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It | Themes

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Fear

At a basic level, It explores the nature of human fear. The creature It takes on many forms, appearing to each victim as his or her worst fear. Human fears are particular to individual experiences and understandings. Sometimes people aren't even aware of their greatest fears. Mike Hanlon experiences fear as a giant bird, but he is unable to identify why he sees a giant bird trying to attack him. It knows why, and Jessica Hanlon, Mike's mother, knows why. When Mike was an infant, a bird attacked him in his stroller. This fear is deeply implanted, and Mike's lack of awareness about the fear's origin allows the creature to exploit it.

For the most part, the rest of the Losers' fears have easily identifiable sources; they originate from images the Losers have seen in films. Children tend to grow beyond such fears as they get older and learn movie monsters don't exist in real life. But then other fears take their place. When the Losers return to Derry as adults, the obstacles It throws their way are more specific to their life experiences. The fortune cookies at the group's reunion don't erupt into movie house monsters. Instead, they come from daily frights. For example Eddie sees a cricket come out of his fortune cookie because he is preoccupied with an infestation of crickets in his basement. His childhood fears of death and disease, which It personifies in the form of a leper, have been replaced by mundane worries about real estate. In 1958 It appears as the Crawling Eye in the sewers, another movie monster.

Beverly Marsh is ahead of the boys in the Losers' Club in this respect, because even in childhood her fears are rooted in reality, not movie fantasies. This foundation in real-world terror results from her life with an abusive father and the threats typically associated with girlhood and womanhood—namely sexual violation. Beverly's first experience with It is the appearance of a gout of blood from her bathroom sink. Menstrual blood is a key part of female sexual maturity, so this event is specific to Beverly, who fears the way her body is changing throughout the novel. Until her father falls under the creature's control, he only hits Beverly; he never sexually abuses her. Yet the fear of sex and sexual abuse hangs unspoken over Beverly's life. Her mother hints at this fear when she asks, "Does he ever touch you?" The threat becomes explicit when Al Marsh discovers Beverly's friendship with the Losers and demands to find out whether she is "intact." At this point, It has taken control of Al Marsh's thought processes and is showing Beverly the great fear she has never been able to articulate: the fear her father, or someone, might sexually violate her. She overcomes this fear by orchestrating her own first sexual experience with the Losers in the sewers. However strange or even inappropriate this event seems to readers, it ensures Beverly initiates her sexuality in a scenario she controls, one involving people she cares for deeply.

Despite her brave effort to control her fear, Beverly does not fully succeed. She marries a man who is abusive like her father. Likewise, Bill Denbrough has not conquered his own great fear. In 1985 It comes to the group in the form of Georgie Denbrough, capitalizing on Bill's lifelong fear he was responsible for his brother's death. The fears shift from the physical threat of external monsters to the internal threat of self-created monsters. If the act of destroying It represents the confrontation and destruction of fear, the Losers' return to Derry is necessary. In 1958 they hurt It, and they think they have killed It, just as they think they have overcome their fears, but their true fears, the psychological fears they carry, continue dominating their lives for decades. When they kill It, they also decisively dominate these deeply rooted fears.

Imagination

In the 2010 edition of his 1982 nonfiction book reflecting on horror as a genre, Danse Macabre, King writes about horror's appeal to imaginative readers and viewers: "The imaginative person has a clearer fix on the fact of his/her fragility; the imaginative person realizes that anything can go disastrously wrong at any time." Imagination is the generator of fear, as demonstrated by the creature's ability to assume the form of whatever individuals fear most. However, imagination also becomes the antidote to fear. The Losers use their belief in the power of objects to turn them into weapons against It. The silver slugs they use to attack It as a werewolf on Neibolt Street injure the werewolf because the children believe silver can hurt a werewolf. Eddie's aspirator hurts It because Eddie believes the medicine can hurt It, which makes It believe the aspirator is dangerous. Stan dispatches the giant bird by telling it he doesn't believe in it. In the Ritual of Chüd in 1958, Bill realizes he believes in many things; this delivers It a near-death blow. If imagination is the generator of fear, it is also the only way to overcome fear. If one can imagine a monster, one can also imagine the way to defeat the monster.

