IT is a ridiculous book. It’s silly, it’s disgusting, it was written by a drunk and worst of all, it’s a book about a gang of kids who save a town from a scary clown. Well sometimes “It” is a clown. Sometimes It’s a big spider and other times It’s Paul Bunyan or a leper. Did I mention the book is ridiculous? Basically, It shape shifts into the things children are most afraid of and then kills them. Sound familiar? I don’t know if IT (published in 1986) ripped off Nightmare on Elm Street (released 1984), but who cares? If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there can never be enough stories about murdered children, am I right?
If you’ve not read IT, I suppose this is the part where I should warn you of impending spoilers but as you probably have no intention of reading IT anyway, what difference does it make? Besides, most of the spoilery bits are above anyhow. I don’t even feel bad.
“Why is this ridiculous book the one that changed your life?” I hear you not ask. Let me tell you anyway.
Before reading IT at thirteen, I had read precisely three novels: Jacob Two Two meets the Hooded Fang, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Yes, two books by Mordecai Richler… Canada innit). Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly hooked on reading. In fact, I found the idea of sitting down with a book a fairly tedious activity, especially once the NES came out. Remember how awesome Super Mario 3 was? Why would you read a friggin book when you could play that game instead? Finding your first secret coin room… oh, MAN.
Stephen King changed all that.
Stephen King books are bad. And I don’t mean the writing is shit. Ok, yes, he spends too much time describing scenes and characters that have no bearing on the plot and maybe he does love an adverb or two (despite the surprising diss he gives them in On Writing), and oh I guess it’s true his books are way way way too long, but oh my dear lord, they’re fun to read.
When I say they’re bad, I mean they are properly off-side. Some are a bit racist, women are often battered, dudes are sleeping with their own moms and, of course, the stacks upon stacks of dead kids.
Even now, in these days of overprotective supermoms and paedomania, you can still find Stephen King novels everywhere. Book shops, airports, car boot sales, Oxfam… you name it. I found IT in my school library. In Junior High! I read it on the bus, I read it in the cafeteria, I read it on the couch at home and no one seemed to care. It was so strange. Everyone knew Stephen King books were a bit wrong, but they just seemed happy to see me reading an actual book. A tut here, the odd eye roll there, but that was it, no one said I couldn’t read it despite the grisly murders, the occultish baddies, the domestic abuse or the graphic sex. It was like discovering a socially acceptable porno mag. “Ah, is that porn you’re reading young sir? Good lad. More kids should be like you. Don’t forget to look at the tits!” You know the bit where Stan drags a razor blade lengthwise down both forearms and paints the word “It” on the shower wall in his own blood? I read that bit during church youth group while the pastor was giving a lecture on the evils of heavy metal. It was amazing.
King novels are the crack cocaine of the literary world, and IT is crackiest cocainiest. It has to be to keep you reading a book about a scary clown for well over a thousand pages. As soon as I finished, I immediately withdrew all the Stephen King novels from the library and read them all, then I went to the public library and read all of the ones they had and then when I was finished with those I went to the book store and used my own money to buy some more. Birthdays, Christmases, books had made their way onto my gift lists. I looked forward to reading the books we were assigned in school and English had become my favourite subject. I even found love for Mordecai Richler!
Stephen King is largely responsible for getting a dummy like me to read and even moreso to write. In fact, it wasn’t long after reading IT that I wrote my first story; a bit of flash fiction entitled “Barnyard Bob and his dog named Phil”; a story about a dog who has sex with his degenerate owner in exchange for room and board. It was god awful, but shit it was fun to write.