Study Guide

It Introduction

By Stephen King

It Introduction

Maybe at one point you considered taking a vacation to rural Maine. You know, to see the awesome fall foliage, drink maple syrup straight from the tapped tree, live out your lumberjack fantasies, or do some scenic hiking.

Well, our advice is to do that now. Like, before reading It.

It takes the idea of a scenic, small New England town and turns it on its dang head. Inspired in part by the folk tale of the Billy Goats Gruff—you know, where goats have to outwit a nasty troll that lives under a bridge—Stephen King ponders the question at the forefront of everyone's minds: what would happen if you updated the fable? And replaced "bridge" with "a small town in Maine," "billy goats" with "seven misfit children" and "troll" with "an ancient being of unspeakable evil that usually dresses like a murder clown"?

Yeah. Stephen King has a weird, sicko mind. We're really glad he chose to be a horror novelist and not, say, a kindergarten teacher.

It is considered by many to be King's magnum opus, the bloody maraschino cherry on top of the poisonous sundae that is his body of work. It's terrifying, thrilling, and weighs in at more than a thousand pages. A beach read? Sure…if you want to end up being scared of sand.

At its heart, It is a story of good vs. evil, played out over the course of twenty-seven years. In 1958, a mysterious force that usually appears in terrifying killer clown form is haunting the town of Derry, Maine. It's killing kiddos, making things that shouldn't bleed (photo albums, bathroom sinks) spray geysers of blood, and generally causing a ruckus. Enter the Losers: a band of seven scrappy kids that combine their strength in order to trounce It.

Except…it doesn't really work. In 1985, the Losers have grown into amnesiac-and-haunted-yet-pretty-freaking-wealthy adults, and they're summoned back to Derry for one more go 'round with the Big Bad Clown. They need to sift through scattered memories—make that horrific scattered memories—to remember how to best It.

Over more than a thousand pages, King manages to do a few things:

  1. create a moving portrait of childish and mature friendship, and

  2. write a dozen or so of the most pants-wettingly scary scenes in all of fiction.

It also managed to get Hollywood super-interested. This spawned the OG 1990 miniseries, starring Tim Curry as a Pennywise that really, really needs to get to the dentist. And then, twenty-seven years later—oooh, we see what you did there!—the feature film version of It brought nightmares to a whole new generation. The 2017 It just focused on the childhood adventures of the Losers but, since it was such a massive box-office smash, 2019 brought about It: Chapter 2, which pits Pennywise against the middle-aged Loser crew.

And, honestly, we'd be shocked if 2044 (or 2046, depending on how you're counting) doesn't supply a cinematic Pennywise to fit that mid-2040s aesthetic.

But, honestly, it's better to start with It in book form. Because as terrifying as Bill Skarsgård is in the role of Pennywise, if there's one thing It teaches us it's that the scariest images come from the depths of your psyche.

Do you sleep with a nightlight? No? Well, you probably will after reading It. Or: do you have an irrational fear of sewer systems? No? That will change after you read It.

And don't even get us started on the circus. Much like a trip to scenic rural Maine, we suggest you hit up Barnum & Bailey before you dive into this novel. Because you're definitely going to be a teensy bit clown-and-balloon-phobic after finishing It.

What is It About and Why Should I Care?

One word: fear.

Stephen King is a household name. This dude is synonymous with bringing the chills, from Carrie to Misery to Pet Semetary to The Mist. And King regards It as his "final exam" on horror.

Let's hand the mic to Stevie himself for a quick sec:

I would be asked, “What happened in your childhood that makes you want to write those terrible things?” I couldn’t think of any real answer to that. And I thought to myself, “Why don’t you write a final exam on horror, and put in all the monsters that everyone was afraid of as a kid? Put in Frankenstein, the werewolf, the vampire, the mummy, the giant creatures that ate up New York in the old B movies. Put ’em all in there.

(http://entertainment.time.com/2009/11/09/stephen-king-on-his-10-longest-novels/slide/it-1986/)

So that "final exam" sounds kind of like "final exam + years of therapy"—a novel that takes into account every possible childhood fear, and what might have turned a bright young dude from Portland, Maine into the "King of Horror."

King is able to shoehorn so many scaries (from werewolves to mummies) into one book by creating one of the most indelible villains ever written. It shows up as various movie monsters, takes a turn as a giant spider, moonlights as a severed head, and spends most of his time as the super-chilling Pennywise The Dancing Clown. And the reason It's able to wear so many (really horrifying) hats is because It is…fear.

This elevates It from mere monster novel to a weirdly moving and philosophic treatise on the nature of fear: how fear impacts our lives, how we live with it and avoid it, and how childhood fear differs from adult fear. When you read It, your heart is pounding from the many, many scares…and your brain is puzzling from the meditations on how, to quote FDR, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Er—let's tweak that quote a bit. Because if we've learned one thing from It, it's that we have two things to fear: fear itself, and clowns. 

It Resources

Websites

The King Himself
It's Stephen King's official website. What more could you ask for?

The Next Chapter
Want to get a sneak peek of It: Chapter 2? Want to relieve the horrors of It: Chapter 2? Either way, go here.

Movie or TV Productions

Tim Curry With Bad Teeth
In 1990, the OG It miniseries dropped. Some people love it, some people don't…but everyone agrees that Curry's Pennywise is awesome.

Movies or TV Productions

Twenty-Seven Years Later…
…the It movie hit theaters. Updated for prime 80's nostalgia, this scary little gem was a box-office smash.

But That Was Only The Beginning…
Because two years later, we got the second installment. The Losers are back, and this time they're all grown up.

Articles and Interviews

Stephen In Paris
King does the obligatory "Art of Fiction" interview in the prestigious Paris Review.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving
King talks to EW about the second adaptation of his chilling magnum opus.

Uncut And Unpublished
Never mind the provocative title—here's King talking to some fans on the other side of the pond, circa 2000.

Video

King Talks Movie Magic
Here's our boy Stephen, talking about the 2017 adaptation of It.

It, the Trailer
Um, we're scared already.

It: Chapter Two Trailer
Okay, now we're definitely freaked out.

Official Tease
Jezebel.com says that this teaser trailer for Chapter Two is "a fine scary movie on its own." We agree.

Audio

Music For A Haunted House
…especially if you live on Neibolt Street. Rock the spooky tunes from the It soundtrack at your next Halloween party.

Music For A Haunted House…For 90's Kids
The music from the 1990 It miniseries has a bit of that sweet '80s synth going on.

Images

Tim Curry Is Creepy
That is one ugly clown—Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries.

Bill Skarsgård Is Creepy
That is one ugly clown–Pennywise from the 2017/2019 movies.

The Losers In Action!
The dream team, getting in deep in the 2017 film.

Collectors Items, All
Here are ten different covers of Stephen King's It…a book that's still selling strong.

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