute detail. As a result, the reader is able to categorize it as a clown and for the rest of the 800 pages, he/she views it merely as an antagonist, not as something to be afraid of because the reader already has seen it. King does write great suspense that can drone on for pages at just a single scene, but knowing exactly how Pennywise is like, the tension is lessened as the book’s greatest foe is merely just reduced to a clown with a red balloon. More than that, King’s origin story of it minifies the scare and makes the supposed enemy as something silly because of how outlandish his manual for Pennywise is.
Initially, it hit off to a good start. The iconic beginning of George in his yellow slickers and the boat was written well, the scene with Stanley Uris in the bath was nail-biting, and all the characters seem to promise a decent odyssey of terror. Sadly, as what happens with a lot of King’s work, it drives off the rails and busies itself with red herrings and unnecessary elements that get in the way of the core plot that the reading experience just becomes a chore to finish. It came to the point that I didn’t care who lived to see the day in the end, but what I cared about was how many pages were left in the book. It is just so bloated. Within the first few chapters, the reader already knows it’s nature, and the book is filled with interludes that describes the citizens of Derry’s experience with this unsettling creature. For the reader, though, it gets tiring after a while because everything is already laid down on the table. The book could’ve been cut down to about 500-600 pages without losing touch of the main elements of the story. In fact, a lot of the unnecessary scenes dealt with explicit and disturbing sequences that were written just to pull out some shock value from the reader.
In the end, King took a relatively decent premise and blew it up with too many subplots that never did matter in the grander scheme of things. As a horror novel, it failed, honestly. Pennywise is rationalized early enough in the story, making any sense of tension void and ineffective. This book does not seem to have any sense of restraint. It works in a limited number of rules, and just like King’s other pieces of fiction: there’s a backstory, a reveal, an unmasking that explains Pennywise and his actions on why he terrorizes Derry. It has been coined by readers as King’s best, but this is just a long-winded story about a town, a clown, and a couple of characters that could’ve worked best without half of the story.