It’s no secret that Stephen King’s It was one of the biggest movies of 2017. I really enjoyed the film, and after watching I decided to go back and give the book a reread. Some background here – I read the book when I was fifteen years old. This review won’t be a complete side by side comparison to the film. That would take way more notes than I have time to take. Though, I will draw some comparisons.
This will also be a reflection, as having read the book at fifteen and then forty-three makes me roughly the same ages as the characters in the book at both points in the story. So, I feel I have some interesting insights as well as personal feelings on it. There are lots of spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I suggest you stop reading now.
Where to get started? There is so much to unpack with this one. The paperback for Stephen King’s IT weighs in at 1153 pages, so it is quite the monster. One thing I had forgotten was how smoothly it read. I sailed through the first half in just a couple of weeks. I read the second half slower because by then, things were building up and I wanted to take it all in.
One thing rereading this book did for me was bring back a lot of my own childhood. Much like the kids in the story, I forgot many things about my own childhood. As I read the awkward conversations and interactions with others, their own coming of age and being bullied by older kids, I began to remember my own awkwardness and the times when I was bullied. Some of my own memories are almost embarrassing, as I’d said and done a lot of stupid things as a kid.
In a lot of ways, I related the most to Ben as I, too, was a fat kid growing up. Unlike Ben, I remain fat in my 40s. I’ve had many times in my life where I lost the weight, but it keeps coming back, kind of like Stephen King’s It does. Then again, I grew up to become a horror author, so in some ways, I relate to Bill… except without his level of success, unfortunately.
The story has so many layers to it, practically giving a full biography on each character. I felt that this was one thing lacking in the film. In the movie, we are kind of dropped into the middle of the kids’ terror before we get to know them. I realize in the movie, time is limited, but this would have been something worth adding.
Here is one of the huge things that hit home for me the hardest. First, a little backstory. I grew up in Nappanee, Indiana, also a small town. That is where I lived when I read Stephen King’s IT the first time and watched the mini-series back in 1990. I moved to Texas in 2010 after the big recession. I had stayed in touch with my parents since then, but hadn’t been able to come back to visit since I’d moved.
In January of this year, my mom had a heart attack after heart surgery and was in a medically induced coma for a short time. Knowing this, I made the 2-day drive back home so I could be with her and my dad.
Arriving back in Nappanee after being gone for so long was like a time warp. I’m not sure how else to describe the feeling. For one, after living in a big city for so long, everything in Indiana felt so small. Smaller than I had remembered. So much had changed. I saw my old elementary school is now government apartment buildings. The library I used to hang out as a kid is still there. Like Ben Hanscom, the library was my refuge when I was young.
There was an old, makeshift bike trail we used to jump our bikes on and get into many wrecks called the Torture Trails. It was behind the supermarket. Now, there is a strip mall there where the bike trails used to be. The supermarket is gone. There is a new and larger supermarket in town but in a different location.
I had many feelings like the kids did when they went back to Derry. I’d look at the building that used to be an arcade or the drug store we used to buy baseball cards from. Now, one is a cell phone store, the other is a restaurant. But I looked at the building and it took my brain a minute to adjust and acknowledge what was actually there, as opposed to what used to be there.
The hardest thing for me was my childhood home. When I moved away, the place was clean and vibrant. My mom and dad would have people over and mom’s things were displayed. She loved collecting dolls and trinkets and had lots of them displayed.
Now, those things are still there, but there were boxes and boxes of old clothes and other things stacked up. Dad had been taking care of mom as well as working his job and the house had been let go. I don’t fault dad for this; it is what it is. What I’m getting at is that the house felt like a hollow shell of what it once was when I grew up. Once again, I’m not sure how else to describe it. I would think back to my brother and me playing in the living room while my mom sat on the couch, reading one of her paperbacks and dad read the paper.
Now, it’s just dark, cold and empty. I’m sure it didn’t seem odd to dad, as he had always been there. But for me, it was a bit jarring at first, to get there and see it in that state. Once again, I don’t fault anyone for this. It’s just a matter of reconciling it with how I remember it and how it actually is now. So, the whole section of the book when they returned to Derry struck a huge chord with me. I had to put it down several times just to process my thoughts.
There are a couple of other things from Stephen King’s IT that I think the movie missed out on. One was the smoke ritual the kids did in their clubhouse. It was part of a Native American practice where they filled the clubhouse with smoke until a couple of them had visions. They saw IT appearing on earth for the first time and learned just how ancient and powerful the creature was. This was an intense and super creepy scene that I think the film could have added in. It would have been amazing. I’m not sure why they left it out, but I felt it was a missed opportunity.
There were a few places in Stephen King’s IT where they found old pictures of Pennywise from a hundred years or so before. He even looked different in some of the photos, but it was still him. The pictures began moving which added yet another creepy element. Not sure how they could have worked this in, but adding more of Pennywise’s origins like this would have added a lot in showing what the kids were up against.
As for the final confrontation, I realized the filmmakers want to get away from the lame spider that appeared in the mini-series as IT’s final form. It honestly looked like a cheap puppet. I’m sure they could have done a better spider in a bigger budget production. Part of why I think they should have kept the spider goes into my next point.
In Stephen King’s IT, children weren’t just disappearing, they were being killed, torn open, mutilated. Some of them were found, some weren’t. I’m not sure why the movie chose to shy away from this element of the story, as it is a key element. They showed Georgie getting his arm ripped off, so I’m not sure why they stopped there.
This is key, because when they arrive in IT’s lair, they find several bodies wrapped in spider webs like flies waiting to be eaten. I’m sorry, but this would have been terrifying to see on the big screen. In the book, it was plenty creepy and left you with a deeper feeling of dread as they moved into IT’s lair.
Then, there is the elephant in the room… the child group sex scene. I honestly don’t know what King was thinking when he wrote this. I realize in 1986, things were different. This wasn’t as touchy of a subject as it is now, mainly because people weren’t talking about it the way they are today. Now, there is an awareness of children being sexualized. Back then, most of society either wasn’t aware it was happening or looked the other way. I read King’s explanation of why he put it in there, but it doesn’t add anything to the story and was just uncomfortable to read. I don’t even remember having read that when I was fifteen and likely skimmed over it. It was a good move to leave any reference to this out of the film.
When they confront IT as kids and as adults, I found the Ritual of Chüd fascinating and wish they’d have done more with it in the film. The whole cosmic and cerebral nature of the confrontation showed just how big and powerful IT really was and what the kids had to do to defeat it. I felt the film glossed over this and made it almost too easy for them. I hope when they write part two, they go more in-depth into IT’s nature, origins and what it takes to truly kill him.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. For me, this is probably King’s best book ever. I loved The Stand, but Stephen King’s IT is both epic and personal at the same time, which is incredibly rare for a book to do. The Stand was epic, which is great, but IT touches you in a way that most books never can or will. I think most of us can relate to one or more of the kids and even as adults with all the bad decisions we’ve made, our vices and our own expectations that we’ve failed to live up to.
If you haven’t read Stephen King’s IT, I suggest you give it a shot. It is a beast, but definitely worth it. If you’re relying on just the films to be entertained by Pennywise, you are truly depriving yourself of a wonderful experience. I still thought the movie was great, and I hope in the second film, they can fill in some of these holes that left me wanting more. One thing about reading the book, our minds can visualize things no filmmaker can ever create, that is what makes books so amazing.