Stephen King’s “It” and the Persistence of Memory (Part II)

Image result for stephen king it book
Cover art for a recent hardcover/paperback edition. Image source:

Reading It and being around the same age as the kids in the Losers Club, I felt a certain kinship with each character; King makes each a composite of most people’s adolescent experience: I could relate to the overweight Ben Hanscom; the timid, asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak; and especially the jokey wiseass Richie Tozier.

That being said, at 11, I felt that King exaggerated the childhood experience somewhat.

I now attribute my initial shock at the prevalence of “fuck” throughout the narrative with my own general naïveté (after all, I was using that word pretty regularly – out of adult earshot, of course – at that time). Reading the novel today, the profanity and violent encounters carry an air of accuracy, and while the Losers may seem a bit too mature for 11-year-olds, King manages to justify this: the death of George Denbrough, kid brother to head Loser “Stuttering” Bill, forces a confrontation with mortality that is its own rite of passage. I first experienced the loss of a grandparent while I was in elementary school, and it made me assess – albeit in a very confused and uncomprehending way – the greater questions of what hid behind the curtain of Life.

As with other King novels, there is a Higher Power binding the Losers, making them embrace adult responsibility and “doing the right thing” in the name of an end that is both personal and altruistic. Bill wants revenge, and the other Losers – all targets of It – unite in this cause; as grownups, they band together once more, but with the added incentive of freeing Derry from its curse – even if it means shaking the city to its foundations (literally).

The act of recollection becomes easier for the grownup Losers once they return to Derry. In the novel’s final chapters, past and present begin to intersect, and this is conveyed through the text being broken up in mid-sentence, before diving into a long-dormant memory that uncannily syncs up with the current action. King seems to be stating that, as humans, recalling every minute detail of our lives is impossible, and memory grows less reliable the more we age. In “Derry: The Last Interlude,” the recollections of the city’s awful history give way to a journal-entry tie-in of the Losers and their personal trajectories after defeating It.

True confession: This is the point where, for the first time, I broke down in tears as King described the quickly-fading memories of the Losers, and – in a painful twist of the knife – how even their names fade from the pen-written pages of Mike’s journal.

He states, “I suppose I could preserve them; I could just keep copying them. But I’m also convinced that each would fade in its turn, and that very soon it would become an exercise in futility – like writing I will not throw spit-balls in class five hundred times. I would be writing names that meant nothing for a reason I didn’t remember.”

That breakdown signaled something to me: whereas during my other readings of It, there were always passages that went over my head, this go-through came closest to fully understanding its machinations and how they relate to aging and the tenuous bonds of friendship. I started the book acknowledging that it would take a while to finish, and by the time I was down to the last 100 pages, I was possessed of a feeling I get when writing sometimes – I didn’t want it to end. Despite their flaws, the Losers are eminently lovable and relatable – a vulgar update of The Little Rascals, each with their own internal and external struggles. King builds a rich interior world for even the most peripheral characters, and creates perhaps his most fully realized, richly satisfying work ever.

I know many view The Stand and The Dark Tower as the author’s masterpieces, but give me It any day. Beep-beep, Clowny!

Many are excited for Andy Muschietti’s new take on the Losers Club, and – in a case of what goes around coming around – it hits home that the setting for 2017’s It appears to be the early ’90s – right around the time I was reading the novel and watching the miniseries for the first time. It speaks to a level of shared experience – in the psychic sense, to be loopy about it – that this new take, unlike most remakes/reboots/re-whatevers, is being met with optimism and enthusiasm rather than preemptive scorn.

While the viral marketing campaign will guarantee the high-school crowd packing theaters to see It this weekend, it’s the kids who read the book as a rite of passage decades ago, not quite understanding every word, that it might resonate with the most.