Commentary: IT by Stephen King

This is not a review because how do you review something so epic? This is an expanded version of my thoughts and comments on one of my all-time favorite novels. Beyond top 5, this is top 3.

I re-read IT for the second time during January 2019 as part of a readalong hosted on instagram by Luke (luke.at.what.im.reading) and I decided to annotate my copy. Currently, that consists of a few hundred tabs. Eventually, it will also be notes in the margins. I have my pristine hardback, and I’ll have my well-loved and destroyed paperback to remind myself what I loved.

The tabs: hot pink was general quotes I liked, usually those from the narrator not a specific character; orange was Bev moments/quotes (of course); yellow was Bill moments/quotes; green was Ben moments/quotes; blue was Mike moments/quotes; light purple was things about IT and the other entities as well as the plot moments that paid off later; and dark purple was anything the other characters did. Looking back if I had another color I probably would have done one for Richie too – I’ll explain why later.

The Losers…the first time you read this book I think it’s the love triangle of Bev, Bill, and Ben that stays in your mind. Bill is an overwhelming character and this is mostly his story so when you step away that’s what you remember. The second time around I assigned a specific color to Mike because of the role he played, not because I remembered the Interludes or how much of the voice of the story belongs to him. Mike gets so under-utilized in the adaptations and it made me feel brand new disappointment with the new one. They stole his story and I’m just going to say that I think there was a racial element to that decision, unconscious or otherwise. Why would they take this amazing representation of a young black male in the 60’s who had a strong, supportive nuclear family and make him an orphan being raised by a toxic family member? That just makes my skin crawl. Mike’s story deserved better, and I am hoping the second movie does better by him.

Richie is also so much more than I remembered. He was the funny guy, the mouth, but I forgot how much heart he has too. The adventures that are just Richie and Bill, and how much Richie loves him, are lovely. Richie also plays a lot bigger role in the defeat of IT than he gets credit for in the 60s, and he basically saves all their butts in the 80s. Of all the Losers, I think Richie is one of the most self-aware. He knows who he is and that he struggles to control parts of himself – but also knows those parts will develop into something more. And damn does he love his friends.

One of the things I was seeing during the readalong was people’s discomfort with the racism and violence toward gay men, specifically, and discussing whether or not those scenes and how they were written was necessary. Horror, and most especially Stephen King, hold up a mirror to the monsters we really are. The racial and homophobic violence are written to be taking place 60 and 30 years ago – but how familiar did those scenarios sound? The violence, vitriol, and hatred experienced by Mike and his family, experienced by Adrian, are things that still happen to this day. Are you uncomfortable with those scenes? GOOD. It means you are experiencing cognitive dissonance that the world is not different, and that we are uncomfortable because these things are still happening. This kind of violence is still in King’s recent books because we haven’t fixed anything. My discomfort with those scenes came from a place of fear and pain because it reminds me the world is not much better, and that there’s still work I can be doing to improve it.

It’s also why I love the tiny glimpses we get into Victor Criss. We want to believe we’d be Bill and stand up, but a lot of times – we’re Victor. Something feels wrong and we know things might have gone too far, but we don’t know how to break out of our pattern and confront the Henry Bowers that we meet in our lives. We don’t know how to confront, change, or break away from toxic people. If only he had, eh?

Since the first time I read this book, I have become a lot more informed, maybe even an expert, at issues related to socio-sexual power dynamics, abuse, trauma, and relationship violence. All of that information changed the way I saw Bev’s journey in IT and The Scene.

Listen, it is weird. I can also have the conversation about whether or not it was necessary as a way to reconnect the Losers. It definitely makes me uncomfortable and it’s not because of cognitive dissonance, it’s because we have to think about what sex means, and what sex means to an uninformed young person running on fear and instinct.

Bev’s journey is about the way we prematurely sexualize young girls – the second their body develops, even though their brain has not, they stop being a child and become an object. Bev is treated like a sexual being and doesn’t even realize that’s what’s happening – people make assumptions about her actions and emotions based on her body. Think about the way Bev loved Bill – it was innocent, it wasn’t physical – and the ability of the group to be friends with each other without complications. There was an awareness that Bev was a girl, and different, and a potential object for EMOTIONAL affection – but none of them thought about sex because that’s not where the brains of children go. They go to a totally different kind of love.

Controlling the sexuality of a young girl was also clearly there when it comes to the way Bev’s father treats her. He exerted fairly total control over his family, and there is always something about a maturing girl that is a little bit wild. I like to believe it’s because we are suddenly filled with the potential for creation (which is not necessarily sexual) and it scares people who are obsessed with power and control. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that he also exercised power and control over his wife – I think she could see what was coming for Bev and was going to try and do what she could to protect her, or stop it before too much happened. Bev is raw power and potential, growing into something beautiful. It’s so easy to knock that down, and when you look at the rest of her life’s journey – they succeeded. She dated and married men who only wanted to suffocate her because that was what she knew.

So when we go back to her childhood and her confusion over her father’s obsession with something that is not even on her mind, it makes Bev contemplate physical love and it’s ties to emotional love. When the Scene happens, it is Bev taking absolute control of her body and her power. In that moment, the only person influencing her decision was her. To her, the physical act was only an act of love and connection, not this dark, furtive thing it would become. The person with the power was Bev, and she made the choice to use it. It’s still extremely weird, but it’s ultimately empowering. It was an act of love.

Still unnecessary, but from a narrative standpoint it is in line with the rest of her journey.

This second time around also reminded me of one of the best quotes, and my friend Brad was nice enough to make an image of it for me.

Chances are that “people who build their houses in your heart” is going to end up tattooed on my body.

Anyway, IT is always a 5 star read for me, and this second time around it blew me away all over again how staggeringly good it is. I was an emotional wreck. I can barely even think of IT as a horror novel. People who are focused on Pennywise the Clown without understanding what the clown is, or that the story is SO MUCH BIGGER than that drive me crazy. It’s about love and friendship, and the things that make the world worth surviving in. I’ll probably wait a few years before I read it again, so I’ll have forgotten just enough for the journey to feel fresh again.

Author: Ghosts Inside

I read a lot and want to share all the great things I come across.

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