Stephen King’s IT Parade, Week 4: Do We Know These Monsters?

Stephen King’s IT Parade is author/editor Daniel Kraus’s 10-week journal of re-reading King’s classic. Join him on this long (very long) journey, if you dare.

CHAPTERS 8-9 & THE SECOND INTERLUDE

These three chapters focus on, in order, Richie, Beverly, and Mike. If there is an uphill climb in the 1958 chapters, this is it. Richie is a nails-on-chalkboard character, his waka-waka joke-cracking growing old rapidly. It’s easy to get what King is going for here—Richie is supposed to be annoying—but there at times, I admit, when my eyes skipped ahead a page, hoping for a clown to arrive to shut him up.

Beverly, meanwhile, is the book’s most problematic character. As the only girl, she creaks under the weight of having to represent something to the boy characters. More on that in later weeks, I bet. The multitude of characters allows King to be unusually agile, flitting back and forth in perspective; there’s nary a dull moment. Not so with Mike’s interludes. They work wonderfully in concept—Mike, the one who stayed behind in Derry, knitting the lore together—but they drag like nothing else so far.

These are criticisms, yes, but don’t get me wrong: the book is still cookin’. And what struck me hard in these pages is how the world of kids is a sealed universe that only occasionally bumps up against the world of adults. To illustrate, if you’ll indulge me, I’ve got a story.

Around the time I was the age of the characters in IT, a gang of sorts formed my neighborhood. It was a bike gang, and by “bike” I mean “bicycle.” It materialized out of thin air; one day there was no cohesion at all among area kids, and the next, there were two rival factions. This was small-town Iowa, so both factions were tiny. In one, me and my best friend, Ben. In the other, maybe five other kids. There was no reason for animosity. We just invented it, almost out of boredom. It was like playing The Outsiders. It was cool to have an enemy.

From the upcoming movie.

But it quickly became not so cool. The rivals were led by a new kid we didn’t know, and there was something off about him. Clubhouses were destroyed. Personal property was damaged. It culminated in a chase straight out of IT, with Ben and I pedaling to beat the devil as the larger group of boys raced toward us. We made it Ben’s house, barely. The rival gang waited at the end of the driveway. They had baseball bats and hockey clubs. With the strange new kid in control, it seemed—and it still seems—like something really awful could have happened.

Ben’s mom was home. She asked us what was wrong. We lied, said we were just playing with those kids. Why did we do that? All his mom had to do was step outside and the boys would have scattered. Yet our worlds had to remain separate; our dangers were our own. Perhaps we sensed that the collision of kid-reality with adult-reality would reveal us as the scared, incompetent little humans we were.

This moment is almost perfectly replicated on page 473 of IT, as Richie and Bill discuss stealing Bill’s dad’s loaded pistol to go after the leper who attacked Eddie. In the background, Richie’s mom’s keeps chiming in that she’s poured some yummy ice tea for them! She has no idea of the weight of their discussion. They are little boys. Standing on their safe, familiar street. How could anything be wrong?

From the 1990 miniseries.

The gangs in our own neighborhood evaporated as abruptly as they began. For a reason I can’t remember, Ben and I, weeks later, went to the new kid’s house and knocked on the door. What resulted was another scene Stephen King might have written: the kid’s dad opened the door. He did not look like any dad we knew. He was unshaven, red-eyed, rumpled; he looked like we’d woken him up in the middle of day; he staggered and slurred. We stared in puny terror. Our private world was subsumed. The man said the kid wasn’t there. He didn’t sound like he cared.

The kid, and his father, disappeared soon after.

Of course I can’t say that anything bad was happening inside that house. But if it was, we wouldn’t have been equipped to handle it. King suggests that kids need to turn real horrors into a form that they can understand. That’s why the various forms Pennywise takes are drawn from the horror movies the kid characters watch at their local theater. (A full scene takes place at a horror-flick double feature.) This flew way over my head when I read IT as a boy. The monsters were just monsters. King, though, makes it pretty explicit, dotting clues all over.

There is something in Derry which should be twenty-seven years dead and yet is somehow not. Something with as many faces as Lon Chaney.

His mind had. . . shown him a movie, a horror movie, like one of those Saturday matinee pictures.

In some ways all of this was like having stepped into one of those Saturday-afternoon horror movies.

It’s all so obvious now. Eddie’s dead brother crawling out of the canal is the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ben tangles with the Mummy in the woods. Bill and Richie run into the Wolf Man in a cellar. The bird that chases Mike is Rodan. And from Beverly’s sink crawls the most iconic of all big-bug movie monsters: a spider. (The spider is going to come back later, in a big way.) Now these are horrors that kids can understand and fight against, rather than staring hopelessly at an inebriated father who opens a knocked door.

THIS WEEK’S BONUS CRAZY THOUGHT:

Has anyone ever noticed how “Derry” backward is “Yr Red”? Could it be a reference to the town’s constant bloodletting? Is it such a stretch from the writer who gave us “Redrum”?

NEXT WEEK: CHAPTERS 10-12 & THE THIRD INTERLUDE

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About the Author:

Dan Kraus is Booklist's Editor of Books for Youth. He is also the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielDKraus.

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