Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
131

'IT': Seriously, Guys, Get Out Of Maine Before You Die Terribly

What a great labor of love it is to discuss Stephen King's most magnificent octopus (okay, technically, I guess that would be The Stand, but I didn't read it until a year ago, so it didn't make as significant a dent in my psyche) in our august online publication. Let's stick to the novel, but you are free to go bananas about the Tim Curry television movie in the comments. For the record, you'll never watch him as "Rooster" in Annie the same way again (thank the Turtle she wound up with Daddy Warbucks instead). I guess when you have a mouth that looks like a yawning maw of terror, you're gonna play a lot of roles that involve menacing children, no? YES.

IT is my favorite. I think King has better books, and he certainly has better novellas, but IT is really the ur-King. You've got the total-terror-fest factor, of course, the children-in-danger factor, the inappropriate-sexuality factor (hang on, hang on, we'll get there), the Neil Young lyrics ("Out of the blue and into the black"), the abusive-husband factor, the saying-weird-things-in-lower-case-italics-factor…

the deadlights… down here we all float

(Argh, even typing that freaked me out. I bought the book at a mall when I was ten-ish and read the whole thing sitting on the bench outside the store, because I knew I would not want to associate any part of my bedroom with the book on an ongoing basis, y'know?)

But, really, it's the creepy dark historicity that makes this Classic King. Derry isn't just evil, it has always been evil. The last two centuries have been evil. Evil is on a ROTATIONAL SCHEDULE in Derry. It's all "oh, okay, things are only awful here this year," and then "oh, no, literally thirty percent of the town's children will die in a variety of ways this year." The fire at the Black Spot, the tramp-chair, those horrible photographs that move, etc. We all (or not, you do you) enjoyed "this next book is about… an evil lamp!" on "Family Guy," but Stephen King is really about places of despair and cruelty that seep down and infect subsequent generations. I guess Maine is a real place, and people live there and probably have, like, cookouts and ball games and stuff, but how on EARTH do you live anywhere near the Kenduskeag Stream and not assume there are quiet, horrible forces seeking boymeat in your near vicinity?

Stephen King is so iconic to me for childhood depictions now that I automatically assume anyone older than me had a The Body/ITchildhood. "So, when you were a kid, you sat around reading dirty magazines and smoking in your tree fort and talking about dicks and calling each other a-holes and writing wistful poems for red-haired girls, right?" "No, I am an eighty-year-old woman, and this is not something you should ask strangers on a bus."

Speaking of children, I had one of those "oh, shit, I'm a mom" moments when I cracked this open for the re-read, got four sentences in, remembered that six-year-old George Denbrough was about to have his arm ripped off by Pennywise the Clown while playing innocently with his stupid newspaper boat, said NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE OCTOPUS GIF and skipped ahead. Let the fictional pre-teens and the middle-aged suffer and die, I ain't watching Georgie float. And yo, Bill, get off your freaking flu-y ass and go help your brother with the damn boat. And their parents! Who is letting their six year old play in a flooded gutter unattended? It would be bad enough in, like, Montclair, NJ, but this happens to be a town sitting on a wellspring of eternal evil.

The first wheel of terror takes place in the late 1950s, and there are so many great parenting/teaching/peer respect fails here (apart from the obvious "Bev's Abusive Dad" plot arc, which definitely blew my hair back as a ten year old with super-progressive hippie parents), that ideally, if we all sat down and read it together, our society would be rid forever of its weird 1950s nostalgia. Because people didn't know about suffocation hazards, you've got an OBVIOUSLY mentally disturbed child collecting dead animals in an abandoned refrigerator in the woods. Guys, seriously, you have to take the doors off those things when you throw them out. You have a little 80s-era gay-bashing to signal when the badness has returned (mad ups to King, though, for taking a hard line on a real-life gay-bashing). Then there's the asthmatic kid making it up for attention who should be denied his medication at will. (I know, I know, he WAS making it up,* but it's the general principle here.) Oh, and look, a stuttering child. It's not like they had The King's Speech back then, or anything. You just got taunted until you fought off a demonic force by THRUSTING YOUR FISTS AGAINST THE POSTS until you no longer cared about the cruelty of your fellow children, because you'd had sex with another child in order to… something?

Which brings us to the Inappropriate Sexuality factor. Why did our heroes all have to have sex with Bev? I never quite got it. I mean, I'm definitely happy that Stephen King decided to give the poor fat kid a huge penis. ("It's nice they get something, because they have a hell of a time."—Life of Brian, on the meek inheriting the earth.) I just am legit not clear why that large penis had to enter another child. I guess the idea was that it would help them "stay together," or "not get separated in the tunnel" or something, but if any of you went to a weird college and wrote a dissertation on the subject, please do share in the comments.

* Well, not "making it up." He had a psychosomatic illness brought about by his mother, who was running the Bates Motel at the time.

Lessons Learned From IT and Never Forgotten

• If you decide something has totemic significance to you, it will probably help you defeat malevolent paranormal forces, even if it is kind of dumb, like knowing the names of birds.

• Don't take balloons from strangers. Don't talk to strangers. Don't make eye contact with strangers. Stay in your own room or a well-lit mall, reading books and keeping your grades up and making plans to move to New York, where the ghosts are more like Ghostbusters-ghosts.

• Bad places to hang out: the woods surrounding your haunted town, water towers, gutters, empty refrigerators, Easter egg hunts in abandoned factories, libraries after closing.

• Don't date people who hit you.

• Don't begin relationships with people who remind you of your dad, who hit you.

