My first official episode on my YouTube channel, where I am joined by a special guest host, and I talk about my origin story as a King fan and horror fan, and I discuss the book It! Link is below, please subscribe to me:
My first official episode on my YouTube channel, where I am joined by a special guest host, and I talk about my origin story as a King fan and horror fan, and I discuss the book It! Link is below, please subscribe to me:
They are pretty fascinating, at times.
After all, everyone has to start somewhere, right?
And hey, even I have one…so here goes nothing!
Sometime in the summer of 1988, I attended a day camp. I was ten years old and quite impressionable (see the part about being 10 years old). One of my counselors told me and the other impressionable kids (well, I am making assumptions that everyone was as
gullible impressionable as I was, but I digress) a story about a clown that lived in the sewers and killed people, but could only be seen by kids. Of course, I took this story quite seriously. In fact, I spent an entire summer assiduously avoiding storm drains, and watching my back when I took a shower or even (gasp) used the bathroom in any way. In other words, just a typical summer for a ten year old with an overactive imagination. The clown soon become forgotten, to be replaced with thoughts of MacGyver (was that a first name or a last? And wow, science just got hot), Quantum Leap (I aspired to build a time machine and Sam Beckett was my spirit animal) and whatever else a really nerdy, awkward, ugly duckling with limited social skills growing up in the 90’s became obsessed with. That clown soon became a faded memory, and even quit visiting my dreams for a while (whew).
Flash forward two years. That extremely nerdy, awkward ugly duckling had growed up (so she thought) and had hit the big 1-2. And became interested in all things macabre. She was always looking for something to read, and something to watch on TV. If either of these pissed off her parents, well, that was added bonus!
Enter a new mini series that aired over two nights on network TV. It was based on the work of some horror writer I never heard of, Stephen King. And it was about a clown who lived in the sewers, and happened to…you guessed it…terrorize kids! The memories of that summer came flooding back to me, and my blood ran cold. So of course I had to watch this mini series…
And I was blown away by that mini series (I was 12, what else can I say). Tim Curry brought a voice to that evil clown, and my dreams became a hoppin’ place once again. And those kids…where was my Losers Club? I wanted to play down in the Barrens, dammit! One of the Losers was even a girl, and she kicked ass!
When I found out this mini series was based on a book of the same name, It, of course I had to find the book, since I thought that movie was pretty darn good. So the book would be worth a read, right?
I was intimidated by the size of the book. Over a 1000 pages! Well, I would be reading that one for months…
One week later, I finished the book. And I loved it! I also learned that movies rarely do books justice, but that is another post. I had to find more books by this King guy…where had he been all my life?
And so it begun…
My origin story as a Stephen King fan, that is. If you are still reading this at this point and are surprised, I am not really sure what to tell you, other than, well it’s this blog, after all!
So obviously, King’s books bring back many fond memories, and I never tire of them. And in light of my New Year’s resolution to read at least one King book a month, I am going back to my origins: the book It. Like the Losers, I am coming home. I am becoming a child again, and revisiting my past, along with Bill, Ben, Bev and the rest of the gang. Per the line of one of my favorite songs: “Oh don’t sorrow, oh don’t weep, tonight at last I am coming home.” And I can’t wait.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of It, whose short title belies the depth of this story. And, as always:
The book begins by introducing the reader to a boy named George Denbrough. Georgie is the younger brother of Bill Denbrough, who is 10 years old. Georgie and Bill live in the city of Derry, Maine, where there has been a lot of rain and flooding. The year is 1957. One afternoon, Georgie heads out to play with a boat made out of newspaper that Bill helped him make. The rain has receded a bit, but Georgie still loses his boat in the sewers of Derry. Georgie becomes upset, but forgets about his boat when he sees what appear to be a pair of glowing eyes looking up at him from the sewers. Those turn out to belong to a clown who looks like a cross between Bozo the Clown and Clarabell the clown. Much to Georgie’s astonishment, the clown speaks to him from the sewers, and offers him a balloon. The clown introduces himself as Bob Gray, or Pennywise the Clown. However, the clown is not friendly, or even human. The clown entices Georgie to lean a little closer, and attacks. Georgie’s arm is torn off, in much the way someone might tear the wing from a fly. Georgie dies almost immediately, leaving his older brother Bill and their parents in a state of shock.
The book then skips to the year of 1984. We are told of another murder in Derry, this time of a young, somewhat childlike gay man named Adrian Mellon. The murder is told in flashbacks, when the local police question the young man’s partner, Don Haggarty, and the local bullies deemed responsible for the murder. The bullies attacked Adrian one night, targeting him because of his sexuality. Both Don and the bullies state that a clown was also at the scene and that the clown killed Adrian. Don also reports that thousands of balloons floated to the sky at the site of the murder. However, the local authorities do not believe Don or the bullies, and the bullies are tried and convicted of the murder.
Several months later, in 1985, six adults receive a phone call from a man named Mike Hanlon. The adults are scattered across the country and even the world, but all grew up in Derry, Maine. The adults are Stan Uris, Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kraspbrak, Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh. All of the adults are told by Mike Hanlon that they must return to Derry, and most begin making the preparations. However, Stan Uris is unwilling (or perhaps unable) to face what awaits him in Derry, and commits suicide by slitting his wrists in his bathtub. Additionally, Beverly narrowly escapes her abusive husband, Tom, who nearly kills her for daring to leave him and return to Derry. All of the adults have hazy memories of what happened during one summer of their childhoods in Derry, but all know that they must now return to Derry.
We then learn of how those seven children spent the summer of 1958. The books tells of how the seven meet, and form a club they call The Losers Club, as all seven children are misfits in some way or another. All seven children are also victims of abuse from Henry Bowers, the local bully. Additionally, six of the seven children have encountered Pennywise the Clown in some manner, and have survived to tell the tale. Ben saw the clown as a mummy, Eddie saw the clown as a leper in an abandoned house, Bill was attacked by the clown when he picks up an old photo album belonging to his deceased brother, Beverly heard voices in the drain in her bathroom and then sees blood come from the drain that is visible only to her and the other Losers, Mike saw a giant bird that attacks him, and Stan encounters the clown in an abandoned piece of property while he is bird-watching. Richie tells the others he did not encounter the clown on his own, but he makes a trip with Bill to the abandoned house where Eddie saw the leper. There, Richie and Bill encounter the clown in werewolf form. Bill shoots the werewolf with him father’s gun, and Richie also attacks it with his sneezing powder (Richie is the comedian and practical joker of the group). The two narrowly escape the clown on Bill’s bike Silver, and realize that they are pitted against a great evil. During that summer, Ben Hanscom falls in love with Beverly. Beverly falls in love with Bill Denbrough.
