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Grotesque Horror Through A Kid-Sized Window

Jul 31, 2012
Originally published on June 14, 2013 4:15 pm

Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus.

There are still days when rain flooding the gutters conjures a picture in my mind of a paper boat being chased by a little boy in a yellow raincoat. The boy's name is Georgie and he is about to meet a rather gruesome fate, smiling up at him from a storm drain.

I'm recalling a fictional rainstorm that swept me along as I turned through the opening of a 1,000-plus page book more than 20 years ago. I remember thinking when Georgie died: You can die from having your arm ripped off? Because that's what struck me as odd — not the fact that there was a clown in the sewer, waiting to grab him.

The first time I read Stephen King's It, I was about 12 years old. I was nearly the same age as poor doomed Georgie's older brother Bill and his group of friends who face down a child-murdering shape-shifting evil thing without a name in small town Maine, first as children in the late 1950s and then again as adults almost 30 years later.

When I was growing up, if there was a young adult section of my town's library I missed it. I wandered straight from The Babysitter's Club to Stephen King. His books were big and fat and seemed important in their big fatness.

I worked my way through most of the shelf eventually, but It is the one that stands out in my memory. I was in almost familiar territory. Almost. There were kids about my own age, after all, so I could look in through a kid-sized window, even if some of what I was accessing went way over my head. And there's something thrilling about that. You can't grasp it entirely yet, but you can watch it as it sails by, full of mystery and confusion and danger.

It was filled with things I didn't understand juxtaposed with things I did — like a fascinating, if morbid, glimpse into the future. It showed me that the things hiding under your bed and lurking in the sewers don't disappear just because you grow up.

That's the impression It really left. Beyond the arm-ripping violence, beyond the sex that made me think "People like to do that?" Beyond philosophical ideas about good and evil and turtles, It let me stand at the edge of adulthood and realize that being an adult is not that much different than being a kid, that both stages have their own complications.

And I realized that life is a bigger, fatter, stranger book than the ones I was used to, but I could still turn its pages, one after another.

PG-13 is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Rose Friedman with production assistance from Gavin Bade.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, the latest in our book series, PG-13. When author Erin Morgenstern discovered Stephen King and his very adult novel, "It," she wasn't quite 13 but she was eager for a window into the world of grownups. What she didn't expect was that she'd still be thinking about the book decades later.

ERIN MORGENSTERN: There are still days when it rains and I can see him - a boy in a yellow raincoat chasing a paper boat down the street. His name is Georgie and he is about to meet a gruesome fate smiling up at him from a storm drain. I remember thinking: You can die from having your arm ripped off? Because that's what struck me as odd, not the fact that he was grabbed by a clown waiting in the sewer.

The first time I read "It," I was around 12, about the same age as Georgie's older brother, Bill. The story is about how Bill and his friends have to face down a child-murdering, shape-shifting, evil thing in small town Maine.

When I was growing up, if there was a Young Adult section of my town's library, I missed it. I wandered right from "The Babysitter's Club" over to Stephen King. His books were big and fat and they seemed important. I eventually worked my way through most of the shelf, but "It" is the one that stuck with me. Some of it went way over my head, but there's something thrilling in that.

It showed me that the things hiding under your bed and lurking in the sewers don't disappear just because you grow up. Beyond the arm-ripping violence, beyond the sex that made me think: People like to do that? Beyond philosophical ideas about good and evil in turtles, "It" let me stand at the edge of adulthood and realize that being a grownup is not that much different than being a kid; that life is a bigger, fatter, stranger book than the ones I was used to, but I could still turn its pages, one after another.

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CORNISH: Erin Morgenstern is the author of "The Night Circus." She recommended the book "It" by Stephen King. You can find more PG-13 recommendations at our website. There's also a list of summer reads from our critics and correspondents at NPRBooks.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.