What is something that is supposed to entertain and make you laugh, but in reality causes many to break out in sweat and triggers nausea, dread, tears, and anger as the fear takes over? I am of course talking about clowns, and one in particular that has arrived back on our screens to remind us all that we still haven’t gotten over ‘It’. Pennywise.
When I heard that Stephen King’s classic novel was being adapted for the big screen, it sent a shiver down my spine. Then there it was, bigger than ever before, on billboards, on the side of buses, and in my social media feed. There was no escape as the childhood memories came flooding back. The red balloon. Pennywise in the drain. Georgie. The fear! It also reminded me that this is why Stephen King books are such a pleasure to read.
Even so, King has a lot to answer for by creating a child-eating shape-shifting clown monster. Turning what was for most an enjoyable experience into a living nightmare, and producing a generation of coulrophobics (people who fear clowns).
Of course, we all forgive King for doing what he does best. That is scaring the hell out of us. He is clearly one of the best horror writers of our time, and judging by his long list of bestselling books, his success in this genre is undeniable. The Stand, Carrie, The Shining, and Misery, are just a few other great examples of his works. In 2014 he gave an interview to Rolling Stones magazine where he looked back on four decades of work.
Before reading ‘It’, I had watched the mini-series as a young impressionable child of the 90’s. A few years later, when I realized I wasn’t going to die at the sight of a man wearing face paint, I plucked up the courage to read the book, thinking it would help overcome my fear. Wrong. Like any great horror story, it firmly succeeded in rooting the fear even deeper. As a consequence, it also started a morbid fascination with the horror genre and King’s books in particular.
‘It’ is definitely one King’s most famous novels and is a book of two halves. The first part is set in the 1950s. It follows a group of bullied children who call themselves “The Losers Group”. They are terrorized by a clown, Pennywise, that feeds on the fear of children. The group then set about fighting off the demonic clown. The second part is set 30 years later when Pennywise returns to the town and the terror begins once more. The group, some of whom have become very successful adults, must come together again and encounter the evil clown for a second time.
What Made ‘It’ so Popular?
King was certainly at the height of fame in the mid-80s when he wrote ‘It’. Penning his 18th novel, he was already a master of the genre. He was also an expert at describing and detailing the feeling of fear, especially in children. However, what makes ‘It’ so special is that it goes one step further. It takes the traumatic fearful experiences from childhood and brings them into adulthood. When older, we often think that our fears are gone, but in reality, they are still omnipresent. In ‘It’, we see how the past plays an important role in shaping our future, and how our fears still manifest themselves in our adult lives, but in a different way.
The book was an instant hit, and like a number of his previous titles was adapted for the screen as a TV mini-series a few years later.
Stephen King Adaptations
Even if you don’t it know it, you’ve probably seen a screen adaptation of a King novel. A long list of A-list actors has also played characters created by King. With his descriptive writing style, he has the ability to create psychologically terrifying characters with countless layers and immense depth. It becomes a tremendous challenge for actors to bring these complex beings to life. Notable examples include Kathy Bates as psychotic kidnapper Annie Wilkes in Misery. Christopher Walken as the tormented protagonist Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, and who can forget the mind-blowing performance by Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Now, 30 years since King penned it, It has been adapted for the big screen, starring young Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård ready to instill fear into a new generation as Pennywise.
The release of the movie should also help to reintroduce some of Kings older books back into the mainstream. Although most widely known his horror writing, many of King’s books span other genres including science-fiction, suspense, and fantasy. We’ve selected some of our favorites here: Top 10 Stephen King Books.
You can browse and download free ebooks and audiobooks at digitalbook.io.