“Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write about the troll under the bridge or leave him — IT — forever.” – Stephen King
7 children and a Turtle plot to kill a clown. It takes a while.
Here we are motherfuckers, the book I’ve spent every article this year jerking off. IT. For the purposes of comparing it to the new movie, I will only be covering the 1950’s section of the book and some stuff from the history of Derry interludes. I also won’t be mentioning that scene because it doesn’t pertain to my points and Erin covered in a way more comprehensive and intelligent form earlier this month. (Editor’s note: I slipped him an extra bag of Skittles to say that. Thanks, Dan!)
Bill “Big Bill/Stutterin’ Bill” Denborough
The leader of the Losers Club. Bill is sort of the culmination of all King archtypes, in that he is the kid everyone underestimates. He has a stutter so everyone outside of the Losers percieves him as weak. He is a loner in his own home, in that since Georgie died he feels unhappy there. He has a great frustration at his core because he knows something is going on in the town and no one believes him. Bill is clearly the King stand-in character, but he is more than that in the kids’ section of the book. It isn’t like the moment they defeat the clown Bill stops stuttering and has a happy life. Bill bears the scars of Pennywise in both the senses that he fights It (with the help of the Turtle outside of time and space), but also in that the death of George. Georgie’s death is something he always carries with him in his head, and it shows up in his writing in later life. His encounters with It are always in the form of Georgie because he feels it’s his fault for his death, and he won’t forgive himself for that. That’s his real drive to kill the clown. Not “because he’s the leader,” but because it will give him some resolution to the great loss that he feels.
Another of Stephen King’s fantastically written female characters. Bev is a fighter, not in a brawling sense but in the sense she can’t be stopped. Her abusive father is despicable and she does all she can to resist her enviroment and rise above it. I think it’s why she’s the only one who isn’t afraid of Pennywise. Her encounter with It isn’t some fictional monster: it’s blood from a sink, a visual metaphor for a period. So in a sense, the thing Bev is afraid of isn’t something supernatural. It’s growing up.
Ben “Haystack” Hanscom
The Dam Builder himself. Ben is a wonderfully complicated character in that he hates himself for how he looks, but he’s still a great person. From helping Eddie and Bill build the dam in the Barrens to helping them construct a clubhouse underground, he wants to help them and be accepted. He’s going after what he wants and taking shit for it every step of the way. But Ben never gives up. He’s looked down upon and mocked for his weight, but he doesn’t let that stop him. His encounter with It in the form of a mummy speaks to his issues with weight, the mummy being covered in extra layers in the same way he feels he is.
Eddie “Edd’s” Kasbrack
The sickly kid is a trope through a lot of fiction when you have a band of childhood friends, but Ediie Kasbrack is different in that he is the sickly kid who isn’t really sick. This is personified in his ecounter with It in the form of a leper: it shows both his fear of illness and his fear of his attraction to others. We only piece this together later in the book that Eddie likes Greta Bowie (the bitch in the new movie who bullied Bev and wrote Loser on his cast). This is something the character will repress into adulthood, which is why It comes out in such an odd form in the leper offering him a blowjob. At his core he is a character who is never quite who he wants to be, and where things go for him as an adult we know they don’t get any better for him. While he has a defined role in the club, he is truly the navigator who’s lost his way.
Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier
Every team needs a joker and Ritchie does that for The Losers. The thing that’s rarely acknowledged about Richie is that he is Bill’s best friend, which we see by how often the two of them experience It showing itself. Richie has the clearest view during The Rite of Chud when they fill their clubhouse with smoke to see where It came from. With all his jokes and wisecracks, it reveals Richie to be a character who feels very small. This is seen literally during his encounter with It, when the Paul Bunyon statue comes to life and picks him up. He uses his beloved yet dreadful voices because he feels his own voice can’t be heard.
