What is 'It' about? A breakdown of one of Stephen King's most horrifying novels


If you've somehow avoided all the buzz surrounding the first trailer for the It movie, well, be sure to watch it during the day. The big screen adaptation of one of Stephen King's most terrifying books looks like it could be one of the best horror movies of the year, and yes, even the trailer will scare the shit out of you.

It even has King's stamp of approval — he's already seen the film and he was impressed. 

However, if you're new to It, you might presume the book — and by extension, the new movie — is about a monstrous clown who is stalking children in a small town in Maine. Technically, that's true: Pennywise is a scary, nightmare-inducing clown that will eat children. However, King's It transcends some of his other novels by focusing on more than just one unsettling idea (think of isolation in The Shining or a dog gone rabid in Cujo). Instead, It is about fear itself — and how personal trauma shapes who we are as individuals. 

(Editor's note: Spoilers for Stephen King's It ahead). 

You see, the eponymous monster of the book doesn't exclusively take the form of a clown. It's an evil, ambiguous entity that can take a multitude of forms for the purpose of feeding in the town of Derry, Maine, every 27 years. However, It prefers to eat children — and since It typically takes the form of the biggest fears of whoever confronts it, that tends to be a clown for children. But It takes other forms in the book; as a werewolf, a leper and even loved ones. You briefly see the latter in the new It trailer, when the monster terrorizes Bill Denbrough by conjuring up his little brother Georgie, who met a gruesome fate at the hands of Pennywise in the opening chapter of the book. 

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The It novel takes place during two timelines when the monster awakens to feed: the 1950s and the 1980s. The protagonists of the book initially fight It in the 1950s as children and nearly destroy the creature. Nearly three decades later, they return to finish the job once they realize It wasn't actually defeated. While the book goes back and forth between the characters as adults and children, it appears that the movie adaptation will be split into two installments, with the first focusing on the children fighting It. 

Of course, going up against the monster isn't so cut and dry. The children suffer through some intense personal traumas. For example: Bill has to deal with the fallout of his little brother's death and an intense stutter in his speech, which he's bullied for in school; the lone girl of the group, Beverly, deals with an abusive father; another boy, Eddie, has a manipulative mother who turns him into a hypochondriac so she can nurture him and maintain control over his life. 

It explores these traumas as cyclical events we can't readily escape. When the monster returns some 27 years later, we learn that Bill is a horror writer (King loves to throw writers into his books) who writes about some pretty fucked up stuff. Beverly is married to an abusive man. Eddie has an overbearing, ultra-controlling wife, not unlike his mother. And so it goes. Being trapped in these cycles works on the individual level, with the children-turned-adults, but also in the scope of Derry: The town is haunted by its own disturbing past, which sees several calamitous events whenever It reappears. 

It's only when the members of the group learn to overcome their fears, and live with the traumas that are imprinted on their lives, that they're able to defeat It. Granted, the actual fight is a bit more cosmic and batshit, because the creature's true form is that of a giant spider. To put it another way: If you try to avoid the baggage that you carry throughout your life (and we all have some baggage), you're never going to do yourself any good. If you embrace your baggage, i.e., your traumas, you can overcome anything — even, in the case of It, the physical manifestation of fear and evil. 

Alternatively, if you just plan on soiling yourself in the theater instead of digging into the subtext, make no mistake: It should freak you out. The new Pennywise looks terrifying. 

It arrives in theaters Sept. 8. Watch the frightening teaser trailer below:  

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