So let me get this out of the way, I’m a BIG reader. I always have at least one book going on, maybe a few magazines, etc. I read quickly, and I enjoy it. Stephen King’s IT originally came out in 1986, and during my senior year of high school (1992; yes, I’m old!) I went on sort of a Stephen King binge fest after my father bought me The Stand. I devoured that book and have read it at least three more times since then. Of the 90 or so King’s written I’ve probably read a third of them. He started to lose me a bit with The Dark Tower series. The Stand is probably my favorite book hands down. Love it, great read. And then came IT. A gift from my Dad originally, I tried to read it three different times that year. I couldn’t get past the first 100 or so pages. And maybe I shouldn’t even get started on that disaster of a miniseries.
The miniseries originally came out in 1990, but I wasn’t into King at the time, so I passed it on by. But one night,my friends and I were bored and decided to give it a try. BIG mistake! HUGE! (Yes, I say that in my best Julia Roberts voice.) I do think Tim Curry did the best he could, and it was an early 90’s TV miniseries. I get budget constraints, but a weak script? Over acting? Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan.
Then news of the IT movie started to surface here recently. Although I rarely let nostalgia get the best of me when it comes to horror, I found myself watching the trailers, news, and reviews. I found myself waiting… excitedly. So much so, that I was even getting my outfit ready for the premiere. I’ve been so anxious that I also decided to give the book another shot, and come hell or high water I was going to finish it.
And I did. I admit, it took me WAY too long. I can read The Stand (every page, every single word) in under a week. This took me about three weeks of targeted reading. I decided to read a certain number of pages a day. The more I read the more I understood my problem with it, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, let me say this about the book. It was good. The miniseries came off campy, but this book set up a tone of true dread. The children’s fear in the book was palpable. I felt Ben’s fear when Henry tortured him, and I smiled as only a mother could when he thought about his love for Beverly. I hurt for Bill when he spoke of his dead brother. I disliked the bullies, and adored the children that grew up within the 1400+plus pages of this book. In short, King created a town besieged by an evil presence, and he did it well, yet something was gnawing at me.
So, it’s summer and we took our RV out. I always bring a book to read, and I finally figured it out.
“I GOT IT!” I squealed to my husband. He was working for a few hours while I was reading.
“What did you get, honey?” I could tell he was just humoring me, as he preferred to just wait for the movie.
And I shared with him what was bugging me about this book.
Little backstory… I’ve always enjoyed reading. (Did I already mention that?) When we lived in Okinawa, my father would fly back to the states for work. Before he left, he’d ask us if we wanted anything. I told him I wanted a book, a good scary one, and he came back with a book called Phantoms by Dean Koontz. Now, I’d already read a book from Koontz called Lightning. (Another one of my favorites!) I had told my father how much I liked it, so he got this book. And I loved it. I think I read it in one weekend.
Phantoms came out about three years earlier than IT. In this book, sisters Lisa and Jenny Paige come home to their small little ski resort village, and it’s empty. The sisters find a few bodies, each bloated and locked in pain. They also find many people simply gone. After doing a bit more exploring, they are able to get ONE call out, and the cavalry comes. They try to leave unsuccessfully. Sheriff Bryce Hammond rides in with a few of his deputies. Some survive, most don’t. They are then able to get another call out and the CDC comes in, along with Timothy Flyte – the man with the answers. I won’t give too much away, but let’s just say the parallels are uncanny. Phantoms has adults fighting an evil that can’t be named or contained. Sure, IT uses the children at first, but this idea that evil might not necessarily be a specific character, but more a force, an ideal if you will… well… Koontz did it first, and dare I say, he did it better!
IT clocks in at over 1450 pages long – at least my copy did. I know it’s a HUGE story. The kids defeat it once, and then they are called back. I get it. To properly tell the story, time and therefore pages are needed, yet SO MUCH of this was filler, and much of it was a mess. If you’ve read the book, you know there is one particular scene that’s just YUCK! Was that needed? Phantoms is about 375 pages long. Not too short, but not overly long either. Nor does Koontz skimp on the lead-in or the ending. The story is concise and moves along at a rapid-fire pace. You get invested in the characters because he crafts his story well.
While nostalgia rarely influences my opinion on movies, I don’t know if I can say the same for books. Phantoms was a gift from my dad. He took the time to find something he thought I would like. I still have that book. It traveled with me to college, into a bad marriage, out of that bad marriage, and I still had it with me when I found The Husband. I’ve read it, it’s dog eared, and the cover is ripped. I even saw the rather campy movie (a young Ben Affleck is in it!) and enjoyed it for what it was. But that book was dynamite! I saw the characters in my mind. I fought alongside them and cheered for them. When they lost someone, I shed a tear.
After reading both books, I truly think King drew heavily from Phantoms. The endings are similar, characters share the same qualities, even the setting is similar. There is even the proverbial red herring thrown in.
After finishing IT, I do recommend the book. You can bet I was first in line to see the movie! King weaves a complex tale of love lost, and then found again. Good triumphs over evil, and knowing that your friends have your back can get you through anything.
But, if you want a faster pace and more action, pick up Phantoms.
Or maybe read both, and see if you pick up on the similarities.