On Stephen King and His Work
I have always had a lot to say about Stephen King. If you let me, I would talk your ear off about him for hours, much of it hapless bitching about this and that. But, let me start positive. There is zero doubt that Stephen King is a remarkable writer. No other genre is so synonymous with a single person. His prose flows beautifully, and his ideas are phenomenal. Having said that, the man is very repetitive, and can’t end a book well to save his life.
The biggest argument I hear when stating my opinions on his works, is that I am missing the point. That his novels are not just about silly scares, but about the characters and everything they go through. To that, I say, you ‘re wrong. I absolutely understand what he is doing, and in theory it is wonderful. He loses me when he repeats those character building moments, over and over again. Case in point: In IT, Eddie has an incredibly overbearing mother that has convinced him that he is weak and sickly. He then marries a woman that is exactly the same. This is great stuff. The first chapter with Eddie and his wife, with him leaving her behind to go back to Derry, and his history explained – that chapter is fantastic, and makes Eddie a fully pronounced character. Unfortunately, this same stuff is repeated multiple times throughout the novel; each scene the same as the ones before it. Overbearing mother, yada, yada. By the time Eddie stands up to his mom, we’ve already read about 30 more pages of his plot line than we needed to understand him fully. When you apply this to every other character (and some that don’t matter at all) there are hundreds of pages of unnecessary words. It is very important to me that an author respect my time, and Stephen King is one of the biggest abusers of that privilege.
Luckily, the miniseries and new movie, don’t suffer from these things. There just isn’t enough screen time to overexplain anything. In fact, far more has to get cut completely.
My other main gripe with the content of the novel, is those things that are completely unnecessary. For an example of this, I am going to talk about Mike’s father. In the novel, and this is virtually left out of either movie, Derry is a remarkably racist community. Mike has to deal with some of that, and it adds to his character and the situation that the losers find themselves. However, we are treated to an insanely long series of chapters devoted to the racist things that Mike’s father went through, all of which adds nothing to the plot. It is decent storytelling on its own, but has no place in the book.
On the 1990 Miniseries
The miniseries was a lot of fun when I watched on TV in 1990. I was ten or eleven, and it was spooky. I still have a fondness for Tim Curry’s performance, but I had to long ago face the fact that the movie itself is very bad. A few scenes still entertain, but it didn’t age well at all. The miniseries, worse that the new movie and book, highlights the major shortcoming of the story – that being the “win because we believe” aspect of it. I have never been a fan of this trope, just as I have never liked the idea of “love conquers evil”. I get that IT preys on fear, and that is just fine; good even. I am still ok with IT losing power when the kids face their fear and stand up to it. The story loses me when it goes beyond that, and actually has magic go into rocks, and one object becoming another. I can suspend a lot of disbelief, but I can’t see how a child could suddenly, truly believe that his inhaler is battery acid, so that it becomes such. Etc.
On the New Film
Let me begin by saying that I don’t hate the new movie, I just don’t like it. It is a prime example of the middle of the road. I think many people have nostalgia colored glasses when it comes to this movie, and that in turn built a hype that I personally don’t believe it deserves.
This is getting long, so I am just going to leave a bunch of rhetorical questions right here that sum up a lot of what I think of the film.
What year is this? They say it’s the 80’s but they ride bikes from the 50’s in a town that looks straight out of the same decade. Where are the parents? Other than a handful of times, there are none. If my kid came home with a letter carved on his gut, I would notice and investigate. Even without the gangbang scene from the book, this movie still feels a bit pedophilic. Why would they swim in their underwear? They planned to go swimming, why not wear swim shorts? At 11 years old, or now, I wouldn’t ever go swimming in my underwear if I had a choice. What the hell is with that walking away one at a time scene at the end? Terrible. Where are the magic rocks and slingshot? Why is it that these kids ever thought they could do something about the evil clown in the first place?
A few things I liked: IT’s domain was pretty sweet, as were the floating people. I like that all the racist stuff was left out. I also liked that, even though the “believe and it will happen” stuff is still there, it was minimized. Richie was actually funny. I don’t think there is actually a moment in the book where he makes me laugh, but several in the movie.....Yeah, I guess that's it.
Years ago I found myself twiddling my thumbs at work, tired of trying to look busy while there was nothing to do. My job had incredibly busy times, and totally dead times – there was no in between. On a whim, I went to a manga site and picked one at random to read. It was called Uzumaki, and it completely sucked me in. I had read quite a bit of manga at that point, but never anything like this.
It still stands as the single creepiest comic that I have ever read, and is definitely in the running for creepiest book, period. For those that haven’t read it, you can get a glorious, hardback collected edition here for 20 bucks. The author, Junji Ito, is a master of horror, and has produced an amazing body of work. Check out Gyo or Tomie after you read this one.
The images in the book, some of which you can see in this blog, are incredibly striking, and while the film tries its darndest to interpret them in moving pictures, they just don’t have the same impact for the most part. However, the end of the film is a very strong interpretation of one of the manga’s chapters.
Only half of the book is covered in the film, and that makes since, given the direction the story takes. The entire town begins to get affected by the spiral, not just the people, and as the few that have no succumbed to the power try and escape, they are taken to a very strange place. It would have been very difficult and expensive to pull off the imagery from the ending, but I would really love to see another attempt at covering the full story.
I recommend both the manga and film, but I highly suggest reading it first. Watching the film as more of a curiosity is probably the better bet. I have not come at the movie from the stance of someone that hasn’t read the book, but I can imagine that it may be rather unsatisfying for those that do.
So, you may have guessed that the issue lies in that none of these aspects play out well; or I should say – to my own satisfaction. The “ghost story” ends up being a few pages of nothing spooky. The serial killer is just – whatever. Nothing is really resolved with the family, and what little closure is given seems pointless.
Now, Spoilers: The ghost, Lucy, is the daughter of a serial killer from long ago, who was the cousin of Mark’s mother. When the ghost shows up, all she wants to do is fuck Mark, and bring him into her world. Mark says ok. The End. And, unless I got confused – and I don’t think this is really said in the book – but Mark is banging his own ghost cousin – once removed, of course.
His mother kills herself, and that is one of the two main mysteries. The explanation of that seems to be that she couldn’t face knowing what she knew about what happened in the house, and that didn’t seem – real. So, in the end, the ghost story has no scares, and the serial killer story just kind of, ends. We have a pretty decent backstory on what happened in the house before, and that was undoubtedly the most satisfying part of the book. Then, we have an ending of two young people banging throughout time and space, sending poorly written emails, and badly shot videos to an uncle that I was never convinced was necessary to the story.
Still, the book gets three stars based off of Straub’s writing alone. He is one of the best, there is no doubt about that, and in the hands of a lesser writer, I would never have finished this book. I feel like there is some underlying level of clarity here that I just didn’t find. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that In the Night Room is actually a direct sequel, so maybe that adds something, and I will probably give it a whirl at some point. Also, Timothy Underhill, the writer uncle, is in some of Straub’s other books (that I also haven’t read), So maybe that justifies his placement in this book somehow.
[A] wonderful webwork of a book…It’s funny, and heartwarming, and genuinely scary.”
Sorry Mr. Gaiman, I love everything that you and your wife do, but none of that is true.
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