• Don't try to hug it out with your childhood bully.

• Before getting married, ask your fiance(e) if they have any odd feeling of attachment to their hometown, and think they might have engaged in a child sex orgy in an attempt to fight off eternal extraterrestrial evil and might someday need to return to finish the job.

• If so, let them go, but do not follow them under any circumstances and take out a decent life insurance policy against their safe return.

• When you get your period, take the box of tampons out from under the sink and say: "YOU ARE MY CHILDREN, I FEED YOU WITH MY BLOOD." That probably works with the Diva Cup, too.

• Maine is fucking terrifying, and you should avoid it at all costs.

• Don't/you can't go home again.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

• Did you read King's op-ed on gun violence? He talks about Rage, which came out in 1977 and which many of us read before it got yanked, and others found in used book stores. You should probably hang onto your copy, it'll be worth something some day.

• IS this the scariest Stephen King novel? What's your counter-proposal?

• What are your thoughts on Tim Curry? Be exact, do not be brief.

• Okay, what is the single scene/image/line that burned itself onto your brain?

• Sometimes the lyrics become ridiculous, though: "Born down in a dead man's town." – Bruce Springsteen. I do not think Bruce was really thinking about gouts of blood coming out of the sink, Stephen. It was more the loss of American manufacturing in the heartland, or something. I don't know, didn't David Remnick have a big piece about it?

• The problem with writing about IT is that "it" is also a really common word, so each time you have to decide if IT or "it" makes more sense. Why did King do that to me?

• Remember how Pennywise's eyes would change to a color that would be comforting to you, personally? What would Pennywise's eyes look like to you? To me, Pennywise would have empty, bleeding sockets, because it would mean I had gouged them out and run away to a public place.


Previously in Classic Trash: 'Twilight Series': Bite Me Four Times Shame On Me


Nicole Cliffe is the books editor of The Hairpin and the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

131 Comments / Post A Comment

Ken Layne (#262)

The main thing I remember about IT, beyond the terrifying old woman making Swedish jokes (?) about anal childbirth, is how the town is described as having its old center and then a gruesome chain store/strip mall/plastic letters section out on the new highway. Until that moment, living in Southern California as I did, I believed New England and especially Maine was somehow preserved in amber and safe from the ugly chain store cancer that made life so banal and terrible in the Southwest.

Also there was some underdog complaining about popular genre books like King's vs. Book of the Month suburban angst novels like John Irving or "Rabbit" or whatever, right? And now what is classic? Classic Trash!

And, according to Google Image Search, I used a picture of Tim Curry as Pennywise (staring up from a sewer tunnel) about 50 times, to illustrate political news items at Wonkette.

@Ken Layne THAT OLD WOMAN.

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Ken Layne as i was reading this article i had to handscreen the photo. STILL TERRIFYING. i was already scared of clown before IT though, but IT just cemented it into my brain.

bluebears (#5,902)

I tried to read it as a um….I want to say pre-teen? And I got about a quarter in before I had to stop. Too scary and violent. Which is saying something because I always had a pretty high scare tolerance.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@bluebears I couldn't abide by the author's propensity for openly referencing future outcomes of the story early in the book. I think there was some stinger at the end of a chapter like "And that was the last time Charlie Hunnam was seen in public ever again" and was all well fuck you too, guy. Scary, I can handle. Spooky? No problem. But dread, waiting for a Sword of Damocles to fall, is too much for me. I got about 1/3rd in before realizing I did not have the heart to continue.

@Danzig! I will literally come to your house and read the rest of it to you.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebookDenver is nice this time of year! Gonna have to clean up my place. And buy a nightlight.

omellet (#241,219)

I also read IT when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I went to the local library to find the book with the clapping monkey on the cover (which I later found out was Skeleton Crew, minor King at best), but couldn't find it. So instead I borrowed IT, and proceeded to read it over the course of a couple weeks. I read it way late into the night because the only other option was to drift off into horrifying nightmares.

I recently had a chat with a friend about the 'let's all have sex with Bev' part of the plot, and neither of us could come up with any coherent reason for its existence. I'd love to hear somebody ask Stephen King about that today.

@omellet YES. I talked to a bunch of friends, and literally no one knew what the hell CHUD was or why they did it.

robotosaur (#238,251)

@omellet DISAGREE ON SKELETON CREW. I think it's a great primer on his short fiction–it's got a classic novella in The Mist, classic horror/suspense (The Raft), the weirdly terrifying scifi experiment The Jaunt, examples of his retro fixation (The Wedding Gig, Mrs. Todd's Shortcut), SURVIVOR TYPE. Man. I love that collection.

@robotosaur "The Jaunt" is the besst. Also "The Raft." Also "The Mist." Also "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut."

Word. Skeleton Crew is the shit. "The Mist" is so fucking good.

"Longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!"

@Reginal T. Squirge When I had general anesthesia after I fucked my leg skiing, this was the last thought that went through my mind.

breccia (#2,412)

@robotosaur SURVIVOR TYPE SURVIVOR TYPE !!!!!! I made my mom buy me a pack of ladyfingers the first time I saw them after reading that.

themegnapkin (#201,538)

@robotosaur also, The Reaper's Image!! Pure scary (terrifying!) ghost story, no gore.

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Is it bad that I have always wanted a movie version of Mrs. Todd's Shortcut?

omellet (#241,219)

@omellet Aw, I forgot 'The Jaunt' was in Skeleton Crew. That's probably my favorite short story.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@ALL
Did anyone else see The Mist movie in theaters and not expect the ending and actually weep openly causing a security guard to stop your group of friends consoling you because "wasn't that a horror movie? is she ok?"

