April 19, 2017 7:48 AM - by Stephen King - Subscribe

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.
posted by komara (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This marks the third (or maybe fourth?) time I've read this book, and the first time in the last 20 years or so.

One thing I noticed this time that I've never thought about before is the situation with Beverly and her father. At the end he gets possessed (for lack of a better word) by It and goes chasing her down the street. While it was happening I kept thinking, "Man, how do you ever go home again after that?" Then it occurred to me that this chase takes place on the day that the Losers Club finally goes into the sewers. Every other time I've read this book I've been distracted by the finale and never stopped to think, "How does Beverly ever go back home?"

So ... did I just gloss over an earlier paragraph about that somewhere? I know during Adult Beverly's trip through Derry it's mentioned that she didn't really keep in touch with her father, but I don't recall anything about this incident, or her leaving home at 11 years old.
posted by komara at 7:58 AM on April 19, 2017

It's been a while since I've read the book, but my recollection is that it isn't really mentioned again; the implication that I always took away was that after that defeat of It in the 1950s, Bev was able to go home again because - as with so many other things where It takes a direct hand - her father would have forgotten what had happened, as Bev eventually does herself. The story makes it clear that at various points after the first encounter with It, all of the kids except Mike left Derry, and that none of them really had a choice in that - they were kids, and their parents decided, so my take from that is that Bev left Derry with her parents. But yeah, that bizarre sequence of Bev's dad chasing her with the intent of sexual assault just gets disappeared in the text. Only the stuff with how It uses Henry Bowers to also force the Losers Club into the sewers appears to have any consequences that are mentioned in the text.
posted by nubs at 8:33 AM on April 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

You know, I guess you're right. Several times King refers to one of the kids seeing or experiencing something that would have broken an adult's mind, and then the kids just absorb it and keep on going.

I guess I'm supposed to assume that after everything Beverly endured underground that to go back home and deal with her non-possessed no-memory dad would be the easiest task of the day.
posted by komara at 8:56 AM on April 19, 2017

I reread It relatively recently after not having read it for a few years. I was pregnant with my son (HA HA HA, MAYBE A POOR CHOICE OF READING MATERIAL) and had a lot of medical tests coming up and wanted a loooong book that I knew I liked to read during the endless wait times, also I knew there was a planned movie. I really enjoyed the reread except for the part where it scared the everloving shit out of me.

Okay, first of all, It is TERRIFYING. Like, so, so scary. I found most of the sequences where each kid has an encounter with IT before they meet each other almost unreadably scary. Particularly Ben's encounter with the mummy (?) on the bridge on a bitter, deserted winter's day. And I finally got WHY Beverly saw blood coming out of the sink drain, like WHY that was her deepest unspoken fear.

I know the plot description in the post is from the back of the book but THEY ARE NOT TEENAGERS. THEY ARE 11 YEARS OLD. I probably read it for the first time when I was 13 and sort of shrugged off their ages but dude. Eleven is REALLY young. I found the idea that such young children were facing down an ancient, unimaginable evil REALLY profound and upsetting.

And yeah, I agree that the book doesn't ever address what happened when Beverly went back home that day, after her father tried to attack her. I think she left home relatively young and never returned. She and her father haven't been in touch in years and years when she returns to Derry. I'm pretty sure he's died and she didn't know.

I'm very excited about this thread! I have a LOT of thoughts and *feelings* about this book.
posted by Aquifer at 1:16 PM on April 19, 2017

And I finally got WHY Beverly saw blood coming out of the sink drain, like WHY that was her deepest unspoken fear.

Can you elaborate on this? I am interested in your interpretation of why that is Beverly's greatest fear.
posted by all about eevee at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

My interpretation is that it's tied in with her complex and fearful feelings about sexuality, menstruation and becoming a woman. She views things things as threatening (IMO) due to her relationship with her father and how she senses, on some level, that he is attracted to her. There is mention of her feeling tension between them that wasn't there before she started puberty.
posted by Aquifer at 1:40 PM on April 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I have to admit I'd never thought about Bev's particular fear before and how it manifested, but as soon as I did I came to pretty much the same conclusion. Bev's afraid of how the impending changes of puberty will affect her relationship with her Dad - hence the blood, and the tapping, exploring, quasi-phallic finger. Beyond her Dad, Bev is also aware of how her relationships might change with the rest of the Loser's Club too. And Bev's solution in the sewers to keeping the group connected ties into her confronting that fear.

