If someone asked me today what my absolute favorite book, regardless of category, author or any other discriminator, I would say without hesitation that my favorite book is It by Stephen King. On my morning walk, I finished reading it for the third time. I remember really liking it the first time I read it, loving it even more the second time. I didn’t think it was possible to read a book for a third time and enjoy it even more, but that is the case.
This time around, I listened to the audio book. The book was read (performed?) by Steven Weber and he was absolutely fantastic. His performance certainly went some way toward pushing It to the very top of my favorites list, but more than anything else, it was the overall feel of the book. I have grown to love the Losers in a way that I have grown to love very few characters in books that I have read. Reading the book, I’d find myself thinking, I wish I could hang out with these guys, both when they were kids and when they’d all grown up.
It seems to me that part of the success of the book–and part of what makes it work so well for me–is that it is a close examination of the magic of childhood, without the look back through rose-colored glasses. The story is not tinged by nostalgia, the way a Ray Bradbury story might be. And yet there is a kind of nostalgia in it that is transferred to the reader, no matter what era you grew up in. Another reason I love it is that it is a hero book in horror book clothing. The Losers, each of them, are superheroes in their own right. They overcome things that would stop a grownup in their tracks. It is not the wish fulfillment superhero of the comic books. The Losers don’t fly and bullets don’t bounce off their chest. But they are superheroes.
The completely epic rock fight scene perhaps captures this best of all. In reading that scene the third time around, I decided that, for me anyway, it is the single best fight scene I’ve come across in any book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read quite a few. There is something so utterly believable about that scene. I’ve been there as a kid, tossing rocks and clumps of dirt (we called them “dirt bombs”) back and forth with friends and enemies alike.
I found myself reacting to the story in a much more personal and interactive way than in any previous reading. This was certainly aided by Steven Weber’s performance. At the point in which Bev Marsh and Ben Hanscomb are hiding in the clubhouse and trying desperately to stay quiet, I found myself raising a finger to my lips and whispering “Shhh” as I took my afternoon walk. Later, as Bill fought with It and shouted out his mantra, “He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost!” tears welled up in my eyes in the same sort of fierce pride and rush I get when I see a clip of Superman rescuing someone from danger.
I also like that It winds itself deeply into King’s other work. The more I read of his other stuff, the more connections I see to It.
As I finished the book, a profound sadness fell over me because the book was over. I was leaving Derry behind, just as the Losers were leaving it behind. It was like returning after a long and wonderful vacation with friends and family, to a quiet, empty house. The only book ever to produce a similar feeling in me is Isaac Asimov’s1, Forward the Foundation, another book which I have read many times. For a long time, I used to say that Forward the Foundation was my favorite book. It by Stephen King, has supplanted it.
Now, I am left with that awful feeling of what can I possibly read next that will come close to the feeling that It produced in me? Likely, the answer is that nothing will, at least, not for a while. I hate that feeling. But I content myself by imagining what the surviving Losers might be like today, some 28 years later, when the cycle of It in Derry should be repeating itself again–but hopefully is not. Most of them would be in their mid-60s by now. I wonder what they’ve been doing these last few decades?
- There is a reference in It to one of the losers reading Lucky Starr and the Moons of Mercury back in 1958, which was written by Isaac Asimov under the pseudonym Paul French. ↩
I’ve had a iffy relationship with Stephen King. I tended to really like his ideas, but I didn’t care for his writing. I picked up the It audiobook at the library and was incredibly impressed. This alone completely changed my mind on Stephen King. I’m now listing to the Shining, the narrator isn’t nearly as amazing as Steven Weber but he’s good none the less.
I’ve written before that my early experience with King wasn’t great. But a decade later, giving him another try, it was an entirely different experience, and I’m so glad I gave him another try.
“He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost!” – I have been looking for the origin of this tongue twister for about a year. The oldest example I’ve seen is from the Andy Griffith show in an episode entitled “The Pageant” which first aired 30 Nov. 1964. I always wonder where King gets his cultural touchstones. In “It”, this phrase is used in 1960 Derry, which is entirely appropriate. I appreciate King’s mind and attention to time.
Mark, as it happens, I am reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, and in an early chapter, he discusses a book called Donovan’s Brain, a 1942 science fiction novel by Curt Siodmak. At the end of the novel, in order to escape from the telepathic control of a mutated manman, the hero recites, “He thrusts his fists against the post,” etc. This is probably where King first heard the tongue-twister and it pushes the date back to at least 1942.
Great! Thanks. I had heard the “Donovan” reference, but somehow got it into my head that it was a circa 1970s novel and therefore would be later than Andy. Thanks for clarifying. I love the thought that the writers on Andy Griffith were science fiction fans.