The film version of The Mist is really good! Bad acting and dubious special effects aside, that ending is wayyyy more badass than the book. I remember sitting in the theater and watching it and saying, "OH, SHIT!" out loud to my then-(now ex)gf. Also, if you're gonna watch it, make sure to get the special edition DVD/Blu-ray that has the black-and-white version. Much scarier that way.

Many years on, I have read Misery and Cujo and Salem's Lot, but continue to be a non-completist on "Eyes of the Dragon" and "Cycle of the Werewolf."

omellet (#241,219)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Eyes of the Dragon is a) great and b) part of the Randall Flagg / RF collection, you should read it. My memory of it being great is from about 23 years ago, though, fair warning.

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook I love Eyes of the Dragon. If this means anything at all to you, I read it out loud by chapters to both an 8 year old friend and my 72 year old mom.

I just read Misery for the first time a couple months ago and it is the dope shit. Much better than the movie, which I just re-watched last weekend and is all kinds of bad camp… but Jimmy Caan still killed it.

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Eyes of the Dragon is one of the best books ever and has Dark Tower tie ins and people you will love and dogs and espionage and dollhouses and amazingness. It is such an easy read.

@Reginal T. Squirge Misery the book is ALL KINDS of on point. That book within a book? Misery covered in bees? O Africa? YES. Now my tail is told. (He was on so many drugs in the 80s)

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

OH GOD. For some reason this one summer in high school ('95…ish?) someone purchased me the IT movie on VHS, and we watched it (IT) a million times, then had this running gag where Tim Curry was supposedly in everything. I remember watching Schindler's List in like, honors history or something and whispering to a classmate that Tim Curry was in the background and getting tossed out for laughing during Schindler's List. But, the horror, the horror, inappropriate laughter, 16, etc….It still makes me snicker.

F.F. Woodycooks (#211,675)

As a 12 year old girl whose pet cocker spaniel was her favorite member of the family, I will never forget the image of a dog of the same breed being starved to death in the refrigerator. Thanks for the pre-teen trauma, Steve!

The kid sex was just confusing.

laurel (#4,035)

NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE OCTOPUS GIF indeed.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@laurel also Mike Hanlon's dog being befriended then poisoned by Henry Bowers :( :( :( :( :(

Bittersweet (#765)

@laurel The only things I've ever read by King were short stories about the devil and some boy's "lemonade" and the TV telling some woman to shoot herself in the head and then stick a pencil in it. Since then I've been NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE OCTOPUS GIF on everything else King's ever written. There are things I just don't need to know/be traumatized by.

Now that I am grown I think Mike Hanlon is the best, most honorable, saddest character in King. I was so, so happy at the end when he was losing his memory. Shout-out to the care-takers, you know?

Also, when Beverly visits the Marsh house (Not, Marsh; Kersh, brr) and the nice looking lady slowly gets grotesque as they are talking.

And don't you think the Derry stories that are interspersed throughout are so cool and well written (by Mike, I guess?) I love the story about the townspeople of Derry coming out to shoot up the wanted gang, with the Clown in overalls appearing everywhere with his rifle. That element of the comic in with the killing was just so, so creepy.

And Werewolf in a Derry High School letter jacket!!! But a REAL one! SO scary. As a child I was perfectly willing to believe that monsters could walk right out of movies to hurt me.

I don't know why they had that tunnel orgy; I pretty much act like it didn't happen.

@Sara Wilkinson@twitter OH, I almost forgot THE FORTUNE COOKIES.

@Sara Wilkinson@twitter I get so mad on Mike Hanlon's behalf every time I read the book. These motherfuckers are walking around RICH and OBLIVIOUS and poor Mike has to eke out a living in that shit town waiting for them to come back. AND he gets stabbed. AND he's still poor and has no friends when it's all said and done.
AND that asshole poisoned his dog.

@Courtney Jenkins@facebook Mike got the best parents, though. Small consolation, but it was big thing to me when Mike told his dad about the bird in the tunnel and his dad believed him. You're right, though. I hope Mike moves and writes amazing novels and meets a nice lady.

@Courtney Jenkins@facebook YES. Mike gets totally hosed.

@Courtney Jenkins@facebook I also really hope that Patty Uris meets someone swell who knocks her up.

laurel (#4,035)

When the zombies come I want Nicole on my team.

FUCK YES.

Ok, going back up to read this now.

Alright, my thoughts:

First of all, "you sat around reading dirty magazines and smoking in your tree fort and talking about dicks and calling each other a-holes and writing wistful poems for red-haired girls, right?" Other than the smoking, this was pretty much my childhood.

Scariest part is the first sewer scene with Georgie. I live in NW Portland and they have the old-school sewer drains on most of the corners. Whenever I walk by one of them and hear the water rushing down there, I can almost hear Tim Curry's "HI!". If I look one day and see the top of a clown's head, my mind will completely shatter and I'll be commenting from a padded cell for the rest of my days.

Oh! And! I was visiting Seattle once with some friends and we went to this old water tower that overlooked the city. At night. And it had this big, winding staircase that reminded me of that one scene where Stan is just COMPELLED to go inside even though he knows something horrible is going to happen once he gets there. And then I swore I heard calliope music and promptly shat myself.

@Reginal T. Squirge AHHHHHHHHHHH

@Reginal T. Squirge And the book said the sight of Pennywise's true face shattered Georgie's sanity in a split second, which, honestly, maybe a comfort?

