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On the dedication page before the novel It, Stephen King writes, “Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.”
Horror has never been my thing, so growing up, I generally avoided Stephen King books. The extent of my knowledge of king was watching the Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Sure, and I love those movies but I thought they were the exception and that the rest of his catalogue was cheap thrills, monsters, and gore. But there’s a reason he’s one of the best-selling authors ever, and it’s not just chance.
Several years ago, I was finally brought fully into the world of Stephen King by my girlfriend and, more specifically, her father. Ignoring my distrust of horror media, I dipped my toes into the King library. I read Carrie and Salem’s Lot, then, I dove all the way in – Night Shift, It, The Stand, on and on.
Here’s what I discovered. First: there’s more to King than black cats and stormy nights. 11/22/63, The Green Mile, Joyland, Different Seasons, and many more of his works manage to be page-turning reads without being horror.
Even when he is writing horror, King writes deeply realized characters who we really care about. Yeah, he creates terrifying universes – in Christine, an evil car controls a high schooler, in The Shining, a hotel transforms a father into a monster, and in It, a clown hunts down children.
But when you get past the fantasy, you can see that they’re really parables: of addiction, of losing your innocence, and growing up and moving on. They’re scary, but they’re relatable. King writes about things we’ve all experienced. He just externalizes them as the boogeyman. It’s fiction. But like he said, fiction is the truth inside the lie.
Stephen King allows us to feel with his characters, get inside their heads, and understand what they’re thinking.
800-some pages into It, King writes: “maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends- maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for.”