‘The greatest trick the Stephen King ever pulled was convincing the world that the Devil does exist.’
(Rephrasing of the quote from movie Usual Suspects about Keyser Söze)
Some time ago I watched Stephen King’s IT again. This a horror story about an evil clown terrorizing a small town in America (it is not about Trump!). When I first watched the movie, I was about 12 years old and it was scary. Later, around my 16th, I read the book (943 pages) and I was intrigued. But after watching the movie 25 years later, I realized a deeper meaning of horror which I had not realized before.
IT describes the story of an unimaginable evil from outer space which has landed in a small town called Derry, USA. This evil has psychic skills: it is able to read the minds of its victims and he uses this to present itself in the others worst nightmare. Its main manifestation is in the shape of a clown called Pennywise which it uses to attract its favorite victims: little children. Although evil is all around and children are disappearing, adults seemed to have accepted IT and choose not to see IT. The movie is about a group of outcast teenagers who become friends and decide to fight IT although they are seemingly unprepared and unqualified to do so.
After watching IT again and finding a deeper layer in horror movies, I had to adjust my initial view towards horror movies. Because to be honest: in my mind, I labelled horror movies to be for teenagers only. At that age you crave for all kinds of things which are gore and very explicit. And thus I dismissed horror as being childish.
However, because struck me when rewatching IT, I started to wonder what horror stories exactly are. Horror stories investigate the deepest depths of our subconscious fears and put them into the light by means of fantastic stories. Horror stories are the stuff that nightmares are made off made concrete in books and movies. By this confrontation you wake up to the potential of a dark and evil reality. Often evil takes the shape of an archetype of something subconscious which resides within yourself. For example: a vampire is a being who is taking energy from others in order to exist. When you are scared of vampires, either you get leached yourself a lot or… you leach on other people too! In this sense horror movies are like a mirror which allow you to become conscious of your own dark sides.
The greatness of Stephen King is that he adds a deeper layer in his horror stories. I will describe it by comparing King with his famous horror predecessor H.P. Lovecraft. King has stated that he is indebted to Lovecraft. But there is an important difference between the two. In Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, for example, he unveils the story of a monstrous evil lurking in the depts of the ocean. But the story remains open ended. Yes, evil is found, but it is not overcome. The result of reading this story is a horrifying uneasy and anguished feeling.
Stephen King’s horror stories are different. He is not merely describing evil. He is using evil as a means to illuminate the good. This is what Stephen King also does in IT.
As already said, IT tells the story about an unimaginably evil monster whose powers grow by fear and division. As a result the whole town minds its own business and looks away (scarily this is much familiar with our today’s society). This evil is opposed by a group of 7 (lucky 7) teenagers who are outsiders and become friends. Because they are not yet adults, they can 1) still see evil and 2) still believe in great virtues such as friendship, courage, love, faith, and loyalty.
As a result, they are, unknowingly, IT’s worst nightmare and they defeat IT with it’s own means (‘this is battery acid, you slime!’), believe in good and stay together although they are scared.They are able to defeat IT twice (!): once as teenagers and once as adults. Defeating IT the second time is more difficult because they first had to learn to believe again.
By zooming in on unimaginable evil, King brings forth IT’s opposite: unimaginable good. Not the good of a perfect and mature Superman. On the contrary: he presents the good of 7 flawed and uncertain teenagers. Although they were different, scared, and traumatized, within themselves they found the good to overcome evil. And if they can do it…. so can we!
Stephen King convinces us that there is great good within us as long as we dare to confront the great evil within us and not look away. Who could have thought that we could find such great spiritual truths in childish horror stories. 🙂