Yeah, I mean, at least then you can stop being terrified of the clown and just cool out in the dead lights for the rest of eternity.

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

@Reginal T. Squirge On a similar note….I showered with the toilet seat down and something on top of it until….maybe 8 years ago? I am 34…

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Olivia2.0 yeah i rinsed my hair looking at the drain until just a few years ago.

Anything that keeps people From Away out of Maine is alright by me. Lap it up!

gidgetjones (#237,683)

The way the Gill-man's claws scrabble at Eddie Corcoran's skin? The flying LEECH-THINGS DEAR GOD NO that – justifiably – kill Patrick Hockstetter? How long the scene where IT goes after Mike Hanlon as a giant gross smelly bird goes?
I remember being so mad at the movie because, even though I knew such an immense and detailed story wouldn't be done justice, it was SO bad. So cheap. Tim Curry's teeth and contacts were the only scary thing.

What about Mr. Keene? He was pretty terrifying in the TV movie.

gidgetjones (#237,683)

OH ALSO IT as the vampire with razor blade teeth chomping his own lips (KEE-RUNCH).

And 'come home come home come home' in blood. GAH this book!

robotosaur (#238,251)

Ooh, can we also talk short The Stand vs. long The Stand? I'm firmly pro-short version.

@robotosaur Yes. Totally agree. Part of my larger stance of "All editor's/director's cuts/un-cut versions that make a thing LONGER are generally balls." I love me some Stephen King but I think we can agree he used to have an editor for a reason.

robotosaur (#238,251)

@Sara Wilkinson@twitter Also the decision to shift it forward in time is just weird, especially when paired with King's preference for dated names. (Franny? Stu? Larry? Not exactly names that scream 1990.)

koko (#11,361)

Oh God, the blood that bubbled up in Bev's sink that couldn't be cleaned until they all cleaned it together….for some reason that was the most horrifying thing to me when I read this book at age 10.

hallelujah (#193,489)

All right, so this may say something untoward about me, but besides the basic WHAT aspect of the kid-sex, the thing that I kind of fixated on is that she has an orgasm at some point, right? First of all, highly unlikely, second of all, bizarre & pretty fucked-up detail, Stephen King, even in the realm of fictional child orgies.

gidgetjones (#237,683)

@Shannon I am equally untoward, then, because I thought the same thing.

BadUncle (#153)

I guess I'll have to read this. The movie was almost a parody of all things Steven King: from the lazy cultural touchstones of fear (a scary clown? really?), to his regular cast of lifelong oddball friends who save the day.

Bittersweet (#765)

@BadUncle "Lazy cultural touchstone," obviously the words of someone who isn't freaking terrified of clowns like a sensible person.

@Bittersweet My Aunt Peggy was 35 years old, saw a man in a clown costume approaching her car, and despite KNOWING it was her neighbor, rolled up the windows and honked the horn and yelled GO AWAY CLOWN until he did.

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

My thoughts on Tim Curry are that he used to kind of freak me out, but now I just think "That will give you bees."

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

Can we also cordon off a SPOILERS ALERT Dark Tower section here re: The Dark Tower and where whatever IT is fits into the tower…or the universes or…whatever?

lavendergooms (#201,560)

@Olivia2.0 And Bev and Richie's… cameo? Scene? in 11/22/63?

@Olivia2.0 Yes let's talk about it. Cause, like, the paper in the Niebolt Street house is the same paper that's in the Guardian's house in The Wastelands, know what I'm sayin? Is that house the other end of that Beam? What happened to that Guardian?

(I have been waiting all my life for this post, no one will talk to me about this IRL)

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

@Courtney Jenkins@facebook WAIT WHAT!!! The guardian? Or the guy with the electronic Bill snowplower? And again @lavendergrooms WAIT WHAT??? I 100% did not catch that at all!

@Olivia2.0 In the Niebolt St. house where It comes down the stairs as the teenage werewolf, the house where the asthma kid saw the beggar. The wallpaper is the same creepy elves and roses wallpaper as in the house in Dutch Hill that Jake gets Drawn through in The Wastelands.

lavendergooms (#201,560)

@Olivia2.0 The main character whose name(s) I absolutely cannot remember hangs out in Derry for a while (and it totally sucks) and comes upon high school aged Bev and Richie swing dancing with each other. Bev tells him to say "beep beep" to shut Richie up when he gets on a tangent.

I actually had to look that up on wikipedia to make sure I hadn't dreamed it.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@lavendergooms No I remember that! When he's saving the janitor from his dad. And they're trying to learn a dance and they talk to him, and while they know not to talk to strange adults they recognize he's ok? But I got the vibe they were not in high school but still in the midst of IT or right after it…

I read this during a 6th-7th grade King jaunt, including everything he had written at the time.

1. The image that carved itself into my brain more than anything else was the bully carving Ben's stomach.
2. The songs, which are everyone in King at that point, are such a weird part of his rhythm. As is the repetition of calls, signals, brain-things… I assume this was the cocaine.
3. 'Salem's Lot might be scarier overall?
4. The child-sex worked for me at the time, and seemed to operate similarly to #2. Just the brain going in constant overdrive. My hormones agreed.
5. King, from Carrie through … I don't know, Needful Things … had a universe of his own, and I loved it.

jolie (#16)

@ContainsHotLiquid Oh dude. Salem's Lot was sofuckingscaryohmygod [cries]

Um also I admitted this to Nicole privately: The Langoliers fucked me up but bad.