The book skips to the present and to the viewpoint of Mike Hanlon. Mike has begun researching the history of Derry, and discovered that the town has a violent past. Mike tells of one of these incidents, which was relayed to him by his father before his father passed away. Mike’s father tells of The Fire at the Black Spot, which was a fire that occurred in 1937, when Will Hanlon enlisted in the military and was stationed in Derry. The Black Spot was a night club founded by some of the African American members of Will’s unit, which was known as company E. The fire was started by Derry’s version of the Klu Klux Klan, known as the Maine Legion of White Decency. Nearly 80 people perished in the fire. Will tells Mike that he saw what appeared to be a giant bird dressed as a clown flying off with some of the bodies, confirming Mike’s suspicions that the presence of Pennywise and the town’s violent history are closely related. Mike struggle with the decision to call the rest of his friends, but thinks that his heart will tell him when the time is right.
One by one, the adult Losers (minus Stan Uris) return to Derry. Mike arranges a reunion lunch, and the adult Losers reunite and catch up with each others’ lives. Mike also brings his friends up to speed on the nine child murders that have occurred in Derry over the past several months, and the Losers vow to stay in Derry and fight It, although they know that their odds are not good. At the end of the meal, the Losers receive some fortune cookies that are actually a trick of Pennywise the Clown. Each cookie contains something that each Loser fears, such as blood, insects, etc. The Losers leave the restaurant, and split up to visit a place in Derry outside of the Barrens that meant something to them as children. Bill tells them that when the first encountered the monster as children, the encounter was experienced alone, and that the same will probably happen to them as adults.
True to Bill’s statement, the Losers do have individual encounters with It: Ben sees the clown at the library, Eddie sees the clown in the form of some of his deceased classmates at the local baseball field, Beverly encounters a witch in her old apartment that resembles the witch from Hansel and Gretel and Richie encounters the clown in the form of a Paul Bunyon statue that has come to life. Richie also remembers that he had a similar encounter as a child, but dismissed it as a dream. Bill and Mike do not encounter Pennywise, but Bill finds his old bike, Silver, at a second-hand shop. Bill and Mike spruce up the bike, and figure that Bill finding the bike is not coincidental.
The story switches to the perspective of Henry Bowers, the Losers’ childhood bully. Henry currently resides at Juniper Hill Asylum. Henry was found guilty of the child murder that occurred in the summer of 1958, along with the murder of his father. However, the only murder actually committed by Henry was the murder of his father. Pennywise the clown is able to communicate with Henry and convinces him to do Its bidding and kill the adult Losers. It helps Henry escape Juniper Hill, and Henry heads to Derry to finish the job.
We also learn a bit more about the history of Derry and the violent events that appear to be connected with the child murders that occur every 27 years or so. Mike learns of the massacre of the Bradley gang, a gang of criminals from the Midwest on the run from law enforcement. The gang holes up in Derry, and the citizens soon dish out their own form of justice and murder every single member, even the women, while local law enforcement looks the other way. Mike also learns that Pennywise the clown was seen at the confrontation, once again confirming how much a part of Derry the clown really is.
In the meantime, Bill and Beverly’s respective spouses are determined to find out why their partners have suddenly left town. Beverly’s husband Tom, beats the information out of one of Beverly’s few good friends who helped her escape. Bill’s wife Audra simply books a flight to Maine, as she is extremely worried about her husband. Both head into Derry, not understanding what lies ahead.
The Losers reconvene at the library later that night, and begin to recall the events of the summer of 1958. The children spent much of the summer of 1958 playing in the Barrens, a wooded area in Derry that remains mostly abandoned and forgotten. Because of this, the Losers are able to meet and try to figure how to rid the town of Pennywise the clown and not be bothered by Henry Bowers and his friends. The children also build an underground clubhouse in the Barrens, which offers them even more protection from Henry and any other bullies.
Mike recalls how he became a part of the club that summer. One day, Mike is chased by Henry Bowers, as Henry lives next door to Mike, and has been taught to hate black people by his father. Henry’s father has blamed all of his problems on Mike and his parents, so Henry makes Mike’s life miserable at any opportunity. When Henry is chased by Mike on this particular day, he runs to an area just outside the Barrens and encounters the Losers. The Losers defend their territory by hurling rocks at Henry and his friends, in what is termed the Apocalyptic Rock Fight. Henry and his friends are forced to retreat but swear revenge. Mike then becomes a part of the Losers Club, and soon learns of their encounters with Pennywise the Clown and their determination to kill It. Mike also tells of his encounter with Pennywise, and brings one of his father’s old photo albums to show his friends. The clown is in nearly every picture. The clown also makes an appearance while the children look at the album, and promises to kill them all if they do not back down.
Richie recalls the smoke hole ceremony performed by the Losers that summer. Ben reads about the ceremony in a book. He learns that it was a ceremony performed by Native Americans, and it involved breathing in smoke, which was supposed to induce visions. The Native Americans performed this ceremony when the tribe had unsolved problems or unanswered questions. The Losers perform this same ceremony by burning green wood in their underground clubhouse. However, all bow out except Mike and Ritchie, who travel back in time and witness the arrival of It in Derry several million years ago. The boys sense that It is actually an extra-dimensional monster, and very evil. They impart this information to the others, and continue their mission to rid Derry of the monster.