As for the age of the kids being 11, I think that having all of them on the cusp of puberty is important to what King is trying to do; he wants them all on that edge of everything starting to change, so that they are still kids but starting to become aware of the peculiar alchemy that will make them into adults, because the distinction between child and adult is pretty important in IT. To illustrate that, we have Henry Bowers, who was older - into puberty - and who was driven mad(der) by his encounters with Pennywise, whereas the Loser's Club is able to cope.
posted by nubs at 2:19 PM on April 19, 2017

"I found most of the sequences where each kid has an encounter with IT before they meet each other almost unreadably scary."

It's funny you should mention that. I just last night finished my re-read and the monster parts didn't bother me at all like they used to. I wrote a lot more about this in my Goodreads review (which is far too long to post here in its entirety) but the takeaway is that the things that now scare me are the adult sensations of loss: loss of memory, loss of old friends, loss of what it means to be a kid.

Having said that, though:

"Particularly Ben's encounter with the mummy (?) on the bridge on a bitter, deserted winter's day."

if I had to pick which particular terror has stuck with me the most all these years I think it's Ben's mummy. The deep and bitter cold, the frozen river, the balloons floating against the wind, and the scent of dead cinnamon and dust ... that one always stands out in my mind.

I think it was the scariest part for my childhood best friend, and him discussing his fear is what's in my memory. Maybe for me it was the Wolfman? But now, with two decades gone since he and I read it and talked about it, I'm left unsure which is which.

... which makes it really meta, I guess, for King's discussion of the terra infirma of our own memories and how strongly I relate because I have half-remembered experiences of discussing the fears originating from the book wherein King discusses the terra infirma of our own memories ...
posted by komara at 6:49 PM on April 19, 2017

IT was the second King I read, immediately after finishing The Tommyknockers. I've read it easily a dozen times in the intervening years and each time a different part jumps out at me as more terrifying than the time before. The consistent ones are: 1) when Pennywise is talking to kid Ben at the library and has the razor blades in his gums, then bites down as hard as he can, and 2) the chapter about Patrick Hockstetter and his inner world.

And of course IT is to blame for my enduring clown phobia. Thanks, Steve.
posted by altopower at 7:15 AM on April 20, 2017

I was struck during my rereading at how sad and miserable and tragic Eddie Corcoran's life was. (Of course all the murders are tragic and horrific.) But his life was so sad - abused by his stepfather while his mother lets it happen, younger brother murdered by stepfather while his mother helps cover it up, he runs away and lives homeless in the park, just wants to sit by the Canal for a while and enjoy the quiet and the not-being-abused, and It comes along and rips his head off.

It ties into the underlying thread of the novel that there's just something WRONG with Derry. Even when the cycle of murders isn't currently happening, Derry is a shitty place to live and people are driven to their very worst while living there.
posted by Aquifer at 7:49 AM on April 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

One of the things I do really like about IT is the fact that yeah, Derry is a fucked up place; it's had this evil thing living under it since the dawn of time and that presence, even when not active, has resulted in a place that is fucked up in so many ways. It's an interesting way to explore the nature of the evil that is present; It isn't just a thing, it's a mindset. Derry's a haunted town and King really works with the meanings of "haunt", including some old or localized meanings - a place to inhabit; to persist in staying; something that causes ongoing suffering; to become accustomed; a feeding place for animals.
posted by nubs at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2017

I just finished rereading this after seeing the trailer for the new movie. Interestingly enough (to me), I first read this about 27 years ago, when I was about 12-13, so it was great timing. I stopped reading King maybe fifteen years ago or more, and what little I have reread has not really stood up so well for me. However, I was really pleased that I really enjoyed this. Young Ben is a great character, so are young Bev and young Mike. I didn't feel we got enough time with the others to know them very well. As for the adults, old Ben seems just like an sketch of a wish-fulfillment character--after his very good first chapter, there's basically nothing for the rest of the book. Only old Bev and old Mike really seems to get much development. Old Mike is great though, I love the Interludes with Mike and his thoughts on growing old as a sad watchman in this terrible town, struggling not to call back his friends to what he sensibly assumes will be their death.

