Horror History: What Stephen King Novel Traumatized You As A Kid?
My family comes from generations of voracious readers. We are always discussing, admiring, and relishing in the latest or newly discovered novels. Though not everyone shares the same attraction to certain genres we still respect each others interests. So, with the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s, It, about to hit theaters to terrify a new generation that perhaps will discover the prolific author for the first time, I was reminded of when I first discovered the man’s sinister novels and explored a new, unmentionable genre in literature.
As a child in the mid-eighties, when the storms rolled through darkening the summer afternoons, my mother ushered my brothers and me from the pool to the local library. I remember walking into the building, water soaked with my swim suit clinging to my skin, shivering from the air condition cranked up on high. My mother, brothers and I all separated, each of us disappearing among the bookshelf aisles. I browsed the myriad selection of novels, fingering the spines, longing for the next tale to discover.
In secret, I trended toward adult novels. The children’s books and young adult books were fine but often bored me. I always wanted something edgier and I knew there were things hidden inside those hardcover-bound adult books daring me to encounter them. I was also guilty of letting the book covers guide me, choosing the books based on the riveting images and graphics that captured my attention first.
It was on one of those days when the storm clouds rolled in, making the summer day less cheery, that I found myself once again in the freezer cold library wearing my damp swimsuit and in search of a new book. I found it, on a low shelf, a book that piqued my interest in a new and inexplicable way. I pulled out the heavy book and studied it for a moment.
The partially shadowed book cover revealed part of a street curb and beside it a street grate where dark rainwater oozed into it. Reaching out from the street grate was the tips of an alien-green tentacle, its sharp claws curling and grasping the bars of the grate. Beside the grate and alien tentacle was a lone newspaper sail boat at rest, an instant juxtaposition of innocence and danger together. Above all of this, against the blackness seeping down from the top of the book, was the novel’s title in half shredded blood-red letters: It. And the author’s name above the title in ever larger print, colored in dull gray: Stephen King.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – Stephen King
I studied it and pondered about the book a long while. I knew right away it was a book of horror and I wondered if I was brave enough to chance it. Finally making my decision, I lugged the hefty book over to the check out desk and I recall the slightly disapproving look of the librarian as she checked out the thick novel to me. Of course, I was too young then to ever finish the novel. But it never left my mind. The television mini-series released in 1990 kept me wide-eyed in front of the television set and I am hard pressed to find anyone today who wasn’t terrified watching that mini-series. Though it has its faults, no one can forget it. It’s a classic. I was unnerved by it. And it still unnerves me today.
I always wondered about this man who wrote these tales of horror, truly dark stuff that made some people shudder just from the mention of his name. There are some in his collection I still cannot finish reading even now, but the few rare ones resonated with me in some particular way, keeping me awake late into the night as I continued to read them completely immersed in his hellish worlds. A few worth mentioning are The Shining, Pet Cemetery, The Eyes of the Dragon and eventually It. I finally picked up a copy of the mammoth novel later as an adult and I read it in a matter of days aboard a cruise ship, rocking on the cold seas towards the shores of Canada. My life is now marked by my childhood and my adulthood with this book, very much like those poor kids who encountered the evil clown monster as children and then again as adults.
“Come on back and we’ll see if you remember the simplest thing of all – how it is to be children, secure in belief and thus afraid of the dark.”– Stephen King, It
It holds a different power. The villain is a different kind of monster altogether and perhaps the one I’ll always remember (in both good and bad ways). The story centers on the seven-member Losers Club and their promise to each other to avenge the monster that terrorized their youth. Each of them affected differently by this uncanny being. As adults, they revisit the evil that once terrified them, a living nightmare they are still trying to escape.
As a father now, I’m haunted by the implications of the monster in It. The monster may be supernatural, but the monster could be symbolic of the more real monsters that lurk in the shadows, preying on our children. Perhaps this is one of the main attractions to the story, not just the mere fact that all children are afraid of the boogeyman and we’re reminded of the boogeyman again later in life for some reason or another.
So, for those discovering Stephen King and It for the first time – beware. Evil lurks deep inside this story and sometimes monsters win.