@ContainsHotLiquid : I assume this was the cocaine

See also : all of The Tommyknockers.

Actually, the critical consensus may be down on that one, but I'll admit it still has a place in my heart. On recent rereading, it holds up particularly well as an unintentional cocaine-addiction allegory.

@jolie Fucking Balki.

Little Book of Calm (#157,178)

@ContainsHotLiquid Needful Things *may* be my favorite Stephen King- the Stand would be my favorite if it didn't get all rambly and religious-weird at the end. Needful things is such great storytelling and is so concise!

@Gef the Talking Mongoose I love The Tommyknockers.

jolie (#16)

Maine is fucking terrifying, and you should avoid it at all costs.

Maine is entirely awesome. Probably because it's fucking terrifying, but then again I would say that, wouldn't I? I spent a few summers at sleepaway camp in Raymond, ME reading alllllll the Stephen King. It was the greatest time of my life.

BadUncle (#153)

@jolie I don't know. I kind of like a place where everyone starts drinking at 2 in the afternoon. And by "everyone," I mean limbless fishermen.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@jolie As a childhood Stephen King enthusiast – I finally made it up to Maine this fall and kept insisting on saying Bah Hobba like he always described locals as saying it, which made me mocked mercilessly by locals. The end of our week there did get really creepy and misty but overall I was nonscared and adored it.

KenWheaton (#401)

I thought the child-sex thing was to have them cross over from childhood to adulthood? Or something? It's been YEARS since I've read this, so what the hell do I know?

themegnapkin (#201,538)

@KenWheaton I thought it was, the gang was falling apart somehow – maybe they were too rattled – and group sex was to bring them closer together? Still nuts, though.

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@KenWheaton i'm feeling vague on details (read IT once about 10 years ago) but it was so they wouldn't be vulnerable to IT's influence anymore? i admit i may have tuned out the end because i kept thinking 'giant space spider'.

karenjeannette (#2,499)

in addition to the kid sex, there's the part (if i'm even remembering right and not making it up) where bill is trying to get his wife to wake up from her coma/stupor/catatonia/whatever so he takes her on his special magic kid bike, and then all at once he gets a boner and she wakes up.

Dave Bry (#422)

I think "It" is the scariest of all the Steven Kings books I read. Though "Misery" is by far the best. (I liked the movie a lot, too. Never saw the movie of "It," which came out much too long afterward. That was a TV movie, too, right? Maybe I should see it. I do like Tim Curry.) The part that stuck with me the most was blood gurgling up from sink drain. I can never look at a sink drain and think of "It." And also the "fact" that asthma is psychosomatic, and will actually get better if children are denied their inhalers. Which is not a fact. But which I thought was one for far too long a time.) This was great fun, remembering with this post!

Ha. My sister used to think I was faking it when I was a kid.

Dave Bry (#422)

I apologize on the behalf of both us.

Public Apology: Sorry I thought you were faking your asthma for sympathy

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Reginal T. Squirge sucks to your ass-mar!

Julnyes (#232,305)

Read it as a 12 year old who at the time had a strange love of clowns (and unicorns on rainbows). Loved them so much I had a clown poster on my wall. At some point while laying in bed at night reading this book I realized the horrible error of my ways and took the poster down. Haven't really been comfortable with clowns since that book.

Additionally – Tim Curry as The Clown terrifies me, Tim Curry as Dr. Frank n Furter attracts me and Tim Curry as Darkness both attracts and terrifies me. I have very complicated feelings about that man.

dokuchan (#540)

@Julnyes When I first moved to nyc as a teenager in the early 90s, there was a clown who rode the 1/9. And he was super louche, and degenerate, and had a creepy patter he'd recite, loudly, as he touched up his makeup…it confirmed all my clown horror related to IT.

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Julnyes that's ok, tim curry is a complicated guy. i hear you on darkness (and also as long john in muppet's treasure island DON'T JUDGE ME! lol)

Julnyes (#232,305)

@OnlyBrowsingThanks I am a judgment free zone when it comes to Tim Curry attraction. He also set me up for a lifetime love affair with melodious British voices (Tim Curry, Alan Rickman, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc)

P.J. Morse (#232,627)

When I saw this, I thought it was a warning to IT guys who were stuck in Maine. Oops!

jesshelgaI@twitter (#241,221)

Besides thinking of Pennywise ripping off Georgie's arm in the drain–and I've had a lifelong suspicion (better than calling it a phobia) of sewer grates since–I can still remember reading the passage about Patrick suffocating his baby brother and Patrick visiting the puppy he was suffocating to death in the refrigerator. Next to Pennywise, I'll always, always be afraid of preteen psychopaths and/or animal abusers.

BuffyBot (#201,559)

@jesshelgaI@twitter Seriously I am terrified of young children who have a new sibling. My nephew is cousins with my niece and super sweet to her but he raises his voice when he says things like "you're so pretty and I love you" and I swear I hear murder behind his words (he's 3 she's 3mos.)

MaggieL (#3,424)

When I was 11 my local suburban library had a summer reading contest, as you do. I read a bunch of books and went to collect my prize, and the librarians obviously had no plan for what this "prize" was going to be. They handed me a box of mass market paperbacks that were clearly about to be thrown out and told me to choose. This box continued *no* children's books. "Lurid" is a good word for most of the covers. I felt like I was both a) getting away with something by choosing one and b) that the librarians didn't believe I really read all the books required to win a "real" prize.