Eddie recalls that Henry Bowers broke his arm that summer, in retaliation for the rock fight. That day, Eddie headed to the drugstore to pick some prescriptions for his mother. The owner of the drugstore, Mr. Keane, pulls Eddie aside and tells him that he does not actually have asthma, and that his symptoms are psychosomatic. Mr. Keane tells Eddie that this is the doing of his mother and doctor, and that his asthma medicine is simply water with a medicinal taste. Eddie becomes upset, but knows deep down inside that Mr. Keane is right. Henry and his friends are able to corner Eddie outside the store as he is by himself, and Eddie’s arm is broken in the scuffle. Eddie spends a few days in the hospital and his friends attempt to visit him. On the first attempt, his friends are driven off by his overly protective mother, who does not approve of these new friends. The Losers are not deterred, however, and come back later that night. They sign Eddie’s cast, and tell him that their plan is to make silver slugs that they will shoot at It with a slingshot. The plan is for Beverly to shoot the monster with the slingshot, as her aim is the best. Eddie also has a confrontation with his mother, telling her that he will not choose her over his friends.
Beverly recalls another encounter with It that summer, when she heads to the dump to practice shooting with the slingshot. Beverly nearly has a run with Henry Bowers and his friends, but is able to hide herself. Henry and his friends leaves, but one of the bullies, Patrick Hockstetter, stays behind. Patrick Hockstetter is a sociopath who keeps an abandoned refrigerator in the dump. Patrick is using this refrigerator to trap and kill animals, which are either pets or strays that he finds. Patrick also killed his baby brother as a young child. Patrick becomes the next victim of Pennywise the clown, who takes the form of flying leeches, and Patrick is eaten alive. Beverly is also attacked by the leeches, but is able to use the slingshot to hurt the monster and escape.
The Losers also recall how they made silver slugs to use a weapon against Pennywise that summer. They gather one night at Bill’s house, and melt down a silver coin that was passed from Ben’s deceased father down to Ben. The process is a quick one, and the Losers now have a weapon against Pennywise. And the Losers use that weapon against Pennywise. They confront the monster at the house on Neibolt Street. Beverly uses the slingshot to hurt the monster, but does not kill It. However, the monster retreats, and all is relatively peaceful for about two weeks.
The adult Losers leave the library for the night, and agree to meet at the Barrens the next morning. Before they leave the library, their hands begin to bleed, as they swore in blood to return if It still lived. The Losers take the blood oath again, and wonder just what they are in for.
Bill and Beverly walk back to their hotel, and Beverly talks of her father’s abuse. Beverly also remembers one day in August, as she returned home after playing in the Barrens with her friends. She was confronted by her father, who accused her of performing sexual acts with the boys, and physically attacked his daughter. Beverly realized that her father was possessed by It, and ran from him. Beverly thought that she had escaped her father, but does not know that Henry Bowers and his friends are also waiting for her. Henry and his friends were under the influence of It. Henry also killed his father that day.
The story flashes back to 1985, as Mike Hanlon prepares to close the library for the night. However, Mike is interrupted by Henry Bowers. Henry attacks Mike, but Mike is able to defend himself. Mike calls 911 and hears the voice of Pennywise the Clown and begs for someone to help him so that his wound does not become fatal.
Beverly and Bill head back to Bill’s hotel room. They are seeking comfort and make love to each other. As she falls asleep, Beverly once again flashes back to that day in August of 1958, when Henry and his friends chase the Losers Club down to the sewers, forcing a final confrontation with It.
In 1985, Henry is met by It, who has taken the form of his deceased friend, Belch Huggins. It drives Henry to the hotel the adult Losers are staying at, and gives him a list of the room numbers occupied by each Loser. Henry chooses Eddie as his first victim, and attacks Eddie. However, Eddie fights back and kills Henry, breaking his arm again in the process. Eddie calls Bill and the others back to his room, and they decide what to do about Henry’s body, and determine that involving anyone else in the town, including the police, will only make things worse. The Losers also find out that Mike was attacked by Henry and is gravely wounded. The Losers decide that they need to confront Pennywise again and that there is no other choice. Again, they head to the Barrens and use the same entrance they used in 1958 to get to Pennywise’s lair.
In the meantime, both Audra and Tom (Bill’s wife and Beverly’s husband, respectively) have arrived in town. Both begin to have peculiar dreams: Audra dreams that she is Beverly, following Bill to fight Pennywise, and Tom dreams that he is Henry, chasing Beverly and the rest of the Losers in the sewers. Both awaken and become trapped by Pennywise. Pennywise is able to influence Tom, and Tom kidnaps Audra for It.
The story goes back and forth between 1985 and 1958, telling of the Losers’ confrontation of It in 1958 as children, and in 1985 as adults. In 1958, Henry continues to chase the Losers into the sewers. However, the Losers are still able to find Pennywise and his lair, and Bill enters what he calls the “deadlights”, or the true home of the monster. With the help of a mysterious creature simply known as “The Turtle”, Bill battles Pennywise in Its true form, and believes that he has defeated the evil. Richie pulls Bill back from the deadlights, and the Losers Club escapes from the lair, believing Pennywise to be defeated. However, as they attempt to exit the sewers, the Losers nearly lose their way, as their bond is beginning to dissolve. In order to keep the bond intact, Beverly makes love to all of the boys. This act restores the bond, and the children are able to find their way out of Derry’s sewers. Stan cuts all of the Losers hands with a coke bottle, and all seven promise to return to Derry if Pennywise is not dead. All of Henry’s friends are killed by It, and Henry is institutionalized for the murder of his father
In 1985, Bill, Ben, Beverly and Eddie confront Pennywise once again. Bill again faces Pennywise in the deadlights, but is accompanied by Richie. The two fight the monster in the deadlights and defeat it. Eddie also fights the monster in Its physical form and defeats it as well, but loses his life in the fight. The monster’s true form is something close to a spider, and the spider has laid eggs. Ben makes sure all the eggs are destroyed. Bill also rescues his wife Audra,who is still alive but catatonic, and he and his friends make their way out of the sewers. Once the Losers emerge from the sewers, they realize that Derry has nearly been destroyed by a rainstorm, which stops almost the moment Pennywise is defeated.
