MY FIRST ENCOUNTER
The first ever incarnation I encountered of Stephen King’s “IT” was the 1990 two-part TV movie, starring Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Jonathan Brandis, Marlon Taylor, Seth Green (Oh, he was so adorably young!), Adam Faraizl, Emily Perkins, Brandon Crane, Ben Heller and, of course, the genius: Tim Curry (incidentally, the voice on the “Sabriel” audiobook by Garth Nix).
I was five years old when I first encountered pennywise the clown, and I thought he was the scariest thing I had ever seen. He had (clearly) clawed his way out of the very stygian pits of hell and onto my TV screen for the sole purpose of making me wet the bed.
But underneath my fear was a morbid fascination. Who was Pennywise the clown? Where had he come from? He was an ancient evil, so did that mean he had always been? Always existed? Did he take different forms, in the same way he did during the two-part film—one minute a smiley clown, the next a GIGANTIC spider-like creature with deadlights in its belly? And if so . . . what other forms? Could he have been one of my dollies, sitting innocently on my shelf? Could he be my mommy’s kitty in the next room? Because, honestly, and obviously, he could be anything I might imagine.
What else made “IT” so scary for me was the idea that adults—who knew everything, and who never got scared, and who could fight off any scary boogyman or nightmare of shadow, adults, who were tantamount to Gods to my five-year-old self—didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t acknowledge that there was “something very wrong in Derry” . . . The adults were blind to it, which meant that the kids had nowhere and no one to turn to. They were utterly, completely, terrifyingly . . . alone.
AND THEN. If that wasn’t bad enough. When the kids grow up and become adults themselves, they don’t have the luxury of forgetting, oh no! Pennywise is as real and as inescapable for them in their 40s—that magical, grown-up number—as he was when they were children. How is this not petrifying to a child? To anyone?
Another absolutely terrifying concept for me, was the idea that the whole town of Derry could be so affected by evil that the police ignored the disappearance of several children and the murder of another. They are so under the thumb of this evil, that they can ignore a potential sexual attack on a girl without doing a thing to stop it. That, to me, was unimaginable.
The psychology of the “IT” story cannot be beaten. A group of children, who are all “outsiders” form a bond of friendship that becomes the most powerful thing in their lives. Together they must battle an ancient evil that will be a part of their lives for more than three decades. Once said evil is beaten, nothing will ever be the same. This story is the epic-fantasy equivalent of a horror story with all of the classic tropes used to BRILLIANT effect:
- Outsiders, alone, bonding in friendship. Coming together to defeat:
- The unknowable evil; an evil that seems to know their inner fears and intimate humiliations
- The temporary resolution (that nice, happy place that is really just a resting point for the BIG BAD before the final comeback
- The reunion of the friends and the calm before the storm
- The blow to the hero/heros
- The loss of hero’s helpers
- The final battle
- Life cannot be the same anymore/We become a little bit evil to survive
What really made this story so vital to me was the depth of the character development. I knew every secret desire, hidden shame and battle wound of the characters. I watched as Bev fought back against her abusive boyfriend, mirroring and rectifying her failure to fight back against her abusive father. I watched Ben pining over Bev as a successful, grown man, still too afraid to admit his love for her thirty (!!!!!) years on. I watched as Bill was pulled back into the grief and fear of losing his brother—the first victim of Pennywise—and the mirrored loss of his wife, Audra, thirty years on. And I watched them pull together to overcome it, losing some of their own humanity in the process—in a way, becoming some of that evil in order to rid themselves of it. These people were my friends.
ONTO THE PAGES: DIRTIER, DARKER, SHOCKING
When I came to read the novel, over ten years later, all that I loved in the 1990 movie was amplified and then set on fire. I was burning inside the pages of the novel, which is so much dirtier, darker, grittier than the 1990 movie could ever have managed to be. But the core elements of the story were the same, and the added depth of those elements renewed and reinvented the story for me. If the 1990 film scarred and fascinated my five-year old self, then the book perplexed, shocked and re-opened those wonderful wounds as a fifteen year-old. Everything in the book is more visceral, graphic and extreme—and the final act of escape, for the children, is one so shocking and surprising that it could only have come from the mastermind of King himself.
The psychology of this story is so juicy that you can suck on its marrow for months—longer, even. Dissecting each character’s fear, desire, shame and secrets alone would take eons, without having explored the nature of “IT” itself—the form of evil, the purpose of evil, evil in the minds of the susceptible (like Belch, Henry, etc), phobias and the nature of perception, the concept of “good versus bad”, morality and ethics, the underdog, childhood, the nature of memory, suicide, suicide as an escape, etc, etc, etc.
It seemed almost inevitable that they would attempt to recreate it . . .
NEW ADAPTION, AKA DAWN IS EXCITED!!!
In July 2012, it was announced that a new adaption of the book will be made (cue SQUEE!!!) and I am beyond excited. Not only that, but it is going to be a two-parter!!! IT is such a deep, complex, full novel that I believe several films could be made of the story and no two would look alike.
Though, I have to say . . . could anyone really beat Tim Curry’s performance? Could anyone else embody Pennywise? *ahem* I am highly skeptical.
Two last things before I sign off. Firstly, have you seen the 1990 film, read the book, or both? Comment below to let me know which you preferred and your hopes for the remake!
And secondly, which Stephen King character are you?
Happy dreaming . . . *grin*