11 year old me chose THE BACHMAN BOOKS, which included RAGE and THE LONG WALK. I read that book, oh, dozens of times. THE LONG WALK was my favorite but RAGE was very memorably disturbing. Kind of wish I still did have it just for the out-of-print factor. In the end: Thanks, lazy librarians!

@MaggieL The Long Walk is so, so great. And prescient.

RDZ@twitter (#241,225)

IT wasn't the scariest King book, for me. Scary enough, sure (why oh WHY do parents let pre-teens read these things? Warps us all), but the one that got me was The Tommyknockers.

We'd just moved into our house (much larger than our previous dwelling) and for the first time, I had a room to myself. I was reading The Tommyknockers and got to the part where they rig up the Electrolux vacuum and I looked up only to see… my mom's ancient Electrolux staring at me because I was supposed to be cleaning my room at the time.

I slept on the sofa downstairs for about three weeks after that and never used that vacuum again, ever. Nope. No siree. I never finished that book, either.

@RDZ@twitter Later on in the book everyone's teeth fall out and the main female character sprouts a tentacle vagina, so you didn't miss much.

JanieS (#228,605)

My scariest King novel goes to 'Salems Lot, which also has the intrinsically evil town thing going on. And vampires that are actually frightening.

Also I have a deep-seated desire to move to rural Maine/Vermont/New Hampshire, because there's something very wrong with me/I'm secretly Merricat Blackwood.

dracula's ghost (#241,226)

It does my heart such good to find so many people who had similar childhoods to mine. Everyone I know thinks it is so weird that I read the entire King canon by the time I was like 12 years old, starting with, of all things, THE GUNSLINGER, at like age 9. What did I make of it? I don't even remember, but apparently I made enough of it to keep reading it over and over and to basically grow up with the DT.

I wrote a book review of IT for my town's newspaper when I was in 5th grade. Did not realize this would be seen as somewhat eccentric. I was also reading a lot of Jackie Collins at this time.

Memories of It:

- yes, "come home come home come home," omg
- the blood coming out of the drain. Ultimate haunting image that has never left me for one second my whole life
- similar hair-blowing-back experience of learning about Bev's dad
- THE FORTUNE COOKIES
- I still am haunted by when Aura (? Bill's hot wife) slams the door and leans against it and then feels Pennywise's dead flabby fingers under the door poking at her heels
- Eddie Cochran(?)'s dad beating the little brother to death with a ball-peen hammer
- being obsessed with Silver and wondering if my own childhood bike might have similarly talismanic power
- MIKE HANLON AND THAT FUCKING BIRD IN THE CONCRETE TUNNEL
- When Mike calls 911 but all he can hear is Pennywise–I now have a phobia about calling 911 but a murderer has hacked the connection, very elaborate phobia
- the suffocating of the dog in the refrigerator. Haunted me
- the way the adults never stopped Henry and Belch Huggins (THAT NAME) and whoever from their literally insane levels of bullying
- just the general air of terror surrounding being a child in a world of adults who don't know what's going on–most hideously dramatized in the scene where Bev's dad is chasing her through the whole town and it's like no one can see what's happening, and they all turn away from her
- child sex orgy, so mystifying to me at age 10, still mystifying now but totally in keeping with King's general weird sex/gender stuff
- the picture coming to life

also IT prompted so many in-retrospect-hilarious parental conversations, where I'd ask, like, "What's a Jew?" [not understanding the reason Stan was bullied]

I also have a really powerful memory of being in great, great disturbance re: the Mike/bird/tunnel scene, and asking my grandfather if he would believe me if I told him something like that happened to me, and him saying "No," and me being really devastated.

The way that book captures the powerlessness of children is really piercing to me, even now. The monster stuff is scary, but also he makes just the regular adults so terrifying too. Abuse and secret gross family stuff, and everyone turning a blind eye. So dark.

I would also like a Dark Tower spoiler alert safe space for talking about the Dark Tower, as someone up-thread suggested

dracula's ghost (#241,226)

@dracula's ghost p.s. the Mike/bird/tunnel scene = so similar to the Danny/playground/tunnel scene! Also complete with the somehow-hideous rustling of the feathers / the somehow-hideous rustling of the hedge animals

potent imagery

I have to say The Shining to me is King's scariest. It [the book It] is second, but barely.

dokuchan (#540)

@dracula's ghost so glad you jumped in this convo! You go deeper than most in the Stephen King zone. I started with Cujo at age 9 or 10 and my mom scratched on my bedroom door just to mess with me because she knew I was deep in it.

rzokeefe (#152)

Stephen King brings Maine to it's full scary glory. The smell of pine, old muscle cars, bully's with mullets, black flies, moxie, etc.

melky (#241,227)

I read every Stephen King novel in the library by the time I was 16 (including The Stand but I don't remember very much of it) and IT was the scariest! The whole pre-pubescent sex ritual was very very confusing and puzzles me to this day. Nobody else I knew read Stephen King so I didn't have anyone to discuss that with. "Misery" and "The Shining" are also great, but seem to have been usurped by the movie adaptions.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@melky Kubrick gets all the credit for The Shining (especially among aesthetes who want to explain how a shitty thing that King made got good) but I thought the book was actually scarier in a lot of ways, given that King's "everything I write is an inadvertent metaphor for coke addiction" problem was in full force and the character of Jack actually struggled with his turning. The idea of a loving father murdering his family was scarier than the callous Jack Nicholson character going from obviously unstable to full-on psychotic.

I will say that all the flack King gets for shitty endings is deserved, and Kubrick's more bleak ending was far more effective.