A few days later, the remaining members of the Losers Club leave town and return to their lives, and they are already beginning to forget each other’s names and other vital information, including the battle with Pennywise. Beverly has fallen in love with Ben, and the two plan to head back to Nebraska, after filing a missing person’s report on Beverly’s husband Tom, who was actually killed by It. Only Bill and the catatonic Audra remain, along with Mike, who is still in the hospital. Bill has nearly given up hope on reviving Audra, until he gets an idea. He takes Audra for a ride on his old bike Silver, with hopes that the magic remains in the bike. The magic does remain, and Audra is revived, with no memory of what happened after she arrived in Derry. Bill and Audra then return to their life. Bill, along with everyone else, has forgotten the experience in Derry, but continues to lead a happy and productive life.
Well, I will say this much: It is a monster of a book. And I am not just talking about the length…
Yes, It is one scary book, with what has to be one of the most iconic horror villains in history. Who in the free world doesn’t recognize Pennywise the clown?
But there is so much more to this book than a clown living in the sewers…
I recognize so much of myself in this book, as a matter of fact. I was a Loser growing up, and I still consider myself to be a Loser. And I am proud of that, as a matter of fact.
But I know the pain what those kids went through all too well. In one part of the book, it is said that the kids turned into ghosts one afternoon, and no one, including their parents, seemed to know that they existed. Well, that was not a bad description of my child, at certain points. Often, I wondered if people even knew, or cared, if I was alive.
Which brings me to my next point: Yes, that clown was scary as fuck (more on that later). But I was more afraid of the real-life horrors that the Losers had to face.
For example, the bullying. I was a victim of bullying as a child, and it was frightening. Getting beat up is scary. But perhaps what is even more frightening is having to live with the anticipation that the act of terrorism could happen at any moment, and you were powerless to do anything about it. Or the most frightening of all: the fact that you were alone, and no one, not the other kids and not even the other adults, would go to bat for you, and you were on your own when it came to fighting the monsters.
And then there was the abuse. Many of Stephen King’s books deal with abuse in some form or another, and It is no different. Child and spousal abuse are huge themes in It, and make up the tapestry of real-life horrors that many people have to deal with on a daily basis. And I have been there. I am a survivor of domestic violence. Trust me, no horror story can hold a candle to living with an abuser. My “Tom” was much like Beverly’s Tom (and father): I didn’t know when the horror would be unleashed, and I felt like a prisoner in my own home. And the scene when Beverly left Tom for good mirrored so much of a fight from my own first marriage, in a hotel room. Like Beverly, I was frightened for my life, and actually thought that I would die. And I completely understand the shame that Beverly felt, and the lies that came afterwards. Beverly could not even admit to her closest friends (at least at first) the truth about her marriage. It was only after things came to a full circle, so to speak, that Beverly actually admitted how abusive her husband was. Living in an abusive marriage is much more frightening than most horror movies. The movies have a beginning and an end, and someone usually defeats the monster. But it is not so neat when any form of abuse is involved, and many survivors, including myself (and probably Beverly) would rather have faced a clown in the sewers with a slingshot and pair of silver bullets, than to actually face our abusers.
And speaking of Beverly, I think I need to clear the air about something.
Yes, I am talking about “that scene.”
I probably don’t need to explain myself, but I am talking about what is so eloquently referred to as (not my words) “the gang bang in the sewer.” In other words, I refer to the scene near the end of the book, when Beverly has sex with all six of the boys, in order to escape the sewers and return to the light of day.
I would be lying if I said that this scene was not a little disturbing, because it is disturbing. After all, we are talking about 11 year old children. When I was 11 years old, I was still playing with stuffed animals and wouldn’t touch boys because they had “cooties.” I was still very much a child, in other words.
But, I was also about a year away from needing my first bra. My skin had already begun to break out. I was at least 5’4″, only a few inches from my adult height of 5’9″ and change.
In other words, I was crossing the bridge into adulthood. And the Losers were crossing that bridge as well. They had to behave as adults that entire summer, in dealing with a monster that their town simply refused to acknowledge. Really, we could argue that the monster was their town. And all seven of them recognized that fact on a fundamental level. The Losers longed for the grown-ups to come in and take charge, but really, a grown-up “taking charge” would have just hindered their quest, since they were more adult than 99% of the adults around them.
And what do adults do, aside from being able to choose Oreo cookies as a valid breakfast option? Well, Oreo cookies are great and all, but being an adult involves a few more choices than breakfast. And one of those choices is who to love, and how to express that love.
In other words, adults have sex. In fact, having sex is probably a consolation prize for being forced to be responsible, aka working and paying bills (kidding, kidding). But sex is one of the choices of adulthood. And sex is often viewed as one of the major transitions from childhood to adulthood.
And this is exactly what happened during the “sewer gang bang.” The Losers Club crossed the bridge from childhood to adulthood during that afternoon. They had been walking the bridge that summer, but fully crossed over that day when they finally did “It.” For Beverly in particular, it was an especially meaningful experience. She had been receiving the message all summer from her own abusive father that sex was “dirty” and that she needed to remain “intact.” With this act, she was finally empowered and saw the “sex act” for what it really was: the ultimate act of love with some special people. And it was not a repulsive or ugly. It was just beautiful.
Before we talk about the clown (trust me, we are getting there), I want to pay homage to another character in this book that is often overlooked.
I am talking about the town of Derry Itself (see what I did there). In all seriousness, though, no one can write the small town like The Master.
Again, if I start to get nostalgic about small town life, all I have to do is crack open a Stephen King book. And bam, there goes the nostalgia!
I feel like my own unnamed Indiana hometown could have been Derry’s Twinner. Sure, we didn’t have a clown living under the sewers (I can’t entirely vouch for that, though) but the rest of the similarities were just frightening. Such as people’s attitudes towards bullying. Man’s inhumanity toward’s his fellow man was accepted in Derry, and it was accepted in my town. And you had to belong. In other words, if you were like me and spent a minute of your life outside the town, you were an outsider and subject to punishment for that act. And there is a culture in small towns, whether it be through its local celebrities, certain stores and restaurants that cannot be found anywhere else or maybe even a “funny fellow” that always seems to show at the local celebrations
mass slayings of people that makes sense to locals, but causes anyone else to shake their heads and wonder why something so trivial can hold so much meaning.
