Plenty of fiction gets the representation of kids wrong. Even fiction written for kids isn’t brilliant so when you read, or in this case I suppose re-read after around 30 years, something that seems to get the whole essence of being a kid nailed spot on, it’s something that is worth celebrating. This is especially the case when it’s done in a book that you’d probably not consider a fertile breeding ground for this sort of thing.
What book am I talking about? Well I’ll put you out of your misery, it’s Stephen King’s It. Yes, the one with the clown and the typical King supernatural firework display at the end that can’t help be slightly disappointing after such fine work before. I don’t think I realised at the time that Bill, Ritchie, Bev, Mike and co were so well written but that was mostly because I was almost a contemporary of the childhood incarnation of those characters when I read the book. I can’t have been more than 12 or 13 when I read It; the library’s hardback wasn’t too shabby when I booked it out and I was a terribly precocious reader. If pushed to comment, I might have suggested that the idea of the characters 27 years on was the one thing I’d have struggled with- what 12 year old can empathise with people almost 40, that’s positively ancient.
I’ve not seen the Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown mini-series from the 1990 miniseries and I probably shan’t watch the cinematic duology that is on it’s way and in part prompted me to reread the book. I may watch the proposed “supercut” of the two movies though, as that sounds interesting. The first film, due out this year, focuses on the characters as kids, told in flashback in the novel, with the second film dealing with their return as adults to face the evil they thought they had destroyed. A supercut of both films matching the chronology of the book would be brilliant if done properly.
I’m 42 now and the book seems better than it did when I was a callow youth, just starting out with a fascination for the macabre. King himself was just shy of 50 when the book was published, which makes it all the more impressive how he captured the essence of being on the cusp of teenager-dom so well.
Kings best novels are at heart character pieces that blend the preternatural with the mundane; horror is so much more horrifying when it occurs to well realised normal people in a well realised normal world and that is what King creates in It. Although the flashback sequences take us to 1957, a time that seems ancient now, it was only as distant as the 1990s are to us today, so forgive me if I don’t spend too long dwelling on the time period. No mobile phones or computers, a bit more outdoor play and that’s about it for cultural time differences.
Whether it’s Stuttering Bill’s charisma, or Bev’s world weary wisdom, King doesn’t make that all too common mistake of assuming childhood is simple and by extension children are simple versions of adults. There are a couple of scenes where various characters (the one I’m particularly thinking of involves Ritchie) have a near death experience and almost immediately afterwards are doing something completely normal, like grabbing an ice cream or going to the cinema. That’s how kids work, the peril is immediate and when it isn’t, life continues. It’s like Bill and his terrifying bike rides. I had a bike similar to Silver when I was a kid and in hindsight probably near killed myself a hundred times over on it, doing things I wouldn’t dream of today as an adult but that seemed wholly appropriate as a kid.
Childhood is full of different worries to adulthood but children (in theory) aren’t equipped to deal with their problems as an adult would, so it makes something as simple as being fat, much harder to deal with. Poor old Ben! His cycle of comfort eating and low self esteem, along with his crush on Bev are the sort of thing that plague childhood and shouldn’t be played down just because they’re something that is happening to a child.
There is of course an element of nostalgia in this, both in King’s probable idealised writing of being a kid and my association and interpretation of it as authentic. I’m 42 now, older than the adult versions of Kings characters, with my own children approaching the age of their childhood incarnations.
It’s a crossroads really, and we all know what authors like King are apt to bury at a crossroads don’t we?
It is shortly to be released as a film but you can buy the book here via an affiliate link because lets face it books are better aren’t they?