Stephen King’s novel It has recently come out as a new movie that is blowing up the box office, earning 236.3 million already. The film adaption of King’s novel will be broken up into two films, with the first film focusing on the Losers Club as children and the second film focusing on their return to Derry, Maine, as adults to confront Pennywise the clown again. Stephen King has pointed out numerous times that he doesn’t consider himself to be a horror writer, but a literary writer. His novel It, and the subsequent movies, have demonstrated this amply. The difference between a horror novel and It is in the development of his characters – characters that happen to confront with monsters.
Stephen King’s novel It is a coming-of-age novel. Adults do not seem to be aware of the dangers that the children face. The children are forced to face those dangers on their own, make sense of events that happen on their own, and their only source of support is each other. This is the reality of everyone’s youth. We have to plow through the traumas of childhood until we finally find our place in the adult world. The popularity of the book and the movie is because we recognize the children’s journey as a familiar one. Our monsters didn’t have clown faces, but they were monsters anyway.
Stephen King’s characters in his novel have detailed backgrounds. We know what their parents are like. We know their individual quirks, such as Ritchie’s voices and Eddie’s obsession with medications and illness. We know who they married and what type of person their spouses are. We know exactly which monster scares them the most. Even in the movie we see that the significant part of the story is not the monster, but the relationship the members of the Losers Club have with each other.
I went through a stage where I read a fair amount of horror novels from various authors, but I don’t remember a single character from any of them, except for the people in the novel It. His novel It is one of the select group of books I have read more than once, and the only book that is classified as a horror novel in that group. This is why Stephen King’s books sell so well. Readers focus on the characters and what happens to them, not just on being terrified or gory descriptions. That is what sets him apart of other lesser known writers.
Stephen King’s ability to create characters so vivid that people remember them long after they have finished the book or seen the movie was demonstrated to me last night. A former college student of mine, Emarrie, was the cashier at AMC Classic Pittsburg 8 Theater in Pittsburg, Kansas, where I went to watch the new version of It. When I came out, she asked how I had liked the movie. I said I had like It, and her first words were, “I felt this version was much closer to the book!”
There are some significant differences between the novel and the new movie. The novel’s section on the children was set in 1957 and 1958, with the adult section set in the mid-1980s. The successful 1990 mini-series stuck close to the novel’s timeline, 1960 for the children’s section and 1990 for the adult section. The mini-series was filmed in King’s hometown of Bangor, Maine, adding a touch of realism to that version since King used sites from his hometown to create his fictional town, Derry, Maine. However, in the new version of It, the children’s section was moved to 1988 and 1989 and was filmed in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada. It Chapter Two is scheduled for release in 2019 and set in that time period.
The new version has Ben Hanscom, not Mike Hanlon, clue the kids into the pattern of deaths in Derry. Another difference between the novel and the new movie is the children’s ages. In the new movie the children are older, maybe freshmen in high school. Their nemesis, Henry Bowers, is old enough to drive a snazzy car, a Martinique blue Pontiac Trans Am Firebird. In the novel the children were only eleven and in the fifth grade, and Henry Bowers was twelve, held back in the fifth grade for a second year.
However, Emarrie was right when the movie is viewed from the aspect of how it depicted the characters of the children. The mini-series version had tamed King’s characters’ language until it was appropriate for a prime time TV audience. Beverly Marsh’s fear of her father dealt with his physical abuse. There was no hint of her fear of sexual abuse that crops up in the novel when Pennywise possesses her father and threatens to rape her.
Patrick Hockstetter wasn’t depicted at all in the TV mini-series, but he was one of Henry’s friends in the new version of It, a full-blown psychopath who is eager to kill and torture like he did in the novel. In the novel and the new version of the movie, the children are fully aware of how dangerous Hockstetter and Bowers truly are, although the adults seem oblivious to the children’s fear and the threat posed by their psychopath enemies.
I saw the new movie on a Saturday afternoon. That evening another one of my former students, Destany, called me, eager to tell me of her adventures in beauty college and her plans for her upcoming wedding. I happened to mention that I’d spent the afternoon seeing It. Destany’s wedding plans were temporarily forgotten. She had seen the movie too. We launched into an enthusiastic discussion of the movie characters and how they related to the novel.
We debated whether or not Beverly Marsh’s father had actually molested her in the new version of It. In the novel the molestation does not occur and it is Pennywise who spotlights her fear and attempts to make it happen by possessing Bev’s father. In the new version Bev’s monster and the threat he poses is real – he’s her father, always asking if she is still his little girl, and attempting to rape her in one scene. There is no insinuation that Pennywise is behind this action – the evil is from the man himself.
After discussing the details of Bev’s reactions and her father’s actions, including the creepy way he strokes her hand, we felt that the movie insinuated that she had already been molested by her father, thus explaining why she was so obviously afraid of him. There was no hint of physical violence from him, only the threat of sexual abuse, unlike the depiction of his character in both the book and the mini-series.
We must have spent twenty minutes analyzing all of Bev’s reactions and her father’s behavior in both the new movie and the novel to reach this conclusion. That’s why Stephen King’s book has been transformed into a box office smash hit. If you can get two people to spend twenty minutes discussing two characters as if they are real people that they know, you are not writing just genre fiction, but literature that transcends a single category.
Photo is of Stephen King’s house in Bangor, Maine. Taken by Madeleine Deaton.