Imagination also literally brings the Losers' Club together. Ben becomes friends with Bill and Eddie, then later Stan and Richie, because Bill and Eddie have an idea to build a dam in the Barrens. Ben is the one who imagines how to make the idea a reality. It's no accident most of the Losers end up in creative fields. Bill is a fiction writer. Richie imagines and performs Voices. Beverly designs fashions. Ben designs buildings. Their rise to the top of these fields begins with their imaginative talents in childhood. Eddie's work as a limo driver is not as obviously creative as the others' careers, but his remarkable sense of direction stems from his ability to visualize streets and locations and ways of navigating them. Mike's modest job as town librarian does not leave much room for daydreaming, but he creates a comprehensive history of Derry's underbelly and brings those events to life through his own ability to imagine them. Stan is the member of the group most grounded in logic and reality, but he doesn't make a name for himself as one of Atlanta's most sought-after accountants without a deep ability to problem solve. He takes one leap of faith after another to build a successful, if quiet, life for himself and Patty. Not only does Imagination allow the Losers to defeat the monster, it ensures their success after the monster is gone.

Evil

Stephen King told a Rolling Stone interviewer in 2014, "I believe in evil, but all my life I've gone back and forth about whether or not there's an outside evil, whether or not there's a force in the world that really wants to destroy us, from the inside out, individually and collectively. Or whether it all comes from inside and that it's all part of genetics and environment." In It King explores each facet of evil he outlined to Rolling Stone.

It, the creature, is a manifestation of an external evil. It comes from outer space or another dimension, which is as external as a thing can be. It attacks and kills the unsuspecting people of Derry, children mostly but not exclusively. It lives in a lair below the city, accessing the homes and streets through the sewers. The creature's only purpose is to feed, and It enjoys the fear and suffering of each victim. It is the "force in the world that really wants to destroy us."

But other evils exist in Derry, and It influences the environment to exacerbate those evil tendencies. On one level Derry illustrates the evil of indifference. Herbert Ross, for example, sees a young girl being assaulted by three boys across the street from his home, and he ignores her pleas for help. Chief Rademacher makes excuses for the dead and missing children in his city rather than digging to get to the bottom of what is really happening in Derry. Don Hagarty blames Derry for the death of his partner Adrian Mellon in 1985. As Adrian is beaten on the Kissing Bridge, Don screams for help, but no help arrives. Derry's environment has also encouraged the homophobia that moves Adrian's assailants to come for him. When the police investigate the killing, they express their disapproval of homosexuality simultaneously with their disapproval of Adrian's murder. They don't seem to realize their attitude has—however indirectly—encouraged the assault that led to the killing.

These attitudes are woven into Derry's historical fabric. In 1905 bar patrons sit idly by while Claude Heroux kills four men with an ax in their midst. Then those same bar patrons take Heroux and lynch him from a tree in a fit of bloodlust. In 1929 the men of Derry take up arms against a gangster named Al Bradley. Both Heroux and Bradley are guilty of horrific crimes, but the vigilante justice meted out and Pennywise's presence at both occasions raise serious questions about Derry residents' motives. The exceptional violence of both killings indicates the citizens of Derry take advantage of an opportunity to kill with relative impunity more than acting out of a sense of justice. Heroux and Bradley would have been punished fully under the law, perhaps even put to death, but that's no fun for the people of Derry.

Characters such as Butch and Henry Bowers illustrate the way genetics and environment can interplay to create an internal evil. Not everyone who grows up in Derry grows up to be evil, despite the harsh nature of the city. The source of Butch Bowers's insanity is never revealed, but his hate comes from the racism suffusing his environment in the 1920s and 30s. He turns this hate toward the Hanlon family. Henry's insanity is the product of his father's genetic contribution, but it is also the product of his father's influence. Henry grows into a miniature version of his father, racist and brimming with hate for everyone who crosses his path.

Patrick Hockstetter is an example of inborn evil. His home life is decidedly average. His parents are attentive and loving, yet Patrick believes he is the only person who exists; everyone else is a product of his imagination. He smothers his infant brother because his parents give the baby too much attention, which causes Patrick inconvenience. He decides he can do whatever he wants to do, as long as he appears to be following the rules of society and doesn't get caught. Patrick takes to killing animals just because he can. Patrick, unlike many Derry residents, has no evident connection to It. The creature doesn't try to use Patrick for its own ends; it kills Patrick simply because it can.

Childhood versus Adulthood

It emphasizes the perils and insecurity inherent in childhood. While the narrative focuses on the Losers' Club, all the children of Derry are in danger from the creature stalking the pipes under them. The creature uses their childish innocence against them, luring them into its clutches using the facade of a happy clown offering balloons and toys, as happens to Georgie Denbrough.

