Because this book is such a doorstopper, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the book that precedes it is a collection of short stories and get a head start in order to narrow the gap. As you can plainly see, I ended up finishing this one first. It’s not that big of a deal; I’ll keep working my way through “Skeleton Crew”, but it was amusing how that worked out.
Now, for those who have been following this column for some time, you’ll probably know how this article plays out before I even get to the end of this paragraph. I haven’t exactly made it a secret that I love this book and even rank it’s villain as King’s best. A part of me was worried that a second reading wouldn’t hold up as well, but that wasn’t the case. Conversely, as much as I’d love to boast about how this is “perfect King” the way Trek fans praise “Wrath of Khan” as “perfect Trek”, this book does have some noticeable faults, but we’ll get to those in time.
As the book is just shy of 1,100 pages long, this will take you a while to get through, even if you are an avid reader. Yet it is also one of the smoothest reads you’ll come across. You’ll get to the 500 page mark and it won’t feel like it’s been that long at all. That happened to me the first time I read the book and it happened to me again. It really is amazing how King pulled that off.
Also amazing is the fact that I feel like the book could have been longer if King really wanted it to be. Honestly, you probably could’ve broken this up into two or three still fairly sizable books. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on and while I don’t think anything is rushed, per se, I think that there was more that could have been done. Tom’s subplot is wrapped up well enough, but it almost becomes an afterthought. His fate is mentioned so briefly that I went in thinking that it was a plot thread that would be left hanging. I remember him angrily going after Beverly and chasing her to Derry, but I honestly forgot that he actually did stuff after that.
I also forgot about a surprise cameo that occurs in the latter half of the book. If you peruse the book’s TvTropes page, you’ll find mention that Christine makes a cameo. Sure enough, there is mention of a 1958 Plymouth Fury that gives Henry Bowers a ride near the end of the book. On the one hand, the car doesn’t do anything “in character”, but the fact that King made a note to say that it was that specific model does show that it was meant to be the same car.
As far as the main characters go, they are what makes this book work as well as it does. They’re likable, sympathetic and you really do feel the strength of their bond as the book progresses. While the mini-series kept a balance between the “present day” and the flashbacks, the book actually leans much heavier to the childhood stuff. The ratio here is more 80/20. That’s not a bad thing either as I found that to be the much stronger story anyway. That being said, I do think that the story would lose something if the adult portions were dropped altogether.
As far as the main seven are concerned, I’d say that Richie is the closest thing to a weak link. He’s ok, but his style of humor works much better seen instead of read. A lot of his comedy relies on impressions and while the book does it’s best to convey that, I think something is lost and, as a result, the book makes him out to be funnier than he is.
Credit where it’s due though, he managed to take It out of commission with sneezing powder. If that’s not a crowning moment of awesome, I don’t know what is. It’s especially awesome because this is the only time where the characters approach It with any sort of real armaments and the sneezing powder turns out to be the most potent of the bunch.
I’m surprised that It didn’t obsess over that more. It’s vendetta against the Losers is generalized more to the idea that they were able to maim it during their first “final” confrontation, but I’d think that the sneezing powder debacle would be more humiliating.
When discussing this book’s weaknesses, a lot of it falls on the ending. I’ve heard some say that the sudden genre shift is largely responsible. I don’t know if that’s the case. I mean, yes, magic does play a much larger role in a story that was fairly realistic all things considered. I have to admit, it was kind of weird seeing the kids who were largely dealing with bullies up to this point, going on a vision quest and doing research on ancient rituals, but it’s built up well enough, I think.
Even the ritual of Chud itself actually works much better on the second read through. I remember being kind of turned off by the metaphysical nature of the final battle, but I enjoyed it much more reading it again.
If anything confused me this time it was the fact that King would jump back and forth between the past and present at random intervals without really labeling it as such. For the vast majority of the book, it’s easy to tell what’s what, but when they enter the tunnels, you need to make a point to pay extra attention as most of the indicators are tossed to the wayside. In hindsight, the trick is that one takes place in the morning and the other takes place in the afternoon, beyond that, I tried to keep a lookout to see if Mike or Stan were mentioned as their presence was a clear indicator that it was the childhood encounter.
Speaking of Mike’s absence, one of the weakest parts of the book comes as a result of this. Near the end of the book, Mike ends up being hospitalized and is about to be attacked by a doctor under It’s influence. The remaining members of the Losers club, who are approaching It’s lair at this point, stop. Apparently, their spider-sense goes off and they actually say, “Mike’s in trouble, quick, send him our energy!’. And they do it! No, I’m sorry, this isn’t Dragonball Z, you can’t do that. Even as I was reading that, I called bull.
I also didn’t care for the last minute explanation that Eddie had an amazing sense of direction. If it was established earlier in the book, like say Ben’s knack for engineering, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. However, this is revealed, like, 800 pages in. This could have been established earlier. You could argue that it never came up, maybe, but I think it should have. Or, just have their ability to navigate the tunnels without getting lost be an aspect of the mystical influence of “the Other”. Considering how so much else is chalked up to that, it wouldn’t be that far out of left field.
One other thing as far as weak aspects of the ending, the thing that happens. You know, it’s the elephant in the room when it comes to this book. The Losers all have sex with Beverly. Now, the idea that everyone loves her is played up to the hilt. So, on some level, I get it. Still, they’re 12, it’s very squicky and I don’t think it needed to be there. Would it have been so difficult for the bond to sever after they got out of the tunnels? Does Gan really have such a short attention span that he couldn’t wait another hour or two to help them get out?
Even if you wanted this to be the culmination of their love, you could have played it out better simply by having it take place in 1985 before they go after It again. Then the breaking of their bond, and the need to re-establish it with intercourse, makes some level of sense and it becomes far less…icky. It would still be weird, but less so. Yeah you’d lose the potential analysis of it being symbolic of their loss of childhood or innocence or something, but I think readers would be OK with that.
The book isn’t without it’s faults, but I still found it to be an immensely enjoyable read. You had great characters battling a memorable villain (who does actually ask whether the heroes had prince albert in a can, alas he does it without the memorable “wuhah”). It is also quite epic in that it has a wide timespan and a confrontation beyond the edge of the universe. While the book will take you a while to get through, it’s worth the effort and this does still stand as one of my favorite books, not just by King, but in general.