As an outsider, Mike gives us a good perspective on the underside of Derry. The abuse he and his family suffer at the hands of Butch Bowers directly and how people in the town treat him is despicable. But despite all of that, Mike stays in the shitty little town and wants to keep it safe. He truly takes on the lessons of his father in knowing the history of the area and is just a good kid. His encounter with It speaks to this directly in that seeing the rare bird, it’s a metaphor how he feels in this very white town. As a student of history he sees all the mistakes that have been made in the past by the town ignoring its rotten core, and he wants to change it. His love of history is clearly in spurred on when he and Richie complete the Rite of Chud and witness prehistoric Derry.
Stan “The Man” Uris
As the logical side of The Losers Club, Stan provides the grounding the kids need in order to survive their first battle with It. Stan is persecuted for his religion, which is a common theme in King books of people being ridiculed for being Jewish. Because of this, he understands what it’s like to be an outsider like the rest of the Losers Club. Unlike the others, though, he can’t accept all the weird things that are going on around them. In his encounter with It, with the dead kids in the Derry standpipe, he knows it’s something that can’t exist, so he fights back with fact. As he shouts names from his bird book, Stan shows he doesn’t fear It because It isn’t real. At his core, I feel this is why Stan couldn’t return to Derry. An ordered mind as a kid is one thing, but he only got more serious as he grew up and couldn’t allow Pennywise to break that order again.
The whole story shows the downfall of Henry Bowers and the kid didn’t have far to fall. He a reprehensible character from the beginning. You can blame his father, “crazy” Butch Bowers, who only rewards the negative behaviour Henry displays. This ties in with the theme of something being rotten at the core of Derry and how trauma is passed down through the ages. But from trying to carve his name into Ben’s stomach, Henry is on a downward spiral. His insanity, egged on by Pennywise, becomes more and more apparent in his hatred for The Losers Club, ultimately ending in him killing his father and taking to the sewers with Belch and Victor (and getting them killed by Frankenstein’s Monster). Henry, similar to Harold Lauder in The Stand, is a bad guy King tried to make the audience feel sorry for by showing what they’ve been through. But like my opinion on Harold, Henry can equally go fuck himself.
Everybody loves a clown… or a mummy… or some dead kids… or a giant bird….or a period metaphor. Pennywise is a female. There, I said it. From her perspective she is providing for her young and having some fun while she does it. It’s a matter of perspective with her, like how lions see antelope… we just all happen to be antelope.
Do I need to go through this section? I think I linked every piece so far to this book and guess what? That won’t stop when this one is over. This book is at the centre of my understanding and love of King’s work because it’s not a book about a monster. It’s a book about growing up that features a great villain.
The Movie (because fuck the miniseries #FightMe)
So watching this movie I may have teared up six times. The below is a hypothetical list of the times that may or may not have happened with expanded points to cover the movie.
From the opening shot I loved this version: the opening notes of Sharon Denbrough playing the piano over the grim October day in Derry. We open on the usual scene that comes through every version of this story: Bill (who I am so fucking thankful stuttered because apparently previous drafts of this story excluded that) making a paper boat for Georgie. There’s a very small detail that I only picked up on in the second viewing: George and Bill use walkie talkies, and every scene after when Bill is going into danger, he carries the walkie talkie.
The inclusion of Jackson and Witcham Street was a lovely touch for the book fans. These tiny touches are what I really like throughout this piece. As we see the SS Georgie take a sharp left (at a covered car that looks suspiciously like a turtle) and fly down the storm drain passing out of this story, we get our introduction to Pennywise. The first glimpse at it in this adaptation is the perfect level of creepy just from a look. When you see It’s eyes going off centre as though it’s the one part of a human fact that It still hasn’t perfected.
When Bev and Ben first meet, it’s a truly magical moment because this was the story I loved the most in this entire book. I relate to Ben a lot, in thinking the girl is too good for him and he’s just the unlovable fat boy. But in the film, they make him so damn lovable from his love New Kids on the Block to being a giant history dork. It’s the little smile on her face when she first sees him that really sells their future relationship so well. He’s a complete goober, exactly like he should be. All the kids are defined well in these moments. I especially like the juxtaposing of the sheep in the killing gate to them being let out of school for summer.
