Saturday, April 18, 2009

Horror Review - IT

The best monster stories are never really about the monster. In The Thing, the creature is a wall between the characters, forcing them into paranoia and isolation as they realize they can no longer trust one another. Frankenstein has been interpreted as a tale of postpartum depression. IT continues this tradition, and takes the concept a step further. As with most of Stephen King's early novels, the true horror in the story is not in the lovecraftian, ancient nightmare creature that sleeps beneath the earth, waking every thirty years to eat children and feast on fear; no, in this story the truly horrifying acts are committed by the common folk who live in the fictional town of Derry, Maine.

Through the novel, all of the characters repeatedly come back to a single refrain - "something is wrong in Derry." In the face of racism, homophobia, poverty, repression, anti-Semitism, physical abuse and a host of psychological disorders ranging from sociopathy to PTSD, the monster is almost tangential. Though the characters attribute this wrongness to the monster beneath the town center, the horrifying events which take place there throughout the history of the town need no supernatural cause; in fact, it could be argued that when the creature (dressed as Pennywise the Dancing Clown) is present for the various massacres and atrocities in town, it is there not as an instigator, but to feed on the residue of what was already there to be had. The monster's needs require minimal cultivation at best.

It is no surprise then that the seven children who finally fight the monster are so readily able to do so, and to do so again as adults. By the time they reach their climactic confrontation with It, they almost seem as comfortable in its presence as in that of other human beings, and it is telling that through the book they chose to spend their time in the Barrens, the abandoned, miniature wasteland where the city's sewers break to the surface, which is also the entrance to It's lair. The monster might eat them, but compared to their own lives it was the lesser of two evils.

Another trope of Stephen King's stories is his trademark brand of happy ending, and the undercurrent of positivity which is often lost on casual readers. Like the characters in Needful Things, The Stand, Insomnia and 'Salem's Lot, the heroes of IT find secret strengths within themselves and in their relationships with each other. Terror, in King's world, is fought with laughter, and despair with hope. As they come to believe in the evil mysteries around them, so too do they discover a countermagic within themselves, and every hero has a talisman. This is perhaps more readily apparent in IT, because the monster is so blatanty allegorical, and the children are more readily able to transcend common sense. Faith is essential to the Stephen King mythos, and the rest is window dressing.

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