In Stand By Me, the Stephen King surrogate author figure makes the following ponderous observation:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

Well, that doesn't really apply to me. I had friends, sure, and I have some pretty good memories. However, like many readers I was a loner. My greatest memories of when I was twelve are of time spent with books. Or maybe comics. Perhaps staying up and watching a scary movie on the late show.

I read Stephen King's It on the week when it was first published. I think it might be the moment when my love of horror was at its most perfect, crystallized peak. I previously wrote that it was probably the best reading experience of my life.

I read It again in 2010. It was a bad time for me. A time of loss, mental tribulation, and re-assessment.

Now, a decade later, I have read It again.

As I write this my sixtieth birthday is two weeks away. Forty didn't bother me, fifty didn't really bother me. Sixty, well, it sort of does. It is the age when you are really considered a senior citizen. Old age is here.

I needed something uplifting. Something to remind me of the great feelings of youth. It was time once again to return to the haunted town of Derry, Maine, and Stephen King's It. If you don't see how a novel about children being slaughtered can be a comforting thing, well, I guess you aren't a horror fan.

It took me a while to get through It this time. I raced through its 1,100+ pages in no time back in '86. I roared through it in '10 too. These days I savor a story. I take time with each sentence. There's a lot of sentences in It. I was with the book for two weeks. Two glorious weeks with what I consider to be the perfect horror novel.

It, as everyone knows, is about a demonic clown terrorizing a small town in Maine, and a group of preteens who are the only ones who have a chance to stop it. But It is so much more than a story about a clown. At his best King works in metaphor, and It is emphatically King at his best.

Childhood is a magical kingdom in the world of horror's biggest star, but Steve always reminds us that there are wolves in the woods of life. They are especially hungry for children.

It's easily argued that adulthood has greater challenges than those that present themselves to children, but when we are young the world is so big. Everything is bigger, better, or scarier. Our imaginations are still firing at full capacity. And there are monsters, real and imagined, around every corner.

We grow up and the monsters have different faces. Instead of a schoolyard bully, it might be a sadistic boss. When we once feared a hand reaching up from under a bed, later we dread a bad mortgage. We have health scares, fears of losing our jobs and homes. Fear for our own children and grandchildren.

Kids face their fears and overcome them with the magic that still resides within their hearts. Their strength isn't a lot of money in the bank, or a gun in the cabinet. It damned sure isn't with insurance policies.

Horror people have kept the magic alive. That's what make The Loser's Club so believable. Stephen King was thirty-nine when It was published. I remember when that seemed old. He still thought like a child. In all the good ways but none of the bratty ones. King still understands youthful minds. Just look at his last published novel, Later.

We have to grow up, we have to learn responsibility. We forget the friends who were so important to us. If we are to defeat the monsters that face us in the dreary world of grown ups, it pays to remember the lessons we learned as children. I'm not talking about school lessons, or lectures from our parents either.

Our bodies change, our hearts alter, friends disperse, the towns we cherished grow smaller and less magical. All these things break our hearts. Horror fiction helps keep the old magic alive in my soul.

It is the biggest and most perfect horror novel ever written. Possibly ever will be written. It is everything I ever hoped for, dreamed of, or hid under the covers from.

It was adapted into movies twice. I like things about both of them, but neither really capture the essence of the novel. As cinematic as King's writing is, so much of It is internal. It has had numerous covers, but the Viking hardcover image I use here will always be the only one that comes to mind when I think about the novel.

I mentioned that I did have friends when I was twelve. We had our own adventures, like telling our parents we were spending the night at each other's houses, and camping in the graveyard instead. Good friends and good times, but I honestly feel closer in my heart to Bill, Bev, Ben, Richie, Mike, Stan, and Eddie. I know these characters better than the kids I grew up with.

I read It again because, among other reasons, I was feeling morose about my impending sixtieth birthday. If I'm still around, I plan to read it when I am leading up to my seventieth. And maybe, just maybe, like Pennywise I'll come around to Derry again a decade after that.

Written by Mark Sieber

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