Ok, the clown…
Yes, we are finally there, so let’s talk about the most iconic clown…ever.
Now, to me at least, there is something inherently creepy about clowns. I am not really sure why this is. Maybe it’s because they hide under all that face paint. Or that they don’t wear regular clothes but instead wear garish colors and over-sized shoes. And they try to make us laugh. Now, I like to laugh…don’t get me wrong. But when people, especially ones hiding under grease paint and wearing garish clothes that come complete with over-sized shoes try to force it on me, then the laughter becomes forced. In fact, the laughter turns into a weapon. And the laughter is no longer fun, but something to be feared.
So, the clown is inherently scary. But at the same time, the clown is also associated with childhood and fun times, like the circus. So, a perfect lure, in other words.
And it worked. It fed off the fear of children. And in order to do that, It had to lure them in somehow. And fool those children, at least momentarily. And what better way to do that, than to bring up happy associations, such as the circus? And children are imaginative, and can be emotional hurricanes of sorts. So the monster had it right: conjure up the happy emotions, and then (literally) scare them to death, almost in the same breath. And children, unlike adults, have fears that are easy to capitalize on. Mummies, werewolves, witches and the rest of the usual suspects are all ripe for the picking. And, as stated in this book, a haunt is a place where animals come to feed. And what better place to feed for such a creature than a city full of the rich imaginations of children, providing the food needed to nourish such evil? That is, until It’s own source of food was used against It, and It became the hunted, instead of the hunter. And the lion was vanquished by the antelopes, proving that sometimes, even the underdogs can fight the good fight, and come out the winners.
So that’s It! Or maybe I mean that I am done with my review of one of The Master’s most iconic books, and a book that stays with me to this day, no matter how many times I read it! So join me next month for February’s read and review, where we take a short detour to Derry yet again, but we are staying away from the sewers this time, since love is in the air! That’s right, I will be reviewing and dissecting Bag of Bones, another favorite of mine!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like most of King’s other work, It is part of the Stephen King universe, and it connected to many of his other books. Here are some of the connections I found:
-It takes place in Derry. Derry is a hotbed of activity in the King universe, and several other King stories take place in Derry. These include Bag of Bones, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher and Secret Window, Secret Garden. Derry is also mentioned in countless other stories, including Revival and The Tommyknockers.
-Ben Hanscom is said to live in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. Hemingford Home is also the home of Mother Abagail in The Stand.
-Pennywise is similar to Dandelo, a creature encountered by Roland and Susannah in the final book of the Dark Tower series. Both creatures feed off of human emotions, although fear and laughter appear to be the central ones. Additionally, Dandelo owns a robot that he refers to as Stuttering Bill. It is possible that the Losers did not completely destroy It, and that Dandelo may be one of Pennywise’s offspring.
-Dick Halloran is mentioned as a friend of Wil Hanlon. Dick Halloran is a major character in The Shining, and also makes an appearance in Dr. Sleep. In essence, by rescuing Wil from the fire at the Blackspot, Dick Halloran helped give birth to the Losers Club.
-Mike Hanlon makes an appearance in the book Insomnia.
-In the book Dreamcatcher, Jonesy sees a statue that the Losers Club has dedicated to the missing and murdered children in Derry. However, the statue is defaced with graffiti that says “Pennywise lives”, provoking further speculation that the Losers did not completely destroy Pennywise.
-Beverly references the Castle Rock Strangler. Of course, this is the killer that Johnny Smith helps to catch in the book The Dead Zone.
-In the novel 11/22/63, Jake Epping meets two children and teaches them how to dance the “lindy hop.” These two children happen to be Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier, and Jake meets them shortly after the children have confronted Pennywise in the sewers of Derry.
As a child, I was a victim of bullying. I was tormented pretty often. I must say, I think there are some kids that are just born bad…
But luckily, I was able to escape my small town and the bullying, and I have become the happy, health well-adjusted adult who spends way too much time blogging about Stephen King.
Although that is probably why I was lucky…I am not a character in a Stephen King novel, so I was able to escape my tormentors!
King has written extensively about childhood and bullying. Works such as It, Sometimes They Come Back, Low Men in Yellow Coats and Dreamcatcher all deal with characters who are bullies, and characters who must fight off the bullies, as their survival literally depends on it.
Well, King has added another story to his canon on childhood and bullies: Bad Little Kid, which is one of the stories in King’s latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. And this story is proof, that yes, childhood is hell, and that some people literally do not ever escape their demons.
Bad Little Kid begins with a man named Leonard Bradley, who is visiting someone who is in prison. That person is a man named George Hallas, who has been jailed for some unnamed crime and will soon be executed for the unnamed crime. Bradley is actually Hallas’ attorney, and is fighting so that Hallas’ life may be spared. We then learn that Hallas is on death row for killing a child, but that Bradley has some major questions as to why this crime was committed. Hallas then proceeds to tell Bradley the events that led him to commit the most awful crime of all: the murder of a child.
Hallas grew up without a mother, who died shortly after his birth. Hallas was raised by his father and housekeeper, Nona McCarthy. The family moved several times during his childhood. One of the towns that the family lived in was Talbot, Alabama, where Hallas befriends a mentally handicapped young girl named Marlee Jacobs.
Marlee and Hallas would walk to school together every day. One day, Marlee was upset because she could not find her lunchbox. Hallas comforts her, and Marlee temporarily forgets about her lunchbox.
However, when the children are walking home from school, they hear someone tormenting them. Hallas sees a young boy who is short and chubby with red hair, and who also wears a beanie on his head with a plastic propeller. Hallas does not recognize him from either his neighborhood or his school. The boy torments Hallas and Marlee, who try to ignore him and head home. However, the little boy has Marlee’s lunchbox, and continues to torment her.
The little boy throws the lunchbox out into the street, and tells Hallas that it is his fault. Marlee runs out into the street and is hit by a car driven by one of the teachers who works for the school that she attends with Hallas. The accident proves fatal for Marlee, who dies almost immediately.
Bradley listens to the story, but is skeptical that there even was a little kid, and thinks that Hallas may have imagined his tormentor. Hallas says that he spent the next several years dreaming about that kid, but passes it off as a childhood tragedy.
