Not Just Another Killer Clown Scare Fest
Discussing Stephen King without mentioning It is almost as hard as discussing the horror genre without mentioning King himself. The story revolves around a group of children who call themselves “The Losers Club” and have to face an evil, terrifying entity that awakens every 27 years and often disguises itself as Pennywise the Dancing Clown to lure its potential victims and feed on their fears.
Since its very first release in 1986, It was met with unanimous acclaim and tremendous success. It was nominated for a best-selling fiction book of the year, received nominations at multiple literary awards, and adapted into successful movie adaptations – 2017’s It is, to this day, the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. But what are the reasons behind this success? Why can It be considered King’s best work as well as one of the best horror novels of all time? Read on for a more precise analysis.
It Kicked Off The Concept Of Killer Clowns
Clowns have always been creepy. There’s something unsettling behind that cheerful makeup that gives these characters a powerful yet scary aura. There have been a lot of psychological studies on why clowns have had such a fortune in the horror genre. While the concept of the killer clown can be traced back to popular folklore, it’s undeniable that the haunting image of Pennywise has shot this very concept into stardom.
The idea of a supernatural being shapeshifting into our deepest fears is disturbing, and the fear of making its victims’ flesh taste better adds a feral, terrifying touch that makes it seem almost like a witch from a fairy tale. However, that is but one reason for Pennywise’s success. Its striking appearance as a middle-aged man dressed in a colorful clown costume became iconic over time. King revealed he took inspiration from famous clowns like Clarabel or Ronald McDonald, making it deeply unsettling due to the juxtaposition of its joyful looks and its murderous nature – an uncertain balance between fascinating and terrifying. Despite the thorough descriptions of Pennywise in the novel, it was Tim Curry’s nightmarish performance in the miniseries It (1990) that truly traumatized an entire generation before Bill Skarsgård took on the clown makeup for the 2017 adaptation, making the modern version of Pennywise even scarier with the help of special effects.
Fear Is Both Form And Content
When stating that It’s main theme is fear, one might argue that it’s a horror novel, after all, and fear is the distinctive trait of the horror genre. Stephen King goes further, using fear not only as the narrative paradigm of his work but also and especially as the topic that is pondered the most.
Virtually anyone associates the character of It, meaning the demonic entity haunting the town of Derry and its children, with Pennywise. However, It is an ancient shapeshifting entity, and it can assume multiple appearances based on what its victims are afraid of the most. This peculiar yet defining aspect ties directly to the theme of fear. It leverages children’s weaknesses, and it’s interesting to see how these fears have both a childlike aspect to them (one kid is afraid of a werewolf, another of a mummy) and a much more grounded and realistic one. Beverly is terrified of her abusive father, while Bill is traumatized by the death of his little brother, Georgie. By creating the character of It, King not only creates a series of nightmarish scenarios to horrify the audience but explores the deeper meaning of fear, how it ties to the human subconscious, and ultimately ponders how to overcome it. It’s really all about this rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.
It’s One Of King’s Most Intimate Stories
Speaking of this passage, what makes this novel Stephen King’s best horror work is the profoundness and complexity of its topics. As stated before, fear is the main theme, but the truth is that It is so much more than a straight-up horror novel. By confronting the monster, the Losers quite literally face their own fears, and that marks their evolution from innocent children to mature adults. However, the relationship between these two dimensions is not as easy or direct as one might think, as there’s no distinct line separating the two. The weight of childhood trauma still lurks beneath the surface of adulthood, conditioning their lives like an ineffable, much more dangerous entity. That is the reason why the story is actually divided into two parts – one set in the 50s when the protagonists are children, and one set in the 80s when they’re all grown up and yet still need to tie all the loose ends from when they were younger.
Another important topic is the power of union. When taken individually, every kid in the Losers Club is easy prey to the cunning It. Still, when they join forces and realize the power of mutual trust and sacrifice, they are finally able to overcome their fears and defeat the evil creature once and for all.
It’s no wonder that It has had such an impact on worldwide literature, particularly the horror genre. By 1986, Stephen King had already proved how a horror novel could be a powerful tool to explore and address real-life issues, a notion that later influenced hundreds of literary and cinematic works in the following years. However, what truly sets this novel apart is the combination of multi-faceted themes, a charismatic and truly terrifying villain, and a deep allegory on the passage from childhood innocence to adulthood.
The two Andy Muschietti-directed adaptations of It, along with the 1990 miniseries, are currently streaming on Max.
It (2017) Warner Bros. Official Trailer