When we left off last week with King’s It “Part 1: The Shadow Before,” the author was just giving us a taste of what to expect from this macabre tragedy – psychological horror with just hints of grotesquery. Before we head into “Part 2: June of 1958,” King takes the reader on a little detour into Derry’s past in a piece called “Derry: The First Interlude.” Here King anchors Derry in a deeply afflicted, sordid history by way of Michael Hanlon, the only one of the seven Losers to stay behind in this town and our personal tour guide / historian. In what are represented as Hanlon’s own personal notes, perhaps meant for future publication, he asks, “Can an entire city be haunted?” Hanlon finds a few different interpretations of “haunting” in his research, but the one most perturbing is “A feeding place for animals,” which begs the question “What’s feeding on Derry?”
Perhaps the uninitiated would have you believe it’s a killer clown known as Pennywise feeding on Derry. But It is more than a dancing clown with a taste for children. It is not just a mirror for our worst fears. It permeates the town and manipulates its people.
King’s attention to detail pulls the reader in and adds a personal edge to the story, but the scrupulous effort to craft its history makes the subsequent horrors in this town bone-chilling. By establishing the origins of Derry – from the time it was settled by a group of about three-hundred English known as the Derry Company to present day – King will give his readers a scare that won’t be easy to shake. If this cancer feeding on Derry is the impetus of their troubles, couldn’t It be the source of our own? As a child, I was plagued by a fear of monsters under my bed and in my closet. As an adult, I am paralyzed by the fear that human monsters could invade my home and torture my family. Although It centers around the seven Losers each with their own fears, there is something to scare everyone in It. Just like our seven protagonists, It will terrorize you.
Part 2 focuses in on The Losers, tracing back from their lives now to the children they once were in lengthy flashback sequences. We’re taken back to the formidable years of bullies and monsters, both of which brought this group closer together. Each member faces nasty apparitions and even more complicated real life drama, but the friendship they share leaves me with an aching nostalgia for my own childhood. Like them, my past is riddled with human tragedy and emotional scars, but they came with the sweet memories of unbreakable bonds with friends. And like them, those memories tucked away not quite within reach, are just waiting to be triggered by a friend from my past. In the age of Facebook, it’s hard to imagine the flood gates that open upon hearing the voice of a childhood chum some 27 years later, but King expresses that feeling magnificently. Sometimes it’s a euphoric feeling or that sick vertiginous creep from memories that wound. In the case of the latter, Ben Hanscom puts it best when he laments, “My God, I am being digested by my own past.”
We see the impact of The Losers’ emotional trauma on their adult lives. This is further reinforced by King as he takes us back to the origins of their friendship and troubles. However, this time King focuses more on the strength of childhood friendship, memory, and fear. Part 2 has an equally disturbing psychological depth compared to Part 1, but this time he amps up the gore effects a bit more. That is not to say King aims to challenge the reader’s gag reflex for the sake pushing their own limits. His style is more subtle. Every rotten piece of flesh, every talon edging out of the darkness has a specific purpose and often times they tie back into the story later. One moment reflects back to another which in turn connects to this one which will reemerge in the future and so on, just like the complicated tapestry that makes up our own lives.
What is terribly dark and delectably horrible in It blossoms slowly. The events are terrifying, but the way King tells this tale is exquisitely beautiful. Part 1 was just an appetizer, now we are beginning the main course. King’s It buries itself further into my conscience. I can’t be completely sure if It is to blame, but ever since I started this book I am having terrible nightmares! So beware, dear readers, beware!
Come back next week – same time, same Bat channel – for “Part 3: Grownups.”