Hallas attends college, where he majors in drama. He finds some success, and also begins dating a young woman named Vicky. Vicky is high-strung and ambitious, and also has a tendency to abuse prescription drugs.
Vicky and Hallas both try out for roles in a production of The Music Man. Hallas gets a lead role, but Vicky becomes nervous and her audition is a disaster. Hallas tries to comfort Vicky, and they walk down the sidewalk. Hallas then hears someone tormenting him, and it is the same little kid he saw as a child. The little kid has not aged a day. Hallas starts to chase him, but Vicky stops him and tells him that the boy is not worth it.
Hallas then drops Vicky off at her apartment. This is the last time he sees Vicky alive, as Vicky commits suicide by hanging herself. Hallas finds out from Vicky’s distraught roommate Carla that Vicky believed that he put the little kid up to tormenting her. Hallas assures Carla that the little kid was indeed real, and that Carla is not at fault for Vicky’s suicide.
Carla and Hallas later marry, and Hallas turns to accounting for a career, rather than the theater. We also learn the little continues to torment Hallas’ loved ones, including his former housekeeper, Nonie. Hallas’ father had died in a mining accident, and the little boy tries to convince Nonie that the boots she had given Hallas’ father were responsible for the accident. Nonie also passes away from a heart attack, and Hallas believes the little boy to be responsible, After Nonie’s funeral, Hallas receives a package in the mail that contains the little boy’s hat. He then burns the hat, believing it to be cursed.
Carla becomes pregnant, and she and Hallas begin attending church on Sundays again. One Sunday, Hallas sees his tormentor on the church steps. A firecracker is thrown in Carla’s direction, and she falls down the steps, suffering a miscarriage and losing the baby.
Hallas’ marriage suffers after the loss of their child, and he throws himself into volunteering at his church. He pays special attention to young boys who need a mentor. He is able to raise funds for a boy named Ronnie to have the surgery needed to correct his vision. Hallas then uses Ronnie as bait to trap the little boy who has been tormenting him.
He is successful in trapping the little boy, and chases him out into the street. Hallas then shoots the little in the back, as revenge for the all deaths he has caused. He almost believes that he has killed an ordinary child, but sees a dark presence in the little boy’s eyes before he passes away. Hallas is arrested immediately, and found guilty of murdering. He also receives the death penalty.
Bradley lets Hallas finish his story, but he is still skeptical. He asks Hallas why the creature picked him, but Hallas cannot answer that question. Hallas also points out that no one has been able to identify the little boy, and no family members ever claimed the body. Bradley promises Hallas that he will attend his execution.
Six days later, Hallas is executed. Bradley is attendance, along with Hallas’ priest. Before his death, Hallas warns Bradley that evil will disguise itself as a child.
Bradley leaves the prison after Hallas is executed. He sees movement from the corner of his eye. He also notices that his car has been vandalized. Bradley opens his car door, and finds a beanie with a propeller on top of it. There is a note stating: Keep it, I have another one. The note also states that Bradley is next. In the distance, Bradley hears a child’s laughter.
Uncle Stevie is known for his creepy stories, and Bad Little Kid did not disappoint in that department. Uncle Stevie is also good at taking what should be innocent, and corrupting it. Again, this story did not disappoint in that department, either.
Take the title character for instance…
First, my mind went here:
Yeah, if Opie Taylor went bad, and somehow all the lessons from his dad didn’t stick…
Maybe this creature is some evil Twinner to Opie Taylor, then…
But of course, my mind went here too:
Ah, yes. Danny Bonaduce. And I don’t think this is a case of an evil Twinner. Mr. Bonaduce is capable of being bad all on his own, thank you! Now I will never look at a partridge in a pear tree the same way again!
So yes, this was one seriously creepy story. Some people literally can never escape their demons. Hallas is one of those people. His demon followed him everywhere and he was only able to get away from it by dying. The demon takes away everything that matters to Hallas: his childhood friend. his first love, his family, his marriage and eventually his life. The only way that Hallas was able to escape the creature that was tormenting him was through death. And no reason was ever give why Hallas was chosen, he just was. Often, the lottery of life will throw you some bad stuff, and there is nothing you can do but take what is dealt to you, and hope that you can somehow survive it.
And the ending to this one…oh boy..
Nobody really won at the end of the story. Hallas died at the hands of the state. Most of Hallas’ family and friends were dead. And then there was Bradley.
I would say the Bradley was the biggest loser at the end. Not only did his client die, Bradley inherited the sin of client. Of course, evil does not die. It will continue to live on, even if in a different form. So now Bradley is condemned to live with the evil, and the question is not will the evil win, but when it will win. For it will win, as the scales are tipped in its favor for eternity.
All my life, I have been a loner. A Loser, some might say.
Making friends has never been my strong suit. Although I do have one good one now. And she knows who she is, and how much I love her. And how proud I am to call her my friend.
But throughout much of my life, its just been me, myself and I. I like being alone, but sometimes it gets a little old.
So what do I did I do (and still do)?
What any sensible person does? Grab a good book…duh! A good book is a cure for almost anything, including the flu, being dumped by your ass hat ex and yes…loneliness!
I was able to lose myself in the adventures in these books (everything from Anne McAffrey to David Eddings to Madeleine L’Engle to almost any other category that you could think of). Another trip to Pern? Sure, sign me up stat!
But perhaps the biggest part of these books were the characters. I identified so much with these characters. My spirit Losers, much of the time. And how I wished I could have a cup of coffee with some of these guys, and just chew the fat with them for a few hours.
And some of my most memorable book friendships (not to be confused with my book boyfriends, thank you very much) came from stories by Stephen King.
Stephen King is just great at creating memorable characters. And he can also portray relationships very well. This combination makes for some great friendships between his characters. Sometimes these relationships end in tragedy and sometimes at least one party makes some kind of noble sacrifice for the good of the other. Or sometimes what was once a beautiful relationship turns toxic. However, these relationships are rich and woven seamlessly into the tapestry we call a Stephen King book. In other words, they are never dull.
With that being said, here are my top 10 friendships in all of Stephen King’s books.
