Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reading It, Part 2


Reading It after dark, while the kids are sleeping soundly, has certainly enhanced the horror inherent in King's story of children either being abducted or living in fear of being abducted. Actually, it's the parents' fear that is most palpable throughout, even though they receive comparatively little "screen" time so far (three-hundred pages into the book). The kids understand on some level that they should be scared of the bogeyman terrorizing Derry, but as kids are wont to do they're also attracted to this horror, feeling a need to investigate it/It, to see it/It for themselves.

Following Bill, Ben, Eddie, etc., as they play outside, building dams and avoiding bullies, I can't help but think back to my own childhood. While these tales of childhood take place in the late '50s in the book, and I grew up in the '80s, there seems to be more in common with a child's existence in those decades than there is between the '80s the now. Helicopter parents, if they existed at all in the '80s, were rarer than today. Gen X latchkey kids ranged far and wide across our neighborhoods and towns, riding our bikes everywhere without much fear of consequence (what if we got lost and couldn't find our way back home?), always exploring, always looking for more adventure.

As the parent of twin toddlers now, that absolutely terrifies me to remember. When I swap out myself for my kids in these memories, my first thought is, "Oh, hell no." Then I try to reason with myself: kids have to be kids, they need a certain amount of freedom to grow and mature, and some balance between advocating for safety and allowing for exploration must be achieved by parents if they want their children to grow up to be free-thinking, productive adults.

Still. There are very real terrors in the world for parents to worry themselves silly over. With It, King plays off of those fears in powerfully visceral ways. He has a knack for bringing us inside the heads of his characters, and especially the young protagonists of so many of his books. King lulls us into a sense of comfort with the familiar nostalgia of childhood life. Then, he unleashes a giant, menacing black bird hellbent on eating a young victim, and all reason and ability to remain impartial fly out the window. Especially at ten or eleven o'clock at night and after a long day.

Do I think my children are in danger of a serial murdering clown who can manifest different shapes based on each person's own fears and anxieties? No, of course not. But in It, Pennywise represents the accumulated history of awful things that parents have long feared would cause harm to our children—drugs, heavy metal, sex, pedophiles, car accidents, razors in the Halloween candy, you name it.

Kids sometimes possess a naivety that can help them to face these fears. As adults we start to lose that ability, that courage to face down what scares us, because by then we simply know too much. So far, It is exploring how the innocence of youth can bolster our courage—sometimes stupidly so—even in the face of a creepy clown peering out at us from down in the storm drain.

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