As the case of Eddie Corcoran illustrates, the children most in danger from It are the same children whose lives are already dangerous. Eddie lives with a stepfather so abusive he has already killed Eddie's younger brother in a rage. Eddie dodges his home on the last day of school because he fears what his stepfather will do to him for bringing home a poor report card. When Eddie instead becomes prey for It, the incident shows how no place is truly safe for a child. Like Eddie, Beverly finds her home is not safe. Her father is abusive, and when It possesses him late in the summer of 1958 and adds a new component to the abuse, Beverly tells her father, "You let It in." It may be driving him to expand his abuse from the physical to the sexual, but Al Marsh's harsh and hateful nature allows It to exert control over him. The world is full of dangers, both inside and outside the home. The admonitions Ben's mother gives her son drive home this point. She doesn't want Ben wandering around alone even though she doesn't know there is a monster on the loose. She thinks the danger in Derry is a human predator targeting children; there are plenty such people in real life.

The Losers also have many encounters with adult indifference. Even the adults not actively trying to hurt them aren't necessarily interested in helping them. Early on, as the Losers formulate their plan to attack It, they understand adults can't help them. Their parents can't even see the things It does or the evidence It leaves in their homes, such as Beverly's blood-soaked bathroom. Children often fail to tell their parents of real-life problems for fear of not being believed, so how could they expect their parents to buy the story of a shape-shifting creature living in the sewers? The police could be even worse. They might respond not only with disbelief, but by sending the kids to a mental institution. Mike reports the police do respond indifferently to the string of murders targeting children in 1985, and they seem to be equally inactive in 1958. Only Mr. Nell takes an interest in helping the Losers at all, and he mostly offers the same advice as the other adults: don't go anywhere alone, and stay away from the Barrens and the pipes there.

Yet childhood in It is not without its joys, either. The Losers spend a great deal of time laughing together, especially in light of their perilous circumstances. They can take time away from plotting against It to indulge in a game of Parcheesi or Monopoly. They enjoy music. They set off fireworks. They ride their bicycles around town and enjoy the absence of constant adult oversight. They play make-believe games in the Barrens. These indulgences in play allow them to develop the imagination necessary to defeat It. When the Losers return as adults, they are right to worry they might not be able to defeat It in their current state. Only by embracing their memories of childhood and their belief in childish things do they have a chance.

Memory

Human personalities and communities are defined by what they remember as much as by what they forget. The Losers forget the events of the summer of 1958 soon after they end, which provides a metaphor for the forgetting all people go through as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Their forgetting is more extreme than for most people, but their traumas are also greater. Moreover, when the memories of 1958 begin trickling back, they are far more traumatic to the Losers than if they had been allowed to process and deal with them over time. Stan Uris is so traumatized by remembering, he kills himself.

Although memories are lost, feelings and instincts remain. Ben Hanscom doesn't know his design for the BBC broadcast center is a version of the corridor connecting two parts of the Derry Public Library, a structure he loves as a child. Bill Denbrough has no memory of Beverly Marsh or his childhood crush on her, but he marries a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Beverly. After everything ends in 1985 and the Losers begin forgetting again, they still remember the love they have for one another. It comes to Bill in his dreams and to Mike in his last diary entry.

Just as fear must be confronted to be overcome, memories must be confronted to move forward. When the Losers return to Derry, their first task is to recover all the memories they have lost. Mike Hanlon sends them out alone in the city for a day to aid in this process. Memories are inextricably linked to the senses, to sights, sounds, and smells. Those sensory experiences allow the Losers to regain everything they need to know to accomplish their mission.

The Losers also must tap into Derry's collective memory to defeat It. Mike Hanlon instinctively knows this, which is why he brings his father's photo album to the Losers in 1958 and why he assembles a written history of Derry in 1985. Memory isn't simply a matter of individual knowledge, and Derry's ability to forget the unsavory elements of its past mirrors the Losers forgetting 1958. Derry doesn't remember what it doesn't want to remember but is less successful in shedding its past entirely because photographic and written records exist. The written records are sometimes unreliable or altered—as seen in the FBI and State Police getting credit for killing Al Bradley's gang in 1929—but photographs remember what brains forget. This adds extra significance to the final photograph of the triumphant Losers. They may forget killing It, and the town may tell a different story about the storm, but the photographic memory of the town declares them survivors. Like the Losers, Derry will never forget its history entirely.

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