Kendare Blake lives and writes in Washington state, with cats and a husband who critique the work. Her first literary novel, Sleepwalk Society, recently won a 2011 Indie Excellence Award for crossover fiction. Her second novel, Anna Dressed in Blood, is YA horror, and will be released August 30, 2011, with a sequel to follow in 2012.
When Courtney approached me to write a guest post about my favorite horror novel, at first I thought, well, how am I going to determine that? There are so many. And they are all excellent for different reasons. But if I really thought about it, there’s only one horror novel that has simultaneously scared the bejeezus out of me, made me smile uncontrollably, and left me so empty that I was sure I’d been born with no soul. And that novel is Stephen King’s IT.
Oh, it’s unassuming. But it will eat the goodness right out of your heart.
So what’s so great about it? Well, for a start, it turned “it” into a proper noun. I’m being serious here. Just as in Harry Potter, where fear of the name Voldemort increased the fear of the thing, King’s creation of a villain that defied all names put IT outside of labels and definition. What is IT? It is beyond your comprehension. Don’t worry about it. It’s just going to kill you, and not tell you why. There. Is. No. Why.
In IT, King created something primal, something inherently evil, and then set it loose on a group of kids so well-rendered that they might have been your friends from down the block. The joy of the scares in this novel is that they play on our childhood fears. The fear of scary movies, the fear of spiders, the fear of the thing in the basement. Everything you ever worried about, it was true.
But that isn’t all. King also delivers a wealth of frightening imagery, and throws in some creeps off-page as well. Some of the best (or worst, depending on your level of psychopathy) moments in the novel occur in the fates of minor characters, such as the fate of the boy who liked to torture animals, or the missing child lying in torn apart ruin just beyond the main characters’ favorite place to play.
The reason that I chose this as my favorite horror novel, though, isn’t just for the scares. I’ve read scarier things. I’ve read gorier things. But I’ll always think of IT as a masterclass. King manages to roll several novels into one here. It’s really just as touching as it is terrifying. As hopeful as it is sad. JJ Abrams and Spielberg need to get together and put this to film in a way that captures the magic, mystery and danger that is childhood and its friendships. But I hear Super 8 did that already. Balls.
Sure, IT isn’t a perfect novel. The beginning could have done with a touch of cutting, and there’s something toward the end that is so disturbing that I can’t even mention it. And I don’t mean Leatherface disturbing. I mean…Anthony Weiner disturbing. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. Still, I wholeheartedly recommend this novel. If you haven’t read it, do. And if you have, perhaps it would make a nice selection for this year’s All Hallow’s Read (Halloween is now a reading holiday. Thanks Neil Gaiman!)
To sum it up, the last virtue of IT: that it further cemented an entire generation’s natural fear of clowns.