In this section we see the interplay between all of the characters and get a feel for who they are and what their bond is. The first time Ritchie did one of his voices… it was something really special for me. Especially when he does a truly terrible English accent you know will become Toodles the English Butler in his later years. Seeing Eddie freaked out at everything. Seeing how Stan always put his bike on a kickstand when the other kids throw theirs down. It’s tiny details but it makes these characters really come to life in their little idiosyncrasies.
As the Losers clean Bev’s bathroom to”Six Ways Inside My Heart” by The Cure, we get a typical 80’s movie montage. My personal theory is that it’s an homage to the unboxing the bedroom in Nightmare on Elm Street 2. But in this moment we get the best Ben moment of the film, when he sees Bev got his haiku and he feela elation – you see it on his face. A moment later, he hears her ask Bill if Bill wrote it. I feel this is the moment that lights a fire in Ben. While he never says it, it’s written all over his face that “pretty girls don’t like the heavy guys,” when that’s not true. It’s the person underneath.
I feel the film gets the point across really well that Bev likes Ben, by all the times she looks after he’s gone. But the Turtle is guiding her towards being with Bill because whatever the Ritual of Chud is, it requires two people to have a connection so it influences that connection. This is also the point where it becomes Bev’s movie. She becomes the central character as she is the only one who faces genuine change as a character. Going from someone who is clearly abused by her father to someone who loses all fear through the course of things.
4. “ROCK FIGHT!”
The moment the gang is all together, the film really gathers momentum as it pushes towards them battling Pennywise. I love when Henry alludes to having sex with Bev: Ben loses his damn mind and starts the rock war. This scene has the added effect of making it a great summer movie too, in that it’s got that classic element of a coming of age story. This is a film about growing up with a monster in it, rather than a story of a monster. Even when the kids face Pennywise in Neibolt Street, they are telling each other that things aren’t real and are in a sense letting go of the imagination of childhood.
5. “January Embers.” “My heart burns there too.”
While it could be argued that this moment is a throw away “save the girl” moment, I see it more as the moment Bev helps the rest of the kids overcome their fear. She wasn’t afraid of the clown so it took her. By following Bev’s journey to the sewer the others have their own fear stripped away. Plus this also gives us resolution to the Ben/Bev story in that Ben conquers his fear of telling her how he feels in reality and kisses her to break the spell of the deadlights. Breaking the spell feeds in to the very storybook villain Pennywise is at her core. It mirrors their first scene really nicely, while not forcing them in to being a couple straight away.
6. “I told you Bill, I fucking told you. I don’t wanna die. It’s your fault. You punched me, you made me walk through shitty water, you brought me to a fucking crackhead house… and now I’m gonna have to kill this fucking clown. Welcome to The Losers Club, asshole.”
This was the moment I forgave every change they made because it was all leading to this moment. Bill being captured by Pennywise and trying to make a deal with The Losers for their freedom if they let him take Bill. Richie stepping up remains my very favourite single moment in this film. It captures how close Richie and Bill are: in the novel, they have several interactions with It together in Georgie’s room and later in the basement of Neibolt Street. But here, at the moment Bill is willing to let go for his friends, Bev and Richie won’t let him. In this moment we see them all physically conquer their fears to beat the shit out of that clown.
