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Stephen King’s IT Parade, Week 10: What Is the Ecstatic Truth?

Stephen King’s IT Parade is author/editor Daniel Kraus’s 10-week journal of re-reading King’s classic. Join him on this long (very long) journey, if you dare.

Dutch edition

CHAPTER 23-EPILOGUE

“What the fuck happened?” adult Richie asks as they climb out of the sewers.

It’s a good question, and one we’re not supposed to fully understand. I doubt whether King himself fully understands those last moments with Bill, IT, the Turtle, and the Other, and that’s just fine with me. Things get metaphysical near the end, and in such a space, all you can do as an author is feel your way, and concern yourself less with the Dragnet-style facts and more with what Werner Herzog calls “the ecstatic truth.” This is the truth one feels when reading poetry or looking at a spectacular sunset. Forget logic. How does it make you feel? Because that’s something you’ll remember.

The book ends with impressive grace, Bill strapping his catatonic wife onto the back of Silver, his heroic old bicycle, and and whizzing through the Derry streets, hoping the windblown, childlike thrill will spirit life back into her. “We are leaving Derry,” he thinks, “and if this was a story it would be the last half-dozen pages or so; get ready to put this one up on the shelf and forget it.”

It is the last half-dozen pages or so, but we won’t forget it. To say outright what I hope is already obvious, the book exceeds my memory of it. I’ve always called IT my favorite of King’s novels, but with a nagging doubt that, since 30 years had passed since I’d read it, I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. (A constant worry in life, really.) I can now say, with as much certainty as anyone can ever say such silly, sweeping statements, that IT is a downright miracle, a product of a writer at the apex of his talents and ambition, fueled on a potentially dangerous diet of self-confidence, tilting into an impossible feat and, though emerging banged and bruised, pulling it off.

German edition.

Think of it this way. If IT were the only book King ever wrote, it would be enough. In fact, I have little doubt that we’d appreciate it even more. The book wouldn’t be drowned out by chatter like “Yeah, but The Stand is his best book” or “The Dark Tower is too indulgent” or whatever percolations of enthusiasm or eye-rolling meet his one- or two-book-per-year releases. Instead, it would just sit there, a magnificent, impossible work, radiating with the mystique of other one-and-done masterpieces, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (mentioned, incidentally, on page 1189).

As I said in Week One, my favorite King book, period, is his nonfiction work Danse Macabre, as it introduced the adolescent me to the entire field of horror. Isolated in rural Iowa, I had no access to the books, movies, TV, and radio shows King was rattling on about, but that made we want it even more—learning about them in campfire-story snippets made my imagination run wild. I’ve spent the better portion of my life trying to calm it down.

What I never realized, until just this moment, is that IT is the fictionalized version of Danse Macabre. King famously said he wrote Danse Macabre as a reply to people who asked why he was interested in such unpleasant stuff. I don’t think that book, published in 1981, was good enough for King. Five years later came IT: an amalgam of horror history, including all the best monsters, crammed into super-sized haunted-house attraction.

It’s probably a bad idea for writers to lean back in their chair and sigh, “Well, I nailed it. I’m done. Pack up the typewriter.” Not if they want to keep putting food on the table and sending their kids to college. Not if writing is something that makes them happy or betters their mental health. But King did nail it. Everything that has come after IT, and will, hopefully, continue to come, is gravy, is icing, is extra birthday presents we don’t deserve. Just do me a favor and don’t tell Stephen King that. I like him right where he is, where, for me—lucky me—he’s always been: right there at his desk, pounding out the pages.

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About the Author:

Dan Kraus is Booklist's Editor of Books for Youth. He is also the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielDKraus.

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