Confidence-Builders, and Stephen King’s IT

In this post, I will muse and ramble about confidence-builders, as I draw from Stephen King’s IT.

On a page for Free Believers (which I define as believers in Christ who have issues with the Institutional Church and the way that it has portrayed God), someone said the following:

“Take away all the props: the books, the blogs, the teachers, the preachers, the conferences, the schools, the services, the groups, the forums, the podcasts, the TV shows, the radio broadcasts… What are you left with? What do you have alone in the dark when it is just you and your mind and your heart? That is your true faith. If you can’t find God in that alone place then your faith is not your own.”

A commenter replied by mentioning another prop:

“One prop that should have been mentioned is the music. Too many times I relied on the worship songs to bring me ‘into the presence’. If the worship service was crappy then the spirit didn’t show up. If the service was good then I felt the presence and the spirit was ripe for the asking. And I was sure to set the atmosphere while on the go in the car, through the ipod and at home.  When I took away that prop, I discovered the silence. And it is good. As one person said: ‘Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation.'”

The issue of props, or confidence-builders, shows up a few times in Stephen King’s IT.  That one commenter mentioned music as a prop that wasn’t always reliable.  Well, on page 582, Richie Tozer thinks about the effect that rock music had on him when he was a kid: “The beat did more than make him happy.  It made him feel bigger, stronger, more there.”

And, while we’re on Richie, on page 734, Richie thinks about an energy that is in the room as he interacts with his friends from his childhood:

“Richie had felt a mad, exhilarating kind of energy growing in the room.  He had done cocaine nine or ten times over the last couple of years—at parties, mostly; coke wasn’t something you wanted just lying around your house if you were a bigga-time disc jockey—and the feel was something like that, but not exactly.  This feeling was purer, more of a mainline high.  He thought he recognized the feeling from his childhood, when he had felt it every day and had come to take it as merely a matter of course.  He supposed that, if he had ever thought about that deep-running aquifer of energy when he was a kid (he could not recall that he ever had), he would have simply dismissed it as a fact of life, something that would always be there, like the color of his eyes or his disgusting hammertoes.  Well, that hadn’t turned out to be true.  The energy you drew on so extravagantly when you were a kid, the energy you thought would never exhaust itself—that slipped away somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, to be replaced by something much duller, something as bogus as a coke high: purpose, maybe, or goals, or whatever rah-rah Junior Chamber of Commerce word you wanted to use.”  (The passage is in italics, which I have left out.)

Richie felt the sort of energy that he used to feel as a child—a pure high, if you will (in contrast to the high that he experienced from cocaine).  Perhaps he was getting this from being in the company of his friends, as part of a mission to destroy IT (though they also enjoyed each other’s company and caught up with each other at their reunion as adults).  This mission was commissioned by some divine force, which brought them together.

We turn now to Eddie Kasprak.  On pages 790-802, Eddie is in the hospital, recovering from abuse that Henry Bowers and his gang had viciously inflicted on him (in retaliation for Eddie and the Losers’ Club throwing rocks at Henry to protect Mike Hanlon).  Eddie’s mother, Sonia, is overly protective of her son, for she does not want him to die as her husband did, and she’s also afraid of being alone.  Sonia tells Eddie’s friends—Bill and the rest of the Losers’ Club—to leave, and Eddie dreams that Pennywise the Clown (IT) is ecstatic about this, for IT realizes that the Losers’ Club has a greater chance of defeating him when its members are together.  When Sonia later visits Eddie, Eddie has the strength to confront his mother in a confident, firm, and yet loving tone, even when his Mom cries in an attempt to get her own way.  On page 802, Eddie reflects on this encounter:

“The things he had said to her, the way he had acted—it had been him and yet it hadn’t been him at all.  There had been something working in him, working through him, some force…and his mother had felt it, too.  He had seen it in her eyes and in her trembling lips.  He had no sense that this power was an evil one, but its enormous strength was frightening.  It was like getting on an amusement-park ride that was really dangerous and realizing you couldn’t get off until it was over, come what might.”

The power that was bringing the Loser’s Club together to defeat IT was working through Eddie, while preserving Eddie’s identity, meaning this was not a possession.  This force resembled how Christians have characterized the Holy Spirit, which empowers Christians to will and to do what pleases God (see, for example, Philippians 2:13 and II Timothy 1:7).  Eddie was getting his confidence from a supernatural entity.

And, while we’re on Eddie, pages 768-779 have an interesting discussion about placebos.  Eddie has an inhaler because he thinks he’s asthmatic, but Mr. Keene, a town pharmacist, recognizes that the asthma is merely in Eddie’s head, and so the inhaler that he continually gives to Eddie is a placebo consisting of water and “a dash of camphor thrown in to give it a medicine taste.”  Eddie’s “asthma” is from Eddie being stiff and tight, which causes the muscles around his lungs to work against the lungs, rather than doing their job of helping “the lungs to expand and contract easily.”  Eddie’s inhaler, therefore, is not real medicine, but it helps Eddie to breathe because Eddie believes in it, and he thus relaxes after he inhales from it.  Mr. Keene gives Eddie an interesting lecture about placebos, including ones that alleviate pain.  Even after Eddie concludes that Mr. Keene is right—since Eddie’s inhaler says “Administer as needed”, and every medicine he knows of sets limits on how much a person can take—Eddie breathes more easily after he uses it.  It helps him to relax, as if breathing from the inhaler gives his mind permission to calm down.

I think that it’s all right to draw strength from different sources—from music, from friends, from the Holy Spirit, and from faith and relaxation.  Whether or not that always works, that’s a question by itself!  I’ve found that music can strengthen me.  Friends can, too, if I feel genuinely accepted and valued.  As far as the Holy Spirit goes, he may very well give people strength and composure, but I haven’t always experienced it, especially in social situations.  But I still hope and pray for it.  Regarding placebos, I myself have felt better when I’ve allowed my mind to give my body permission to relax.  But, in my case, real life is usually not so neat as what occurs in some stories on television: someone has a good-luck charm that helps him to become confident and good at things (i.e., sports), and he later learns that the power was in himself all of that time!  My Mom gave me a good luck charm when I was a kid to help me to do better in school, and it didn’t work!  But it’s good for me to believe in something.  And I don’t mind using props to help me in that!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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