Grotesque Horror Through A Kid-Sized Window
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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.