As the movie only covers the kids’ section of the book, that’s all I’ll be comparing. Here we go:
The types of monsters all the kids encounter are fairly different, which I assume is for budgetary reasons. For example, in the book Mike first sees It in the form of a giant bird in the Kitchener Iron Works. It’d be a huge chunk of budget to build such a set and a massive CGI cost to render the bird. In the movie, a representation of his dead parents works just as well for something that would terrify him. Stan seeing the woman from the painting is another change: in the book he saw some dead kids inside the Derry standpipe (again, a standpipe set seems a bit beyond the film’s reported $35 million budget), plus the image of the flute playing woman fits with all the face imagery going on in the film as I’ve mentioned above. Eddie and the leper are relatively dead on and reflect the theme within the book of everyone’s manifestation being a horrific version of what they are. Likewise for Bev and the blood, which is the only encounter with It that has stayed the same through the book, the miniseries, and the movie. Ben, in the book, sees the mummy, while in the movie it’s the dead kid from the Kitchener Iron Works explosion, although at the end It does have the head of a mummy to frighten him so this alludes to that being his real fear. Finally, in the book Bill and Richie experience the picture come to life of Georgie together, whereas in the film Bill literally sees George and Pennywise in the basement. Plus, in the book, Richie, saw the Paul Bunyon statue in the centre of town come to life – the statue does make an appearance in the movie, but doesn’t come to life.
The cycle of It is very different in the movie too. In the book, It always starts with an act of extreme violence and ends with a bang, so to speak. We don’t know what started the cycle of violence in the early 1900’s, but we know it ended in 1908 with the explostion at the Kitchener iron works. Later, the town of Derry coming together to kill the Bradley gang starts up the killings again in 1929, and they end with the burning down of The Black Spot in 1930. In 1957, the brutal killing of Dorsey Corcoran by his stepfather Richard Macklin starts off the cycle and its explosive end is cut short by The Losers Club in 1958. In 1985 the murder of Adrian Mellon by Webby Garton and kicks off that cycle, which ultimately ends in the total destruction of Derry in a flood. The cycle also contains the key element of having a member of the Gardener family discover a key murder, be it Dave Gardener discovering the body of Georgie in 1958 or Harold Gardener dealing with the murder of Adrian Mellon in 1985. There seems to be a whole cycle to these things that we only get a piece of the puzzle to comprehend it. That’s one of the main things I love about the book: you can see all these theories, spot parts of the cycle, but King never explains it or spells it out. It’s something the reader can pick up on in multiple rereads. In the movie, Georgie is pulled in the sewer to be part of Pennywise’s grisly display.
One massive change is making Ben the town historian rather than Mike, which may cause some trouble in part 2 as his love of history is what kept Mike in the sleepy Maine town.
Put on your tin foil hats, because you bet your fur some of these scenes are meant directly mirror stuff that’s coming in Chapter 2. Specifically, all the conflicts from the 1985 portion of the novel, “Grown Ups”. First of all, Bev vs. Alvin Marsh: this scene isn’t in the book but the movie gives us a drawn out fight between Bev and her father, ending in Bev giving Alvin an “Alabama Whorly” around the face with the top of a toilet tank. This scene is likely meant to mirror Bev vs. Tom when she is leaving for Derry as an adult and Tom, a prototype for Norman in Rose Madder (seriously, if you haven’t checked out Rose Madder, Norman makes Tom look reasonable. It is fucked up.). We then get Eddie trying to get away from his mother, which is meant to reflect how he leaves Myra to come back to Derry, including him being held hostage by his love for his mother, and later his wife, but knowing the responsibility to The Losers Club overrides whatever hypochondria he feels from his “gazebos”. Next up, Mike vs. Henry Bowers: in the movie, both Henry and Mike get shorted on screen time, but their fight in the basement of Neibolt street will play itself out again 27 years later on the floor of a room in the Derry Hotel. Finally, the title fight, Losers vs. Pennywise. As I’ve spoken above about the movie is Bev’s movie, she is the one put in the trance by It’s deadlights, so she likely had a chat with The Turtle as opposed to Bill who talks with The Turtle. So I feel Bev will be the one to finally kill it with the help of her friends and her faith in The Turtle.
He Thrust His Fists Against The Posts And Still Insists He Sees…. value in both the movie and source material. But overall the book always wins as it might be my favourite book of all time.
Next Time: Hey-Ho let’s go to Ludlow.