The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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Dissecting the thrills of Stephen King’s “It”

In 2016, I became captivated by the series “Stranger Things,” which follows a group of characters in 1980s Indiana as they battle against inter-dimensional monsters. The show takes cues from many 1980s films such as “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “E.T.” However, it also leans on the work of a literary legend Stephen King.

Before watching the show, I had never read anything by King. I was always an avid reader, but I avoided horror since I thought it was too adult for me at the time. “Stranger Things” was the scariest piece of media that I had consumed, but the writing, characters and narrative were so good that I couldn’t stop myself from quenching my thirst for more horror. In came Stephen King. 

While you can start reading King in many ways, starting with “It” might be the most unusual since it is so long and so weird. Many say to go chronologically and start with “Carrie,” then “Salem’s Lot,” etc… Others say to ease yourself in with some non-horror King first. I ignored this; I heard that “It” was about a group of children battling against a clown and thought “Yup! Now that is Stranger Things.”

“It” tells the story of the Loser’s Club, a band of kids, who join together to defeat Pennywise, an inter-dimensional monster who terrorizes Derry, Maine. The novel follows the kids throughout their childhood, adolescence and adulthood as they battle against Pennywise in King’s thousand-page horror epic. 

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The memorable characters make “It” so captivating, and this starts with the Loser’s Club: Bill Denbrough, Beverly Marsh, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrack, Ben Hanscomb, Stanley Uris and Mike Hanlon. Each of these characters become unforgettable in their own way, and King works to get you on their side from the very beginning by making them relatable and three-dimensional. Without the Loser’s Club, there is no novel, and King does not disappoint in making these characters feel lived-in and complex. 

However, a story’s heroes are only as good as its villain and, in my opinion, Pennywise is King’s scariest antagonist. From the beginning, King establishes that Pennywise should not be taken lightly. In the first chapter, Pennywise kills Bill’s seven-year-old brother. In the next chapter, he murders an innocent man named Adrian Mellon. In a particularly gruesome scene, Pennywise uses bloodsucking leeches to suck dry a young boy named Patrick Hockstetter. He doesn’t seem too nice, right? 

Violence is one thing, but Pennywise’s far-reaching effect in the story make him so intimidating. By this, I mean that everything in the novel connects back to him, back to “It,” an impressive feat for a novel of this length. Even when he does not directly act as the main perpetrator of a certain act, everything comes back to him because of his power. He has an influence over the citizens of Derry that brings out their most evil desires, especially in characters like Henry Bowers, the Losers’ arch nemesis. Pennywise’s influence causes the adults in Derry to turn a blind eye to the missing children. “It” drives Beverly Marsh’s father to abuse her, Henry Bowers to carve his initials into Ben Hanscomb’s chest, and drives a racist organization to burn down a Black nightclub. All of this connects back to Pennywise, which makes these scenes more than violence for violence’s sake: they characterize Pennywise by emphasizing his evil and villainous nature. 

“It” remains my favorite of the fifty King novels that I have read. “It” becomes more than a story about an evil clown; it’s about love, loss and the memories of friendship that make childhood magical. While the page length might be intimidating to a lot of readers, the world-building, character development and scares make you forget that you are reading a novel and place you directly into Derry. “It” made me fall in love with horror literature to the point where I now write my own horror short stories and am even working on writing my own novel. The story made me realize that horror consists of more than blood, violence and gore; it’s a genre that tells stories both epic in scope and deeply emotional at the same time.

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