Having heard from several of my friends (even several of my non-horror fan friends) how much they loved the new “It” movie, I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate the strange but wonderful “kids-coming-of-age-while-battling-evil” sub-genre in horror literature. It’s always been a favorite of mine, like a beloved spooky path branching off from the main horror highway into a dark — but also pleasantly nostalgic — neighborhood that I just can’t help but get out and take a stroll through now and then.
Yes, the new “It” movie is great. Yes, the old “It” miniseries was great. I highly recommend both. Yes, you absolutely should read the novel. If you’re willing to put in the time, it’s rewarding and thrilling in an altogether different way. It’s weird and difficult to explain and … uncomfortable for reasons that have been explored well elsewhere. It is undeniably a titan among horror novels of the 20th century, and certainly in this specific sub-genre, too.
But “It” is not an anomaly.
Other writers besides King have explored the kids-coming-of-age-while-battling-evil theme. I think it works so well because, as it’s so often been said, we enjoy horror stories in part as a way to safely rehearse death, to emerge from the darkness of the story to better appreciate our time on this planet and our own lives.
What more basic tenet of adulthood is there than the realization of one’s own mortality? As the young protagonists of these stories come together to battle the overt evil, they also learn the importance of self-reliance and friendship and all those things that will get one through the formidable thicket of the real world. It’s a perfect union.
Plus, on the very face of it, you’re immediately invested when bad things are happening to kids. Horror stories often hinge on said horror happening to those who deserve it least.
All these stories could be traced, I submit, to Ray Bradbury’s incomparable classic “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1962), which is actually my favorite book of all time. I’ve read it, well, maybe not every October. But almost every one since I first read it when I was 14-years-old.
You should start there. If you liked “It,” read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and experience the paterfamilias of the sub-genre. It’s the perfect time of year for that book anyway. And check out the Disney movie too, if you’re in the mood for something dark to watch that won’t scare your kids/skittish friends too badly. It’s family friendly fright fare.
And, if you’re looking still more — or maybe something a little more intense — here is my list of favorite kids-coming-of-age-while-battling-evil novels. Read them, if you will, and grow the hell up.
There’s a more complete list at goodreads.com, but these are ones I can personally vouch for as being well worth your time.