“Want a balloon?”
― Stephen King,
Derry, Maine… A town that in reality doesn’t exist, but in my mind, is very real.
I was 23 when I read this book thoroughly for the first time. Picking it up as a child, I never really understood it, didn’t pay attention/retain what I was reading, and was clearly not old enough at the time to be able to appreciate the magnificence that I’d held in my hands.
Fast forward many years, as I am strolling through my bookstore’s horror section, and I think to myself after spotting IT, “Why don’t you pick up a copy of this sometime and give it another go? You don’t remember any of it, as far as the novel is concerned… [obv. you loved the movie.] It will probably be better now that you’re older.
Since that day when I strolled out of the bookstore, new purchase in hand, I can say that my life has changed, and definitely for the better.
Quick recap of the plot… A group of friends, as children, come together to fight an evil “creature” (a.k.a. PENNYWISE the clown) that prays on children, in their town- Derry. After fighting, they are under the impression that they defeated this creature, so it comes as a surprise when much later into adulthood they’re contacted and told to come back to Derry, because the clown is back and killing kids! Now, as adults, the group comes back together to finish Pennywise for good!
*I’d also like to add here, that as much as I enjoy the movie, the book is a lot better than the film adaptation, as is usually the case.*
I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this much better as an adult is that I was able to look back at my own childhood and actually relate to the characters in both their child & adult forms.
The group of kids assembled in this novel are easily related to, I am sure… A little something for everyone, if you will. You’ve got mostly loner/loser types:
Beverly- A girl from a poor family- abused by her father verbally & physically. She learns to stand up for herself later in life, but with all her daddy issues- lives an adult life basically ruled under controlling men.
Bill- A brave, yet quiet, boy with a stutter. I would call him a bit depressed, because his younger brother, Georgie, was brutally murdered. He is what you would call the “leader” of the group. People know they can trust his opinions, and they’ll follow him anywhere.
Eddie- Scared, timid, afraid of everything- especially all the bad things that could happen. Eddie is a boy who is taught by his mother all the horrible outcomes that life can bring, and therefore is afraid to truly live, that is until he’s found this group of friends, with who he can finally flourish.
Mike- Is the one who eventually brings the group back together to defeat Pennywise. He’s the only one who stayed in town after all the other kids left. As a child, he is teased terribly by the main bully in the book because of their dad’s personal history together. He’s a black boy in mostly white town.
Stanley- Reserved, nice, and the boy scout of the group- he tags along and doesn’t play a huge part in the end of the book, for sometimes our demons go deeper than even we ourselves are aware.
Ben- Super smart, bullied for being overweight (easily my favorite character in the book) is a kind, gentle boy who is in love with Beverly. He finds his way into the group on a day he’s been attacked by the main bully, Henry Bowers. He, too, is brave when it counts and stands up for his friends.
Richie- The joker. Lives for the laugh. He brings comedic relief to many situations in the book that needed a little brightening up. I feel like he’s the heart of the group, bringing smiles and laughter during their darkest moments.
I can find something in common with each and every one of these characters now… and as a child, I don’t think I would have been able to understand just how much I related myself to them, because I had yet to go though many of the things I eventually endured a little later in life.
Even though those are the main characters of the group that defeated Pennywise, I have to mention Henry Bowers…
This, aside from Pennywise, is the main antagonist of IT. Henry Bowers. This kid has had a tough life- his father is an alcoholic who is also a psychopath. He only rewards Henry when he does something that in truth, isn’t so great. Henry feels like he needs to prove that he’s a “badass” to his father to gain approval, but unfortunately for Henry, he never gets the love he’s craving. Henry later murders his father, and doesn’t give a second thought about it. His love of bullying the kids of this novel isn’t something that goes into much detail in the movie adaptation, but you find out when reading the novel that Henry’s father has a past with Mike’s dad, and it’s basically hate by association. Henry vows to make Mike’s life as miserable as possible to get revenge for his father, and when he sees Mike with the rest of the group of kids, it basically makes them all more of a target than they were to begin with.
I knew many bullies as a child, and even some now as an adult, but never have I encountered anyone quite as bad as Bowers. He has no remorse for killing people, for torturing animals… he clearly needed to be locked away long before he actually was. As horrible as this kid is, he’s one of the reasons why this book is so interested and addicting to read… you don’t want him to do horrible things to the other kids, but then again… a sick, twisted part of you eventually does want to see what he’s capable of, and he sure as hell is willing to show you!
So, you’ve got a group of kids being hounded not only by a horrible local bully, but by a monster lurking behind every corner, and a town of people who couldn’t seem like they’re more oblivious to the fact that something weird is going on. People looking the other way when the bad things happen… no witnesses to the crimes… this town is MESSED UP! Major points for lure factor, though. I pick up this book wanting to be back there… to be back in Derry, Maine. I guess the only way I can explain it is to have you imagine a train crash. As awful of an event as that would be to see, when it does happen- you can’t look away. Some part of you is telling you to watch, to experience, to behold all the things you may never again encounter in your entire life. Call me sick and demented, but I want to be in Derry with all that craziness! Any horror movie I have ever watched, any villain I have ever read about- there’s always a point when I want to know first hand what it was like for the characters experiencing that moment. I want to feel their fear. I want to feel my own heart beating so fast because I know, certainly, that I am about to die. OKAY. MORBID, but you understand, right? Haha!
Let’s discuss IT’s “Nightmare Factor”… what I mean by this is how badly does this book/movie mess you up mentally? For me, that’s A LOT… and I love every horrible second of it.
It’s one of those things that keeps you coming back to a book such as this one. The moment when a book makes you afraid to go to the bathroom alone, when you find yourself peering over the cover and looking at your closet door sure that you just heard a tapping sound… when you read the line, “Want a balloon?” and out of the corner of your eye you spot a bright colored pillow, mistaking it for that balloon, and chuck the book across the room at it! THOSE moments are what I live for. The pure adrenaline that courses through the veins; it’s euphoric.
Is that, perhaps, why I can’t escape Derry… why I keep coming back for more? I’d say a big reason is experiencing something that I don’t think I’ll ever experience in my life. A life of terror, of fighting something so awful that even my wild imagination couldn’t conjure an image of what that could be. As much as it’d be terrible to be surrounded by murder, by evil entities, by loss… it’s a fate that someone in this world is enduring right now. Maybe this book is a lot more realistic to some than we even realize.
Could this book be a metaphor for something else? The monster, Pennywise, being a parental figure, or another authority type, trying to rule our lives in the worst way possible, and us attempting to overcome them- to follow our own paths? The growing up of adolescents when, as children, we believe that there are monsters under our beds, and then as adults we find that maybe we were the monsters all along? The only monsters that exist in the world are other humans, disguised as something that they’re not, to lure us to our ultimate demise? I guess there are many ways to interpret this book…
In the end, I don’t think there is any way to explain the truth that a little part of us all wants to experience something completely and utterly morbid. This is just a safe way to do it. Like watching through a window, not actively participating in the bad things, just witnessing it. Why do we crave horror? Why can’t we look away from a scene of an accident? I am willing to bet that Mr. King knows that there are many more people in the world, like himself, that want to look, and are not afraid to do so.
I don’t think I’ll leave Derry anytime soon. I am not done with Pennywise, yet… that battle for me will always be there to relive, fight, conquer over and over again. When times are tough in my own life, it’s nice to remember that even if in an alternate dimension, someone’s life is much harder than my own, and a lot more bloody.
Thankfully, it’s only a book cover away.