In the summer of 1958, the small town of Derry, Maine, suffered one of its periodic outbreaks of murder and death, as it did every 27 years or so, as far back as such things were recorded. That summer was different, however. Because that summer, someone fought back.
That summer, seven prepubescent children bonded together, seemingly by coincidence. Bill, Richie, Ben, Stan, Mike, Bev, and Eddie had virtually nothing in common except the bullies who harrassed them, and their personal experiences of the frightening oddities of Derry. These experiences led them to the conviction that something was hunting the children of Derry: that, in fact, this something, which they came to call IT, had killed Georgie, the younger brother of Bill, as well as several other children, and was trying to kill them as well. Out of this conviction came the inescapable conclusion that they had to kill IT first.
And 27 years later, they have to kill IT again.
The terror begins on page one, with the horrifying death of little Georgie Denbrough in the fall of 1957 and the equally vicious murder of a gay man in contemporary Derry. (As an aside, recalling that this book was written in the early 1980s when the AIDS scare was at its height and gay men blamed for all manner of societal ills, I’m proud of how King portrayed the police officer involved in the investigation of that murder. It would have been so easy — and so in keeping with period — to make him a stereotypical small town homophobe in uniform.)
King then introduces his major characters through the simple device of a phone call from home with a reminder of their childhood promise to come back if IT ever reappeared. With one exception, none of the group remembers their childhoods or what happened that fateful summer. Only Mike had remained in Derry, and only Mike remembers. After the gay-bashing murder, Mike reluctantly concludes IT has returned and places his fateful phone calls. Prompted by that call, the others begin to regain their memories, in bits and pieces, each bit more horrifying than the last. And they pack their bags for the return.
The remainder of the novel alternates between the story of the summer of 1958 and the children’s first encounter with IT, and the adults’ contemporary preparations for what they hope will be their last encounter. The flashback sequences drive the action of the contemporary story, but these flashbacks are the absolute heart of this novel: compelling, absorbing, gutwrenching, heartbreaking. King has a gift for getting inside the heads of children, adolescent boys in particular, and this gift serves him well indeed in IT.
And as fantastic as the events of the story are, King makes the reader believe them, because the children believe them. IT embodies their every nightmare, their darkest secrets, their innermost insecurities; IT plucks their deepest fears from their minds and shows it to them in living breathing deadly Technicolor. And IT specializes in children. It’s not an accident the most frightening face IT puts on is that of Pennywise the Clown, nor that the most terrifying object is a simple helium balloon on a string. “We float. Yes, we float. We all float down here…”
You’ll float, too, in this mad trip through the streets and alleys and sewers of Derry. And you’ll be glad you did.
Thus ends the review portion, fit for public consumption and containing no spoilers. Stop reading now if you wish to avoid discussion of a spoilerish nature, or click the MORE tab to continue…