If you follow me on Twitter in any way (I haven’t been terribly active there; working an 8-5 job cut back considerably on my social media time), you might have noticed that I mentioned that I was reading It by Stephen King.
I ended up checking this book out because I was looking for Tony Hillerman novels and happened to stumble across King’s section while in the middle of that search.* Now, I know that this book is regarded as a horror classic, but I knew nothing about it other than that there was an evil clown that had, in the film adaption, been played by Tim Curry.
That was literally all I knew about it.
So I figured that it couldn’t be that bad. Right?
Now two things before going on: 1) I’m still reading it, currently at about page 200 and 2) I’m coming down with a cold. So 1) this is not a review, and 2) you might want to take it with a grain of salt when I say that this book is utterly terrifying to me.
Terrifying as in, I woke up last night at about one this morning and could not fall asleep again for the life of me. Now at this point, I was not at page 200- I think the clown had only made an appearance twice. Nonetheless I was absolutely convinced that every creak in the apartment foreboded either Pennywise’s presence or the coming of something horrible to to tear me to shreds.
This was likely heightened by my impending cold. Nevertheless for the rest of the night I was in the grip of that heart-thumping terror where you don’t want to want to breath too loudly and are terrified that any sudden move will attract the attention of something with teeth. I honestly haven’t had that feeling since I was in 8th grade and had just watched Signs.**
After getting to work and spending some hours in the daylight, I was trying to decide if I should be embarrassed by that. I mean, when it comes down to it, it basically means that I’m still scared of things that go bump in the night. It means that words on a page can still freak me out to the point that I can lose a significant amount of sleep.
So is that a sign that I haven’t really grown up yet? Given that I’m not yet twenty-one, I certainly haven’t hit peak maturity (at least I hope I haven’t because I still tend to have angry meltdowns when I get hit with certain kinds of obstacles). But I remember asking myself- as I went through work a little more bleary-eyed than normal- if that was something to be ashamed of. I still let words get to me. I still let ink on a page conjure monsters in the dark.
Perhaps this is something I should be embarrassed by a decade from now, but for now, I’m really glad that I still had that moment of heart-stopping terror. Because it means I haven’t forgotten how to let the unknown have power. Yes, I should probably find a way to get over my fear of the dark soon, but for now, I think I’m okay with the fact that this book scared me so much. For one thing, it’s hard to find a book that does a good job being truly scary. And for another, I’m glad that I haven’t forgotten how to get so lost in a book that I can imagine something wholly terrifying.
Every now and again it’s good to get a reminder that shadows can be frightening, and not just because, to paraphrase Hitchcock, fear is an emotion we like to feel when we know we’re safe. There’s something terrifying about the unknown and the inexplicable, even if there’s theoretically an explanation out there. It’s good to get a reminder that maybe we should feel a little twinge when pushing back against the mysteries of the universe. Not necessarily because they might yield evil clowns, but because they might yield things that are better not brought to light. We live in an age where discovery is kind of the battlecry of our world, and I think that a warning about where that battlecry could lead is never out of place.
Even if, in a horror story, it’s standard procedure to ignore the warnings before going into the haunted house.
*Look, it’s a university library and they have weird cataloging systems. You could be looking for sci-fi and find Goethe’s Faust in the original German right next to the spaceships.
** Yes, yes, I’ve head all the mockery about how this movie isn’t scary, but if you’re in that camp, you can put a lid on it for now because it was- and still kind of is- incredibly terrifying to me. THAT CORNFIELD SCENE UGH.