30 Day Book Challenge: Day Sixteen

Longest book you’ve read: It – Stephen King

Lord of the Rings is longer, but I’ve already talked about that. Also, I’m pretty sure King’s The Stand is longer (well, the updated 90s version, anyway), but I preferred It, as it is the best I’ve ever read from King. Although, I must admit that I’ve yet to read “The Dark Tower” series; I eventually got frustrated after reading several of King’s other books and figured he never reached the same level as It.

It is well over 1, 000 pages, and epic in scope. I though it was actually more ambitious than The Stand. There are less characters, but each are given mammoth characterization and backstory. The narration is also restricted to setting of Derry, Main, though the multiple times and generations really expand and multiplies the setting. This situates the story in an impressively rich universe that would make Tolkien, and perhaps even Joyce, proud.

Of course, what really knocks It out of the park is its antagonist, Pennywise. Pennywise is a shape-shifter and adapts various personae throughout the book  – the true nature of his identity is never really clarified – though he is immortally remembered as the demonic clown. To this day, I can’t think of anything more terrifying than the book’s opening scene: On a rainy day, a young child is playing with a paper boat in the streets’ gutters. The boat gets away from him and falls into a sewer. The child looks in and sees Pennywise hiding in the shadows. Pennywise appears as a friendly clown and reassures the child with sounds of a circus and other children. The kid reaches in to grab his boat and Pennywise tears off the child’s arm, killing him.

(Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise is the one bright spot in the horrible TV movie adaptation.)

 King adds some interesting dimensions with the novel’s metaphysics of good and evil, and the way in which the infinite pierces through the finite at moments, overwhelming anyone who makes contact with it, reducing them to catatonic vegetables. Though it cannot be denied Stephen King is wearing H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on his sleeve in this one, King’s own voice is very clear. Where King manages to distance himself from Lovecraft’s dominating shadow is his sense of humor and fun.

It doesn’t come across as self-important like much of Lovecraft too often does. Pennywise’s playfulness mercifully subverts the inevitable cliches that accompanies child-killing monsters. King also ventures into some even more ostentatious material – as he is wont to do – yet the novel never really derails into self-parody as the movie does. The story is scary all the way down and the reader sincerely cheers for the characters. (Now, I read this when I was 15 and haven’t looked at it since, so you’ll have to take that with a grain of salt.)

King also does a good job juggling the different timelines. The movie takes the easy route and splits the narrative in half, with the two different climaxes ending each part. The novel, on the other hand, actually layers them, and in the final sequences goes back and forth chronologically, fusing the two different timelines’ climaxes into one. Think Inception, but in the written word. Pretty masterful considering how easier it is for the cinematic medium to use cut-scenes, etc.

(Ronald McDonald as meth addict)

The book is a quintessential page turner, so while it appears to be a tome, one can easily burn through this in a week or two, and that’s coming from a very slow reader. I’ve read smaller books that took me much longer to read (Gravity’s Rainbow and Ulysses come to mind).

Furthermore, and most importantly, I felt a tinge of sadness  – although not quite as pronounced as Ulysses and Lord of the Rings – when I finally put this puppy down. As there is a dual timeline of the characters as children and adults, you really feel like you watch them grow up and thus become committed to their arcs. I won’t deny King has his share of doozies, still this book has granted him a softspot in my heart.

I really believe King has the spirit of a great writer, as he can come up with some fascinating ideas; the problem is that he’s committed to this prolific output of a book every year or so. He just won’t take the time to hone his craft and develop the rich details of a narrative that would push him into a higher echelon of authors. Nevertheless, It remains one of my favorite books.

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on July 17, 2011.

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