Stephen King’s IT Parade, Week 2: Who’s the Author of This Book?

StephenKingsITparadeStephen 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.

pennywise georgieCHAPTERS 1-3

Here’s what you probably remember from the beginning of IT: Little six-year-old Georgie Denbrough chasing a newspaper boat down a rainy street when it zips into a sewer grate and Georgie tries to nab it—and sees a clown down there who introduces himself as “Pennywise.” (Note: the clown also offers his real name, “Bob Gray,” which I can’t figure out.) Well, it doesn’t work out for lil’ Georgie. Pennywise kills him, rips off his arm. Boo!

Here’s what you might not remember. Take a look at the very first paragraph of the book.

The terror, which would not end for another 28 years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

Who is this “I”? Paging ahead reminds me that there are first-person sections written from the character of Mike Hanlon, but that’s it. Here King introduces a character he will largely (completely?) ignore later: Stephen King. At the end of Chapter 1, Mr. King appears again: “I do not know where [the boat] fetched up, if it ever did.” Then again, at the end of Chapter 2: “At the time of this writing, all three sentences are under appeal.” At the time of this book’s writing? Then, finally, at the start of “Derry: The First Interlude,” we get this: “The segment below and all other Interlude segments are drawn from ‘Derry: An Unauthorized Town History,’ by Michael Hanlon.” This intuits the Mr. King “I,” the man pulling together this account.

Stephen KingThis, of course, makes no rational sense. Either King is the author of a fictional book in which he dives in and out of characters’ thoughts, or he’s a reporter patching together facts. Instead he takes an unsustainable middle-ground—he’s both! This blatant disregard of point-of-view standards makes me harrumph; and yet, I respect its audacity, and even enjoy its effect. We’re about to go on a journey that’s going to make you lose coherence between the book’s stories and your own memories. (We don’t know this yet as a readers, but King is banking on it, and he’s right.) By throwing himself into the mix, King is more or less saying, Hey, I’m mixed up in all of this too, way worse than you are, and even now, turning in this book, I literally cannot tell you if the “terror. . . ever did end.”

Spoiler: it didn’t end. It hasn’t ended. That’s why I’m writing these posts.

Okay, we’ve established that King, the characters, and the readers are in this together. That doesn’t mean squat if King doesn’t hook us. And wow, does he ever. The first chapter—R.I.P. Georgie—is one of the finest things King has ever written. In volcanic prose that is both wide-reaching and intimate, we understand Georgie, his relationship with his brother, Bill, the scope of the town, the time frame of 1957, and the second-by-second excitements and fears of a child, all these elements darting like a flock of birds taking off. It’s breathtaking, really. Any fool who ever doubted King as a stylist need only read this.

it_servicesIt’s also, on page eight, where we first get the capitalized word “It.” King’s using it as a catch-all here, the thing that kids are afraid of in basements, under beds—the Bogeyman, basically. No surprise here; King’s gargantuan ambition with IT is to tackle that impossibly sprawling, nebulous idea and hammer it down onto paper. But the word “It” has a different power, too, doesn’t it? In my hunt for clues regarding the book’s climactic group-sex scene (see Week One), let us not forget that “It” is a euphemism for sex.

Is it starting to make sense? How, even while being character-specific, King is digging his hands into more primitive, primary experiences that grab us by our reptilian brain stems?

The next big surprise is that the book does not leap directly to the memorable “Six Phone Calls”—that’s Chapter 3, wherein we meet each of the main characters as adults. First comes Chapter 2, “After the Festival,” a section I’d totally forgotten. It’s about a hate crime in which a gay man is beaten half to death and tossed into a river, where, insult to injury, he is gobbled up by Pennywise. This is over-the-top cruelty, isn’t it? First, the slander. Second, the beating. Third, the clown attack of the already suffering man.

I’ve been under the weather while reading IT, so maybe it’s my shaky emotional state talking here, but I’m finding Part One punishingly brutala relentless montage of abuse and grief and sadness. The cruelty-upon-cruelties mount as we meet the adults via phone calls from Mike, reaching out to inform them that Pennywise has returned to Derry. Just a couple of examples: Eddie Kaspbrak struggling with a wailing, out-of-control wife, saddled with memories of an overprotective mother, weakened by a reliance on an aspirator. (It was Eddie I most identified with in middle school; this section almost sunk me.) Or Beverly Rogan, trapped in a horrifically abusive relationship, having to literally fight her way out of her apartment with a leather strap.

“Better to be the whupper than the whupped,” thinks Bev’s husband. IT is a book about the whupped among us, and, so far, it hurts to read.




About the Author:

Dan Kraus was 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.

6 Comments on "Stephen King’s IT Parade, Week 2: Who’s the Author of This Book?"

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  1. Beth says:

    The “I” thing blew right past me in my delight that a fish chewed someone’s penis off right in the first few pages. A+

  2. How astute! I never thought of the connection between the all-encompassing childhood horror of “It”, being every monster, terror or shadow a child might fear (for me, all of the above!) and the relation to “It” as sex. If it were intentionally done, and I suspect that it was, it is a very clever mechanism—and King is quite simply a master genius. It’s uncomfortable to think about in the extreme.

    I wonder if he considers (or considered) this novel his magnum opus.

  3. Michelle says:

    I had also forgotten about Adrian’s murder in chapter 2. I feel like it is meant as a notice to adult readers that It preys not only on children and so the reader is not exempt from such an attack, which amps up the terror. The chapter also reveals that this is not only something beyond the control of the authorities but also cannot or will not be recognized or accepted by them.

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