FIVE STARS

Stephen King flexes his horror-writing muscles in this tale of seven misfit kids who must confront the profound primitive intelligence of the most vicious creature to ever inhabit planet earth. In the process of telling his story, King draws what is perhaps his best portrait of the personification of evil… not Randall Flagg, not the Crimson King, but IT!

The monster arrives from beyond space and time into the swamps that will eventually become Derry, Maine. Eventually IT takes over the labyrinth of sewers and tunnels under the city. IT usually shows itself to Its victims as their worst nightmare (right out of literature, comic books, or movies): the giant eye, Rodan – the monster bird, the werewolf, Frankenstein’s creature, the mummy, Hansel and Gretel’s witch. But ITs most common and perhaps most terrifying incarnation is Pennywise, the child-eating, monster-screaming, mass-murdering, shape-shifting, sardonic Clown. (After all, as King reminds us, who doesn’t love a clown?)

Of course, in reality IT is far more horrific than any of these, more horrific than the giant spider whose shape it assumes when humans come close enough to see IT in ITs lair. The real demon, the monster within a monster, is so incredible that to get a clear look at IT is to die of terror. 

But that’s not all! IT can also take over the minds of townspeople, visitors, entire segments of the population, anyone IT needs. IT can color their thinking and drive them to insane and horrific acts that only serve ITs purposes. And ITs main purpose (besides eating bunches of children, sleeping it off, and staging insane bloodbaths when it wakes to begin killing again) is to get rid of the seven kids who once almost figured out how to destroy IT. 

The misfits (six uncommonly geeky preteen boys and one pretty preteen girl from the wrong side of town (all the boys all are in love with her, of course) have amazing imaginative powers, and a real leader in stuttering Bill Denbrough. They also have a historian, a kid with engineering savvy, a guy who never loses his direction, a neat freak, and their own personal class clown (no relation to Pennywise.)

The misfits are hounded by the neighborhood bullies, by irrational parents, by their own fears and shortcomings, and by a promise they made when they first confronted and bested IT. They swore that, if they hadn’t really killed IT, they would return to Derry as adults, go back into the sewers, confront the monster in ITs lair, and finish the job. Of course IT knows this and is ready for them.

The book features King’s usual philosophical observations, his great character development, his strong powers of description; there’s the typical sweet love story, and some very unexpected sex. There’s also the sense of living through it all, and confronting King’s ultimate monster. This is Stephen King at his horrific best.