My publisher posted an inquiry on TZPP’s Facebook page regarding the 50 scariest books of all time. There was a photo of the cover for Stephen King’s It. I nearly crapped myself. This might have had something to do with the fact that I’m home from work dying of malaria or whatever the stomach bug that’s going around is, but probably not.
Stephen King was one of my favorite authors in my youth, and I stand by the notion that some of his earlier works will probably be canonized as literature after he passes. On Writing is without a doubt one of the most useful creative resources for would-be wordsmiths ever published, despite being mostly autobiographical. (That actually made it more inspiring, if I let out the truth.) Stephen King, thank you. You’ve given so much to me and to future generations of writers.
But I still hate your rotten guts, and I’m going to tell you why. Writing about evil immortal androgynous alien clowns in the sewer morphing into what children most fear and eating them alive was a supremely screwed up thing to do to an eight-year-old boy.
My parents have to shoulder some of the blame. I mean, they let me watch the made-for-TV movie with Tim Curry pretty much right when it came out, as I recall. (I will find you in a dark alley and knee cap you, Tim Curry! You will rue the day you made me afraid of bunk beds! Unless, of course, you’re wearing clown makeup. Then I shall scream like a little girl and run for my life…)
Hold on… the stomach bug strikes again… Which means I have to go to the bathroom, which is connected to the sewer… If I die horribly while on the toilet, somebody hit the “publish post” button, please?
There was blood bubbling in the sink! I saw it! I thought grownups weren’t supposed to be able to see, Stephen King! You bastard!
See, that’s the problem with a creature feature wherein the monster can become your worst fear. Even the rules laid out in the novel/screenplay count for just about nothing because your imagination takes over. I’ve never lived in Derry, Maine, but after I saw the movie, the frickin’ clown was everywhere. At one point we went on vacation to a cabin in the woods, and every time I closed my eyes, I was sure Pennywise was looming over me. I would open my eyes and fixate on a color in the room (blood red, shock white, cat piss yellow) or an imagined color that corresponded with the monster. My brain being what it is, it began to compose twisted nursery rhymes about the different colors in the clown’s motley, identifying them with It’s freakiest features. There’s some psychology behind this–the bright, primary colors in a clown’s costume apparently make us uneasy on an instinctive level, suggesting danger.
That wasn’t all, of course. There was a sewer grate on the playground at school where some of us swore to seeing claw marks in the cement fixture. Balloons at birthday parties began to suck. Then, of course, there was this wonderful scene from the movie:
Which meant showers were not safe. My remedy, being the good little Catholic boy that I then was, involved bringing my little red radio into the shower with me and blaring Gospel music to ward off the evil. Hey, laugh all you want. I stand by what I did. I survived, right? And I don’t want to hear a thing about logical fallacies.
Crap, there goes the stomach again… Back to the water closet. Maybe I’ll play some Christian Pandora, just in case…
While I’m indisposed, here’s a gem for you to contemplate…
…Okay, so that time it was, “Kiss me, fat boy!” while I was looking at myself in the mirror. I had nearly forgotten about all of Pennywise’s stupid one-liners, which makes being so terrified of this made-for-TV movie even more embarrassing.
When I was nine years old, I decided something needed to be done. I would overcome my fear, and all would be right with the world. And so like any good knight, I had a vision of a quest that would redeem me–I would read the novel version of It, all 1,138 pages of It (see what I did there?). Being nine wasn’t much of a deterrent because I was already something of an expert in Classical Mythology by then. You see, my elementary school teachers didn’t know what the heck to do with me, so they tossed me into the library. I gravitated towards Greco-Roman myths because there were always paintings or sculptures of naked people. Perversity for the win!
I bought the book from a thrift store sans the dust jacket. On the spine in blood red letters was the word, “It”. Other than that, it was black as sin and completely featureless–my perfect little necronomicon. I began reading, and the book, of course, was much better than the movie. The different things the clown morphed into to scare the children (they taste better when they’re terrified, apparently) never frightened me as much as the clown itself. Without the visuals–besides those in my head–I made pretty steady progress through the book. Then, at night, when things got scary, I would place the book on the shelf in my bedroom and climb up into my bunk bed (where I was totally cornered), always making sure that I turned the book pages out. I certainly didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and see the blood red letters from across the room like a sigil of death.
Of course, every time I woke up, the book was turned back around. There was It, taunting me from the darkness. It, It, IT! I never found out if it was my dad or my little brother that was screwing with me, but maybe it’s time for a witch hunt. Because that crap was NOT cool.
So as you can guess, my quest was unsuccessful. No holy grail for me, just a life time of coulrophobia.
One of my students who is preparing a haunt for this Halloween is planning on having a room dedicated just to juggalos in an effort to scare the life out of people like me. Knowing my fear of clowns, he actually sat down and interviewed me. He even took notes! Man, I wish I could get him to do that in class when we’re studying literature. I explained about the idea of the shock white face looking dead and masking something potentially even more horrifying and deformed beneath, about the bright colors and went on a tirade about the Carnivalesque. When I was finished, he showed me the layout for the clown room.
“So what would you do layout-wise to make this even worse?” he asked.
“Put a ball pit right in the middle that has to be crossed in order to proceed, and have a clown hiding in there.”
I was shaking at the mere thought of this.
“That’s downright evil! Are you going to come out to the haunt, Mr. Pike?”
“Not on your life.”
Happy Halloween, Blogsphere. And until next time…