In September, I suggested a reading order for the extended universe of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a series I loved, but hadn't read any of since Volume 7: The Dark Tower came out in 2004. I realized that I missed the characters from the series, and wondered if the reading order I suggested would really hold someone's interest all the way through. I scoured some local bookstores, and then the internet for the hardcovers of the books, and prepared for my quest to read a Super Long series of books.
The last entry focused mainly on memories and false memories. That continued to plague me throughout the whole reading experience. I expected it. It was to a much higher degree than I expected, but I knew going in that I wasn't going to accurately remember a book I read when I was twelve. What I wasn't expecting was that the reactions I had would be similar.
If you ask most people who Stephen King is, they will tell you he is a horror writer from Maine. This is somewhat true. But when I think "horror", I think Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The Thirteenth, Cabin In The Woods. I think of movies where a group of flawed mostly idiots are meticulously murdered in horrible fashions. I think of jumping in movie theater seats and spilling popcorn. I think of sleeping with a nightlight on. I think of bad writing with horrible effects. I don't think much of Stephen King.
We are thirteen sections into this chronology, and there hasn't been a lot of horror.
The Stand (entries 1-3) is an apocalyptic story about the dangers of science and religion. People die horribly from a plague, and then from simple human shittiness (which was also a huge factor in the plague). It tends to be categorized as "post-apocalyptic fiction", even though much of the book is the step of the apocalypse and the apocalyptic act. Imagine if 60% of The Matrix was Keanu Reeves working his office job , and he didn't choose a pill until fifteen minutes before the end of the film. Imagine if Mad Max was mostly about the structure of the Australian highway patrol until a biker gang shows up 2/3rds of the way through the film. Imagine if Planet Of The Apes spent most of the first movie being about scientific trials on primates instead of...wait...they made that movie, didn't they? Nevermind. The point is, it's arguably not post-apocalyptic, but it's definitely not horror.
The Eyes Of The Dragon (section 4) is straight up European castle fantasy. It's an bedtime bedtime story, which may explain how difficult it was for me to stay awake while reading it.
The Little Sisters Of Eluria (section 5) and The Gunslinger (section 7) are both western motif fantasy. Yea, there are vampires in one, and a wizard in the other, but its really a coming of age story about a badass kid becoming a loner adult in a properly post-apocalyptic world.
Everything's Eventual (section 6) is a coming of age tale with a sci-fi twist. Not "Twilight Zone" or "Black Mirror", more a really intriguing 90s TV sci-fi show with no effects budget (so, I guess, "The Dead Zone").
The Shining (section 8) is the first sort-of horror. But it's not the mummy or the serial killer tracking anyone down. It's a sort of haunted house story, only you don't see anybody die. It's like a ghost hunters TV show where a bunch of people stay overnight in a haunted house, and jump at shadows. They always feel the threat, but bodies aren't being racked up over the course of their stay. So, it's horrifying, but not Scream Queen Horror.
The Drawing Of The Three (section 9) and "Jake: Fear In A Handful Of Dust" (section 10) are, like all of the books in the chronology, speculative fiction, but I'm not sure which subgenre to put them in. They're technically post-apocalyptic because Roland's world has suffered an apocalypse, but huge swaths of the book take place in New York City at times when it was still thriving. It's about addiction, and trauma, and mental illness, but it doesn't present a monster with needles for hands, and the mental illness doesn't turn the person into a subhuman monster, but into a pain in the ass. All of the monsters in the book were humans without powers. And while plenty of people died tragically (and a couple horrifically) in the books, their deaths weren't the driving point of the book.
Salem's Lot (section 11) is a vampire book. The first proper horror book. But it didn't feel monster movie horror to me. It's the way "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is vampirey, and therefore horror, but also not very horrifying, even with all the death. I'm occasionally afraid for the characters, and sad at some deaths, but it's not Jump Out Of Your Seat Horror.
Which brings us to It (sections 12-14). It is horror. Yes, at it's core it's about a town's willingness to overlook tragedies when it's not convenient for them. It's about ignoring children's trauma. It's about the inaccuracies of memory. But it's also about a terrifying supernatural creature who sometimes looks like a clown who Murders Children for reasons that aren't truly explained. Because a full explanation would rob the villain of some of its terror.
I don't get scared by books. Movies can frighten me while they're on, but once they're over, I'm more likely to dwell on plot holes than I am to worry that the villain is hiding under my bed or dangling from my ceiling. It had the same effect.
Part of this is that, once the initial death scene takes place, so much of the book is making you care for the main characters. And unlike most horror movies/stories, we don't watch them get methodically picked off throughout the course of the book. We are constantly experiencing new characters just to see them die, while, due to the way time in the book is set up, we Know that most of the main characters are going to live until, at least, just about the end. But you're still terrified for them.
I think that having this be the first horror book I ever read is why I don't enjoy most horror books. For me, this book didn't invert tropes I was familiar with. So when I read a book with tropes, I thought it was garbage because I'd already read something that didn't waste its time setting up the The Rules for the Scream franchise. Also, unlike most horror, the villain doesn't have a set appearance or a set way to kill. Pennywise is happy to slice your fingers off through a picture, turn into a werewolf and chase you through a house, possess children or family members to beat you to death, fight you on the fucken astral plane like it was the goddamned Shadow King, pull your arm off, turn into a massive ugly statue and smush you, or whatever would get the job done. And, unlike Freddy Krueger, it doesn't wait for you to fall asleep, it is happy to kill you in broad daylight in front of a huge crowd of people.
Pennywise is terrifying because Pennywise doesn't give a fuck who sees it murder people because most people can't see it, or else forget about it as soon as it was out of sight. It's obviously part Weeping Angel. And also part Racnoss.
Of course, being a Stephen King book, It is not satisfied with being a Horror Genre book, non-horror related trauma plays as much of a role as the monster.
Much of the second and third section of It deals with the terrible things that happen to kids before they can properly cope, and then how, as grownups, we still can't cope with the things that happened to us when we're young. But instead of having Pennywise serve as a metaphor for the trauma, he is an additional trauma to the variety of things the kids never truly overcome: parental abuse, racism, anti-semitism, monstrously overprotective parents, speech impediments, body issues, and not knowing when to shut the fuck up.
--it took me several weeks to decide whether or not to post this because it just didn't seem as necessary to me as previous posts
--it took me forever to get through this book,not because of its length or quality but because I was working on other projects
--I was worried, since I hadn't read It for twenty-eightish years that I wouldn't connect with it as much, but I still do really like this book
--if you've read this far, you've grown 4,372 pages older