So all that leaves Bill... ugh, Bill is my one real complaint with this book. Was this the first time that King indulged in such an uncloaked author stand-in? He's as interesting as a cardboard box, yet all the other characters fawn over him, and for no apparent reason other than he's got a decent bike. Ben/Bev/Mike are all tougher and more resourceful, and they along with Richie and Stan seem to be smarter. Okay, Bill maybe moves things along and is willing to take ridiculous risks that should have gotten them all killed, but the book is filled with page after page of "Big Bill what are we to do? Show us the way, oh wise Bill!" I just felt most of the chapters with him were snoozers and I couldn't wait to get back to someone more interesting. And the bit about Bill's experience in the college creative writing course was such laughably self-indulgent bullshit.

Anyway, those few qualms do not stand in the way of some really great world-building, and some really chilling passages. I don't react to werewolves or mummies as anything but cartoon characters, but a couple of the passages where Pennywise is fucking with Mike while he's all alone in the library definitely had me checking the locks on my doors before bedtime. Pennywise is really great, he fits so well as the mascot for the town that is willing to accept even the flimsiest reasons to ignore evil.

The passages with Patrick Hockstetter and Eddie Corcoran were really chilling, especially the parts about poor Eddie having to live with knowing that his father killed his little brother, and his mother not willing to do anything about it.

A few things that the book left me thinking about:

How does It choose his victims? Sometimes it seems like typical monster-movie morality--he's choosing those who are different, or who go it alone. Ben/Mike/Stan/Eddie all have basically the same theme: It finds kids who don't stick with the pack. Ritchie's even sort of fits with this, since he was separated from the pack by bullies. But other kids get killed attacked at home, like that toddler who gets attacked in his bathroom, or Bev. But is Bev really attacked or is she just being tormented by the voices and blood in the drain?

Why did all the initial attacks on the Losers fail? Is this normal, does It frequently *almost* kill a kid like that, because he enjoys scaring the kids to death almost as much as killing them? I think the kids should have wondered more about this, considering how many others It got.

Among the Losers who leave town, all get rich. But of those six who got rich, Bill, Ben, Richie and Bev get rich through the cultivation of their creativity. They ultimately live. Stan and Eddie get rich through prosaic business success. They die.
posted by skewed at 10:49 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

yet all the other characters fawn over him, and for no apparent reason other than he's got a decent bike.

Although I grew up in a much later time period than these children, I can say without a doubt this is all it takes for a group of children to fawn over another. Maybe substitute bike for video game system for today's kids.
posted by 2ht at 4:37 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you make a good point, skewed. I think Bill suffers a bit from the sort of central-character-syndrome King often runs into, where the central character for him is an Everyman (meaning a white male writer, meaning basically him). I think it was in On Writing where he calls his main character concept the "I-Guy"? Anyway, he can tend to take that very literally. So all the other characters get more effort at their actual characterization--like the "I-Guy" is the movie star and everyone else is a character actor. But the pitfall of that, as you point out, is that the character actors end up more vibrant and distinctive and textured and interesting.

I agree that we're much more often told that Bill is amazing, central, an anchor, a leader, rather than shown the kind of charisma or quality that would help us come to the conclusion ourselves. A real downside to the unpacked notion of the "I-Guy". In the end, I think we're supposed to tie his importance/centrality/leaderness to his writerness, his imagination but also his ability to control, direct, and script his imagination. (A bit of puffery as always, coming from a writer, but whaddya gonna do.) Maybe like a version of Gordie from "The Body", whose role in his Losers-Club friend group is founded on a respect and awe of his storytelling. Blend Gordie (the writer) with Chris (the thoughtful leader) and you get Big Bill?
posted by theatro at 8:52 AM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

While I agree that Bill is underdeveloped as the "leader", one of things I do like with how King handles his cast in the Losers Club is that they all have their moments to shine.

Ben knows how to make the silver BBs, but Bev is the steady shot. Mike and Richie are the ones who can handle the smoke lodge. Eddie and Bill both know the importance and power of belief and imagination, from different angles. Stan - well, Stan is the interesting case. Rationale and disciplined only goes so far when confronting the metaphysical.

dammit, I need to go back and read it again. Cuz now I'm thinking about Stan.
posted by nubs at 9:50 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

It had some great characters and I appreciated the themes of losing your childhood... but it felt like that was buried under a lot of worldbuilding.
posted by Monochrome at 5:59 PM on May 16, 2019

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