Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Story of It

For some reason, my favorite authors tend to be rather wordy.

Most of my reading preferences were inherited from my parents, I suppose. From my father, I got my appreciation for the works of James Michener — and if you have ever picked up even one of his novels, you know that they were usually more than 1,000 pages long.

My mother leaned to somewhat shorter — although still lengthy by many people's standards — works by the likes of Mark Twain and Allen Drury.

Mom and I discovered the books by Stephen King at about the same time. For awhile, we would read King's books and exchange them when we had finished, getting double mileage from each paperback.

I forget which of us read which books first; I only know that we both read "The Shining," "The Stand" and "Carrie" — and others — over the course of the same summer. I still have those books on my bookshelf.

By 1986, I was living on my own, and I don't know if Mom ever read King's book that was published on this day that year, "It," but I did.

A friend of mine was a big fan of King's work and always got his books in hardback. I borrowed "It" from her a month or two after it came out. I enjoyed it, savored it, as I did every Stephen King book.

The book was typical Stephen King fare, I suppose, but with a unique plot — one that was probably a little better than most. It told the story of a group of seven friends who bonded as children to battle a malevolent creature known mostly as "It" who terrorized a small town in Maine.

It preyed mostly on children and seemed to go into hibernation for decades at a time, but, when not hibernating, It frequently appeared to people in the form of a seemingly benevolent clown named Pennywise. And Pennywise had razor–sharp teeth.

In spite of that, the seven faced down the creature and made a pledge to return to Maine if It was ever aroused again. They reunited as adults to intervene again when It awakened from its slumber so two stories were being told simultaneously.

Many people knew little about the book until four years later, when ABC aired a two–part adaptation that starred, among others, Tim Curry, John Ritter, Richard Thomas and Annette O'Toole. Curry, incidentally, played Pennywise.

I thought the adaptation was good, but it couldn't match the book, which was understandable for several reasons.

For one thing, you simply couldn't dramatize everything, even in a three–hour made–for–TV movie.

And that was for the same reason that most adaptations of King's works eventually fall short of his fans' expectations: so much of what takes place in a Stephen King novel is mental — often a person's perceptions of what might be real and what might not.

I learned long ago that Stephen King likes to play with your head — and it's probably for the best to allow him to do so because he's going to take you on an exciting ride, whether someone brings it to the screen or not.

And "It" was a pretty good ride, indeed.