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Danzig! i re-read the shining about once a year, i think it's fabulous. what makes it so good is all the detailed layering of the hotel. i hate the kubrick movie, UGH. the shining has a well thought out ending, it's the only one of his books that does (that i've read). the scenes with danny and the hotel when it's bashed in jack's face work for me. what don't you like about it?

notwhoyouthought (#5,390)

Some background – when I was a kid, there was this riverboat in my town that used to do dinner cruises and would play really loud music when they were leaving the dock.

So when I first read this book I was 12? 13? And I was home alone. And as I was reading, I got to some part with the clown and it was right at the time when the riverboat was going out. And what were they playing at top volume? CALLIOPE MUSIC. I'm pretty sure part of my mind broke that day.

And I remember that I really loved this book, but the only thing that has stuck in my head about it was that absolutely terrifying experience while reading it.

piekin (#235,102)

HOW HAS NO ONE MENTIONED THE EYEBALL IN THE FORTUNE COOKIE? I think 11-year old me may have actually pissed herself a little.

piekin (#235,102)

'Desperation' fucked me up pretty bad, too.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@piekin I really liked Desperation and The Regulators. I think most people consider them lesser King works but their alternate-universe conceit, with the same characters showing up, some of them as villains, some as dead (with some "meant to be" similarities, like the chummy relationship between the trucker and the girl) was like catnip to teenage me. I love that high concept shit. And overall, yeah, Desperation had a fever dream nightmare quality that I have yet to find in any of his other work. Underrated, imo

I remembered the flying leeches (and still refuse to cook with the large-size pasta shells), but I'd forgotten about THE PUPPY UNITL NOW, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.

What about "Needful Things"? So good and horrible. "It" was my scariest book pick for years. I guess it still is. :) "Four Past Midnight" was the first book of his I'd read and it has some molestation in it that scarred me for life. I won't lie: I was nervous to go to the library after dark. I love Stephen King, though. Read all his books, bought most, and am now re-buying them all for my Nook and making my kids read them too. Pass those emotional scars on down!

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Sarah Anderson@facebook is the book needful things good? i watched the film on cable the other day was was a little let down, i feel like it should have had more creep to it.

@OnlyBrowsingThanks Loooooove the book. I think it's tres creepy. If you have any experience with a small town, it's mildly vindicating too (and then you feel like a total dick for feeling that way). <3

kim_krypto (#238,255)

I found the book on a shelf at a family friend's house when I was about 10. I read the first scene with the clown in the sewer and put it the f*&^ down, never to be reopened. Those few pages seared themselves in my brain and put me off sewers and clowns for good.

Tim Curry is still hot to me from Rocky Horror – I should probably not watch the movie, huh?

belin7kera (#241,166)

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theenviousmoon (#241,233)

Actually broke down and registered solely to comment on this post because I freaking LOVE Stephen King. I didn't really get into his work until I was in high school, when I picked up a copy of the Stand (original release) at a yard sale. It sort of snowballed from there.

I have almost everything King has written (including Cycle of the Warewolf and Eyes of the Dragon). In fact, I just found a copy of the Bachman Books at a thrift store the other day, which includes Rage. Finding a book that I was lacking is a very rare event (and caused me to emit a high pitched squeal of glee that caused a middle aged lady to look at me in alarm).

I don't think IT is his scariest work…for whatever reason I have never been scared by a King novel. Or the movie equivalent (and I still resent my mom refusing to let me watch IT when it premiered on TV (I managed to watch up through the introduction before she caught me and made me go to bed (but then, I was six, so maybe she had a point)).

I do love IT. It's in my top 5 (Duma Key, Needful Things, It, The Stand (original release), and the Dark Half).

Danzig! (#5,318)

The great thing about IT is that it's a full-length Lovecraft homage, and I looooooove Lovecraft. King goes into some detail about HPL in Danse Macabre,* and his knowledge of what makes that brand of fantasy horror tick really comes through in IT. Essentially, Lovecraft couldn't write passable dialogue to save his life, and he knew that. So nearly everything in his work that other writers would have elucidated via character interactions and speech is instead relayed via descriptions of discoveries made through research – part of the reason why Miskatonic U is such a central and beloved feature of the HPL mythos. Not coincidentally, the best parts of IT are, as Nicole aptly described, the interlude chapters in which characters research the history of the town and make horrific connections that no one else has noticed. It has the same sort of effect as putting a sinister figure in an inconspicuous corner of a picture frame.

King's love for HPL is also apparent through his entire unofficial mythos schtick – nearly every book he writes is connected in some oblique way to The Dark Tower. King's singular fascination is sort of this notion that bad happenings taint their settings in some way (hence the effectiveness of The Shining as a book and a film. He's never better than when he's writing haunted house stories), and I think, unofficially at least, the evil spirits that always show up in his books all come from wherever it is The Dark Tower takes place. Most commonly this is referenced at the ends of his books when a structure collapses or something explodes and the smoke or dust takes the shape of some animal and then dissipates. I think in one of his later, lesser novels there's an overt passage referring to The Dark Tower but I am unsure.

*which is better than you'd think a Stephen King non-fiction book would be, even as dated as it now is – the man's enthusiasm for horror is palpable. I know some smart people who swear by On Writing as well but I've never read it.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Danzig! Also I feel obligated to say that I've always felt like an idiot for growing to hate classic literature (particularly Dickens, who was paid by the word, lest we all forget) and love slick and unsophisticated pulp when I was growing up. I realize there are tens of thousands of people just like me and we've actually become something of a cultural force, but I've never felt good about it.

