The End of IT All by Tres Crow
I was ten going on eleven when I read IT for the first time. It was the first real adult book I ever read. Like many a child of the 80’s, I started my horror journey with the unsettlingly mundane violence of Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine before exploring the dark imagery of the Scary Stories trilogy. I don’t know why, but I liked scary stuff, stories that pushed the boundaries of my small town midwestern bubble. So, by the time I was 10 I was ready for something more.
Like Ben Hanscomb, I spent a great deal of time at the library. Weekends, I’d ride my bike to the library and spend hours reading and wandering. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, and I was already a full-blown bibliophile, hoarding and cataloging my books like a dragon with his piles of gold. So, to my 10 year old self, libraries were a wonder. Like Ben, I too spent most of my time in the children’s section, trying to find a ghost story book I hadn’t already read. But, occasionally I’d make my way to the adult section, where the true mysteries were hidden. I’d wander the aisles and run my hands along the spines of the rows and rows of books. Sometimes, I’d pull out a volume that looked interesting and simply stare at the cover. I’d then flip through it, read a few sentences, and admire the poetry of the language.
It was 1990 and the IT miniseries with Tim Curry was about to come out, so it was being promoted like crazy. The name Stephen King was everywhere, invoked in these horrifying ad spots of clowns and blood and fear, like a talismanic speakeasy code word. I didn’t know what Stephen King was, but I knew he was something to be feared. Needless to say, I was very intrigued.
It didn’t take me long to realize the “K” aisle in the adult fiction section was the place to be. Between Dean Koontz and Stephen King, no other section held more interesting book covers for a burgeoning 10 year old horror fan than the “K” aisle in the adult fiction section at the Grand Haven Public Library. There were shelves and shelves of endless fascination, every nook and cranny filled with mystery and terror.
Then, one day I saw it. There. Two letters that would change everything for me. IT. Blood red, stamped like the product of some unearthly typewriter. IT. I pulled it off the shelf and turned it over to look at the cover. My god. The scaly claw reaching out from the drain. The small paper boat with the word S.S. Georgie on the side. And dominating it all, those two letters. IT.
I have never been more attracted to a book in my entire life. Not before, and not since. I felt it calling to me, like a siren’s song. I was legitimately afraid, too, underneath it all. Fear and excitement were wrapped up together, but I knew I had to read this book.
In the end, the librarian had to call my parents to get permission for me to borrow the book. I was 10 after all. But wonder of wonders my mom said yes and allowed me to leave that place with 1100 pages of pure horror magic. I sat on a bench outside the library and started in immediately, letting the early autumn wind tickle through my hair, my bike forgotten at the bike rack feet away.
I finished the first chapter before I looked up and realized I should be heading home. I read about 11 year old Bill Denbrough, who wanted to be a writer like me, who had a little brother named George. I read about Georgie’s ill-fated boating trip in the autumn rain. I read about a monster that comes alive every 27 or so years to feed on the fears and flesh of children. It was so brutal and unfair and potently alive. I’d never read anything like it before. In Stephen King’s hands, children weren’t safe anymore. They were the main victims, their parents unable to save them from the inevitability of death. Like Richie as he walks into Georgie’s room with Bill, the reality of my own death washed over me. It was terrifying, but for the first time I felt like an author wasn’t lying to me, wasn’t pulling any punches. This was life, and life meant death, even for the very young.
And yet, the kids weren’t just victims. They were also the heroes. They had strength and certainty and intelligence. They found they could overcome their problems without their parents. That was another powerful lesson.
Reading IT when I was 10 was a transcendent experience. It overlaid almost too perfectly with my life. I, too, was a loser, a chubby ginger-haired bookworm with few friends, who spent all his time writing stories, reading books, and roaming around his small town on his bike, exploring the historical oddities, and vacant lots, and swampy areas, imagining Pennywise was around every corner, in every alley, every drain. I was the Losers: I wanted to be a writer like Bill, I was a bookworm like Ben, I was frail and prissy like Eddie, fearful like Stan, I was a history buff like Mike, I was ADD like Richie, and I was afraid of growing up like Bev. I was all of them at once, and I was the same age as them as they faced their fears, and bested the monster.
It was the single most cathartic media experience I’ve ever had in my life, the sort of mind meld that can only happen once, at the right age, at the right time. I feel honored to have experienced it.
But the beauty of IT is not just that it’s a tale of children learning to face their fears. It’s also the story of growing up, of the fears of children and adults, of realizing that adults are just grown up children, with no more confidence or knowledge or ability than their 10 year old selves. They’re just bigger, more brittle, more vulnerable.
And now I’m 38 going on 39, the exact age of the Losers when they come back to Derry to face Pennywise and their own aging selves. It’s been a little over 27 years since I read IT for the first time, making the virtual mind meld complete. I’m one of a small but truly unique cohort of horror readers who managed to come of age with this spell-binding book in real time. It is not just the tale of the Losers; it’s the story of my life too. And while I’m sure the universality of IT will lend itself well to future adaptations, today marks the release of my generation’s definitive Hollywood take. It marks the virtual end of my lifelong obsession with this incredible book, these gorgeous characters, and with my own identification with it.
Certainly, I will revisit it many more times throughout my life, but from here on out I will be older than the characters in the book. If there are future adaptations, they won’t be mine or for me. They will belong to a new generation of readers and film buffs. And I’m glad for that, to see this book, which has had so much influence on my life, be picked up by generation after generation of young readers. But my time is passing, and that’s not without a bit of sadness.
For three decades I have wrestled with this book, cried over its characters, drawn influence and inspiration from its epic scope, and looked to it as one might look into a mirror. It helped me feel less alone when I was 10, and as I’ve grown into an adult, with children and a life of my own, it’s helped me understand better what it is to be a man, to live and lose and manage the slow decline of life. No other single work of fiction has ever come close to matching my affection for this wonderful story. And what more could one ask for from a work of art than to find meaning in its pages at every age? It has done this for me. It’s been my best literary friend, and I owe Mr. King a massive debt of gratitude for offering me his own childhood, his own fears, and his own adult sense of loss so graciously. Thank you to Mr. King, the Losers, and the incredible family of Constant Readers for a lifetime of joy and catharsis.
Tonight, the theater lights will go down and I’ll grin like a loon as I prepare to visit Derry one last time. My time with Pennywise and the Losers may be coming to an end, but if Instagram is any sort of indication, it’s in great hands with the next generation of constant readers.
I’ve grown up now. It’s time to put away childish things.
But, every once in a while, when I pause from my writing and look out at the daylit street below, the breeze tickling the trees, I can see the shadow of my 10 year old self, sailing on his bike, shouting, “Hi-yo Silver, away!” and riding hard to beat the Devil.
“He awakens from this dream unable to remember exactly what it was, or much at all beyond the simple fact that he has dreamed about being a child again. He thinks it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood...its beliefs and desires. I will write about all this one day, he thinks, and knows it’s just a dawn thought, and after-dreaming thought. But it’s nice to think so for awhile in the morning’s clean silence, to think that childhood has its own sweet secrets and confirms mortality, and that mortality defines all courage and love. To think that what has looked forward must also look back, and that each life makes its own imitation of immortality; a wheel.
Or so he sometimes thinks on those early mornings after dreaming, when he almost remembers his childhood, and the friends whom he shared it,.”
-Stephen King, IT, 1986