10) Charles Jacobs and Jamie Morton (Revival)
Some friendships withstand the test of time and just endear. Normally, this is a good thing…
However, what is good in our world is not always good in a Stephen King novel. In other words, there are some friendships that just should not be, and this includes the one between Charles Jacobs and Jamie Morton in Revival.
Sure, the relationship between the two main characters in Revival starts off innocuously enough. A young preacher with a beautiful family, who just happens to have an unusual hobby (electrifying, you might say). And a five year old boy who is impressionable, and eager to please. And he also gets caught up in the preacher’s new hobby and becomes an eager assistant to his new friend…kind of sweet, actually.
Well, the friendship between young Jamie Morton and Charles Jacobson does start off as sweet and even a little touching. But like most things in the King universe, all good things must come to an end. And the relationship between Charles and Jamie does seem to come to an end, when a tragedy strikes. Charles flees town, but Jamie is never quite able to forget the dynamic preacher.
A chance meeting years later re-kindles the friendship between the two. At first, it seems that this is a good thing, as Charles is able to help Jamie kick his heroin habit. However, the friendship soon becomes dangerous, as Charles persuades Jamie to assist him him in one final experiment that should not have taken place. The results are tragic, and the consequences for Jamie, Charles and several other people are simply horrible. Throughout the book, Jamie refers to Charles as his fifth business, and feels that he owes the man a favor. However, the relationship between Jamie and Charles is proof that some debts are best left unpaid.
9) Dolores Claiborne and Vera Donovan (Dolores Claiborne)
Vera Donovan reminds her friends Dolores Claiborne (in the book of the same name) that sometimes an accident is a woman’s best friend (especially when it comes to husbands who abuse their daughters in unspeakable ways).
While it is true that the accident that befalls Joe St. George winds up being a very good friend to poor Dolores, Vera Donovan ends up being the best friend that Dolores ever had. Vera is able to offer some sage advice to her employee that helps save the well being of her employee’s family. However, more importantly, Vera provides a listening ear for Dolores and acts as a sounding board of sorts, allowing Dolores to vent in relative safety. Dolores is poor and lives in a hard world. The treatment she endures from her husband and society in general is a constant reminder of how hard the world is for a woman like Dolores. Vera’s situation is not as difficult (due to her wealth), but is still actually not much better than Dolores’ situation (it is implied that Vera may have been great friends with an accident that befell her husband). However, Vera suffers from extreme loneliness, and that loneliness is only abated by the presence of her housekeeper (and later full-time caregiver). Each woman provides what the other is unable to provide for herself, and is a complement to the other.
The relationship between Dolores and Vera can almost be considered symbiotic, as there is mutual benefit enjoyed by each party.
Like I said before, making friends has never been a strength of mine. I was an awkward kid. Now I’m an awkward adult. And not cute awkward either. More like what the fuck is wrong with you kind of awkward…
So my social calendar is still almost as empty as it was during my childhood, except for a few special people. And finding those special people is just even more awesome, since making friends becomes harder as you age (one of the few benefits of government sponsored babysitting er school is that you do get to be around your peer group. Adulthood is not so cut and dry).
Jack Sawyer is a King character that seems to have the same problem: he has trouble connecting with people, and is therefore very isolated. However, his friendship with his blind neighbor Henry Leyden helps to bring him out of that isolation. Jack begins to realize, through his conversations with Henry, that he is part of a higher purpose, and that he cannot continue to ignore his calling. Jack also realizes that he must open up in regards to his childhood experiences in The Territories, because his knowledge may save someone’s (or several someone’s, for that matter) life.
Henry and Jack’s friendship is another example of a King relationship that ends in tragedy. The fact that Henry passes away shortly after Jack finally makes the decision to remove some his walls just makes this particular friendship even more bittersweet.
One of the reasons why I love King’s work is his portrayal of the disenfranchised (i.e. the underdogs). The disenfranchised (or underdogs) often play major roles in King’s work. Oftentimes, these characters are among King’s most memorable, and they are portrayed in a loving (as opposed to pitiful) light, causing the reader to emphasize with the character, as opposed to pitying the character.
Sheemie Ruiz is one of these underdogs. Sheemie is a mildly mentally handicapped young man who is first encountered by Roland Deschain and his friends during a fateful few months spent in the town of Meijis. Roland and his friends stand up for Sheemie when he is wronged, and a friendship is born. Sheemie soon becomes part of the ka-tet, and an integral member, to boot. Sheemie’s contribution to Roland’s quest is a large one, and the gunslinger is never able to forget the young man he met during those fateful months in Meijis.
The friendship between Roland and Sheemie is another example of a bittersweet relationship. Even though the two are reunited many years later (and Sheemie once again becomes a contributor to Roland’s quest), Sheemie also becomes yet another casualty in Roland’s quest.
Some of the best friendships are ones that span a wide gulf, whether that gulf be age, social class or any number of other factors. After all, variety is the spice of life!
Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran are a perfect example of this type of friendship. On the outside, the two could not be more different: when they first meet, Dick and Danny are nearly 50 years apart in age. Danny is the only child of two loving parents, and Dick is a confirmed life-long bachelor. However, there is more that meets the eye for both Dick and Danny, as both possess PSI abilities that Dick refers to “the shining.” In other words, both possess paranormal talents that render them outsiders, especially Danny. However, Danny is able to receive some comfort from Dick, as he begins to realize that he is no longer alone. And Dick is able come through for Danny in a way that most of the adults in Danny’s life (especially his father) are unable to do, when Danny uses his abilities to call on Dick to rescue him and his family from a haunted hotel that wishes to use Danny as a sort of human generator.
Although the two fall out of touch, Dick is still able to come through for Danny yet again when needed, this time when Danny is forced to become an adult and help another psychically gifted child who has become endangered. However, there is an added twist: Dick is able to reach out from beyond the grave and offer his assistance. The fact that Dick is able to assist Danny from beyond the grave makes this friendship even more endearing and powerful.
Yes, Wolf and Jack Sawyer are actually the quintessential bromance (at least in this blogger’s humble opinion that worth at least 2 pesos, dammit). And werewolves and 12 year old boys nicknamed Traveling Jack make much better couples, anyway.