I blame my fourth grade "accelerated reading" teacher for assigning My Brother Sam Is Dead to us and forging the eternal link between realism and inveterate, inescapable nihilism.

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

@Danzig! the only classic lit i can get through is ghost stories. lovecraft is so prolific. i get so exicted when i see any cthulu reference in film. his influence is more subtle and pervasive in writing, you can;t escape it.

@Danzig! : Apropos of nothing, when my mother taught English to junior-high-schoolers, she always assigned really good genre writers rather than "classic" lit* because the kids found the subject matter much more approachable and interesting, giving them a solid footing from which to start enjoying the actual writing. Dickens at his best is great, but you can't really confront a 7th grader with the twin hurdles of "17th-century language" and "17th-century plot / setting" and reasonably expect them to enjoy either one.

*She assigned a lot of Bradbury. "A Sound of Thunder" was always a big hit, apparently.

Also, when they started writing stories of their own, she always introduced the idea of plotting and narrative arc by having them watch "Duel". Anyway.

@OnlyBrowsingThanks : I recently started reading Robert Aickman's stuff, and -damn- he's revived my love of weird fiction. I started with "The Wine-Dark Sea", and you should too.

@Danzig! Isn't Danse Macabre amazing???

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook SO amazing, also AHH BABY!!

@OnlyBrowsingThanks Yeah he's a titan, partially because he was a crackerjack short story writer, but also because he allowed a lot of other writers (mainly people he wrote letters to, he was a prolific correspondent) share his setting. August Derleth is probably the best and most prominent of his direct descendants, he's written a lot of work that probably gets misattributed to the man himself all the time.

The other thing is that the Cthulu / Dreamlands mythos, such as it is, exists in the public domain along with many other pulp classics (Sherlock Holmes, Conan the Barbarian, etc), so there's little to prevent any creative person from continuing in the spirit of Lovecraft and his cadre. They make some pretty good Call of Cthulu board games!

OnlyBrowsingThanks (#239,542)

IT is terrifying and my husband i fought about it just a few days ago. HE likes the shower curtain open because someone might be hiding behind it. I like the shower curtain closed because IT might come out of the drain and eat me. *shrugs*

i read this book for the first time on a road trip to CO with my bf and his family when i was 17? i read the book in about three days and then just sat down and was like THAT'S IT? which has been my response to all SK novels. when they are good they are SO GOOD. but they usually just fizzle out.

There is a reason SK is so damn popular. his books are so heartbreakingly raw. My faves of his are The shining (novel), IT (novel, as the movie scares me into fits) and Rose Red (mini series).

but srs have you seen rose red? amazeballs.

UneAwkwardFemme (#241,251)

I haven't yet read IT yet because I've been to nervous to begin it. It's sitting on my bookshelf at home with all the other books I've promised to read someday. But after reading this, I kind of want to. My favorite pieces by King so far are "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" and "On Writing."

Incidently, I LIVE in Maine – was born and raised here. Luckily, I live on the western side of the state, nowhere near the Kenduskeag. Phew!

Laura@twitter (#241,254)

James Smythe at The Guardian is rereading King's backlist and reviewing them weekly. He's currently at week 15 – Christine. I'm now wondering how feasible it might be to catch up to him and read along. I read probably 80% of King's books between the ages of 9 and 20 and am right now reading On Writing.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jan/30/rereading-stephen-king-christine?CMP=twt_gu

BuffyBot (#201,559)

I think when you posted on "Salem's Lot" there was a comment thread about finishing the book and immediately hearing a cat. I don't think I shared but as soon as I finished it, a year after my cat had been killed by a car and with no replacement cat in the house, I heard a meow. It terrified me and at 15 I had my dad sit with me until I fell asleep (I also cried when Gage died in Spanish class – that book was just a giant trauma-rama).
So I got really excited when I saw this, I believe I read IT in either 7th or 8th grade and I've reread it about 3 times since (I've read and reread The Stand about 6). So I was reading the comments, all the comments about the sink (ugh) and I had to pee. Left my office peed, thinking about IT but in a non-scared way. Then I went to the sink to wash my hands and when I squeezed the soap RED CAME OUT ALL OVER MY HANDS. Reasonable deduction -it's a sink not oft used so it seems it was rust but OMG, you guys. Stephen King. Still gets me good.

Tami Scott@twitter (#241,258)

King's scariest book by far is Pet Semetary (and I've read every single one). Murderous evil child returned from the grave? No thank you very much.

miette (#2,704)

I read it at about the same tennish age, and while I wasn't mature enough to make much of the Boys Boning Bev scene, it made me uncomfortably warm in the region of my nethers that had never before been that way.

I wonder if I can blame it for all the inappropriate sex of my twenties.

Hey all. This is my first post here, but ironically I just recently became determined to start reading more classic trash, because all the nonfiction and literary fiction I was reading was making me depressed. AND, I just happened to read IT for the first time a few weeks ago. As an adult, I didn't find it that scary, but the blood in the sink and all the dog-killing stuck out in my mind. For those confused about the sex scene, I'm pretty sure that was meant to be a pagan-style 'sacred sex' ritual, required to raise enough power to combat the 'pagan' alien menace. Didn't you guys read "Mists of Avalon"? You know the main character has the sacred sex with (I think) young Arthur near the beginning (they are both in character as mythological archetypes)? It was to raise power, and keep the earth turning and the harvest coming. That's what May Day is about: screwing in the fields to create sympathetic magic. Anyway, that's what the sex orgy was for in the book. At least, I hope so. Cause otherwise, WTF? LOL.

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