In all seriousness, Wolf and Jack are another example of a friendship that spans a great divide. And the great divide is literal, since Wolf and Jack are actually from different worlds. And not of the same species, as Wolf is a werewolf. However, that does not matter to either Wolf or Jack, as they draw together in Jack’s quest to save his mother from dying of cancer (and save her Territories Twinner in the process). Wolf becomes Jack’s guide in a world he does not understand, and Jack returns that favor to Wolf when the two are forced to continue their question in Jack’s world. This friendship is truly complementary, as Wolf and Jack are able to provide each other with what the other needs.
And Wolf and Jack also fight together, to the very end. This is yet another example of one of King’s tragic friendships, as Wolf sacrifices his life doing what he does best: protecting the herd.
Again, the underdogs and disenfranchised. I cannot emphasize enough that these guys are some of King’s most well rounded and well written characters. And Tom Cullen and Nick Andros definitely fall into the underdog category. And both also fall into the well rounded and well written category.
Nick Andros is a deaf mute, while Tom Cullen is a mildly mentally handicapped man. Both are survivors of Captain Trips, aka the super flu that has killed off 99.999% of the population. Nick communicates through writing, and Tom cannot read. But somehow, these two manage to save each other, both from actual physical dangers and from loneliness. Even though they cannot communicate at first (due to their handicaps), a deep lasting bond develops between the two. The two men are able to eventually communicate when they meet Ralph Brenter, and all three become integral members of the Boulder Free Zone. However, this friendship ends in tragedy when Nick is killed by a bomb placed in house that he is in while meeting with other members of the Free Zone. Tom never forgets his friend, and thinks of him fondly.
This is another relationship that extends beyond the grave, as Nick’s ghost helps Tom save Stu Redman from certain death after the defeat of Randall Flagg.
Ah, a boy and his dog…does it get any sweeter than that?
Well, actually, make that a boy and his bumbler. But its still the same in principle.
Animals are often major players in King’s works. Cujo, Kojak and even the unfortunate cat Church all played major roles in the lives of the human beings around them. Oftentimes, King’s animals are better people than the people in his stories, and Oy is no exception to that rule.
Oy and Jake are another pair who manage to save each other. Oy was an outcast from his pack and rescued by Jake, and joins Roland and the tet in their quest to save the Dark Tower. Oy repays that favor in spades when he helps Roland save Jake from Gasher, a psychotic pedophile who seeks to rob Jake of his innocence. This is just one of many times when Oy proves his worth as a four-legged gunslinger. Oy is also the final piece of the puzzle for Jake, in that it is Oy who finally helps Jake feel at home in Mid-World, after his violent exit from his own world. Oy becomes the glue that holds Jake to the quest, and to his new home in a strange place.
Truer words could not be said by a billy bumbler (or anyone else), in expressing his feelings after what is one of the saddest deaths in any piece of literature I have ever read.
2) Duddits, Pete, Henry, Beaver and Jonesy (Dreamcatcher)
Childhood and all the joys and traumas associated with it is a major theme in many King books, and these books are among some of his best works. Dreamcatcher is a novel that deals with childhood, especially the friendships that are formed between children.
Pete, Henry, Beaver and Jonesy are a foursome. They are the quintessential best friends, and are seemingly average children. However, when they stand up for child with Down syndrome (Douglas “Duddits” Cavell), that changes. Not only do the boys do something courageous and even noble, they make a new friend who will change their lives forever. Duddits is able to open the boys’ eyes, making them see the world in a new light. Duddits also gives the boys a gift of telepathy, as Duddits is no ordinary child. This gift (and Duddits’ powers) will come in handy in adulthood, when the boys (who are now men) must face another adversary, one that is far worse than the bully they confronted as children. Once again, Duddits brings the men together, and allows them to defeat the enemy before it has a chance to endanger our planet. The ending is bittersweet, as Duddits, Pete and Jonesy sacrifice their lives in the fight.
Oh, and shit weasels. Perhaps one of the most delight creatures in any Stephen King book (or any book, for that matter).
And now, I present to you my favorite Stephen King friendship of all time…
*drum roll please*
1) The Losers Club (It)
Well, what can I say, I’m not sure how else I can put it…
So I will just come out and say it.
Childhood is hell. Really, I can’t think of a better way to say it. And its so so true.
These guys really did have one hell of a childhood (see what I did there). And that’s not necessarily a good thing…
Well, shape-shifting clowns that live in the sewers cannot possibly ever be a good thing. And when the clown employs local bullies to do its dirty work, that is also not a good thing.
So what’s a kid living in scenic Derry, Maine to do?
Somehow survive the encounters with that evil clown, and find other survivors to help fight that motherfucker! And bonus points in giving that group of friends a cool name, aka The Losers Club!
It was the book that popped my Stephen King cherry, and unlike certain other “first times”, I enjoyed this cherry popping immensely. And my favorite part of It was the friendship between the kids. I identified with all of them in one way or another, as I was bullied, and the notion of a clown living in the sewers of my hometown wasn’t really THAT far-fetched.
I actually would have gladly fought alongside the Losers Club, risking my neck to defeat that bad, nasty old clown who had a horrible habit of killing the local kids (although he wasn’t picky, adults would do if times were lean). I often felt invisible as a child, and I saw so many parallels to Derry in my own small, hometown, as it seemed everyone overlooked the wrong, and chose not to see what was really going on right underneath their noses. I especially identified with Beverly Marsh, the lone female of the group (gingers of above average height, unite!) and longed for a love such as the one Ben had for Beverly.
At one point in the book, one of the characters states that the other members of The Losers Club were the best friends he/she ever had. And I agreed: the members of The Losers Club were the best (book) friends I ever had. And that is still true today.
So there it is: my top 10 friendships in Stephen King’s books. Well, some of these friendships may not exactly be healthy ones, but all of them are certainly memorable. And they are just one part of the amazing tapestry that we call a Stephen King book, adding layers of richness and color to an already elaborate, complex design.
So do you really want to be a friend to someone? Well, here’s an idea: introduce them to a Stephen King book, if he/she has never had the pleasure of experiencing one. And I will guarantee you that you will make a friend for life!