I have two items for today’s write-up on Stephen King’s IT, and they both build on previous posts that I have written.
1. In my post, True Love, I wrote about Ben Hanscom’s love for Beverly Marsh, notwithstanding her love for Bill Denbrough. Chapter 19, “In the Watches of the Night”, alternates between the members of the Losers’ Club as adults, and their experiences as children. Section 5 is about them as adults, and it focuses on Bill and Beverly sleeping with each other. On page 932, Bill thinks: “It should have been Ben with you, dear…I think that was the way it was supposed to be. Why wasn’t it Ben? Because it was you then and it’s you now, that’s all. Because what goes around always comes around. I think Bob Dylan said that…or maybe it was Ronald Reagan. And maybe it’s me now because Ben’s the one who’s supposed to see the lady home.”
My understanding of this passage is that Bill and Beverly loved each other when they were children, and so they love each other now as adults. But, while they may have an overnight sexual encounter as an expression of their mutual attraction, Beverly’s destiny in the long run is to be with Ben. Ben is the one who will see the lady home. In the TV movie, Beverly and Ben marry in the end, and that may be what happens in the book as well. (I don’t remember.)
What is interesting is that the very next section, Section 6, is about Beverly as a child finding comfort in Ben, as she is hiding from Henry Bowers and his gang. In a tender scene, Beverly thanks Ben for writing her a love-poem, and, when Ben sheepishly says he didn’t mean anything by it, she responds, “You better not mean that.” She says that she needs all the love she can get right now. She feels protected on account of his bulk (Ben is overweight), for page 936 states, “His bulk seemed suddenly very welcome, very welcome, and she was glad there was a lot of him to hug.” And page 939 says: “They sat without saying anything for a little while. Beverly felt safe. Protected…That sense of protection was hard to define and she didn’t try, although much later she would recognize the source of its strength: she was in the arms of a male who would die for her with no hesitation at all.”
I don’t think it’s an accident that the scene of Ben and Beverly follows the scene of Bill and Beverly, for the message is that Beverly is supposed to end up with Ben, whatever crush she and Bill may have on each other.
2. On pages 893-894, after learning more about IT’s history of causing disaster in Derry, Mike Hanlon thinks the following:
“This raises some interesting (and, for all I know, vitally important) questions. What does It really eat, for instance? I know that some of the children have been partially eaten—they show bite-marks, at least—but perhaps it is we who drive It to do that. Certainly we have all been taught since earliest childhood that what the monster does when it catches you in the deep wood is eat you. But it’s really faith that monsters live on, isn’t it? I am led irresistibly to this conclusion: food may be life, but the source of power is faith, not food. And who is more capable of a total act of faith than a child?”
In my posts, Naturalism and Supernaturalism in Stephen King’s IT and IT’s Method, I wrestle with some hard questions that have baffled me about IT. Why is the point frequently made that only children can see IT and IT’s apparitions, when IT has appeared to adults several times in Derry’s history? Why does IT seem to think at times that his power is useless if people don’t believe in him, and yet he successfully kills people who find his disguise to be unrealistic? I tried to arrive at something resembling an answer in those two posts. But what I get out of the passage on pages 893-894 is that IT is a mystery. One of the characters, Mike Hanlon, is trying to make sense of IT, just like I am. His reflections are the closest I’ve seen in this book to clarity about IT’s method, and yet I find them to be unsatisfying. They explain why IT targets children—because they are more likely to believe in monsters—but they don’t account for how IT interacted with adults for so many years. On page 893, Mike Hanlon talks about the times in Derry’s history when IT collected a “gaudy sacrifice”—as when he caused the disappearance of Derry’s first residents, or burned buildings, or instigated the shooting of the Bradley Gang. (Mike doesn’t mention all of these things here, but they are examples of what he probably means by “gaudy sacrifice.”) On page 894, we read that these sacrifices somehow perpetuate and renew IT’s power.
But I wish Mike would go into more detail on this. Instead, he says that IT feels secure because adults lose faith as they grow older. Faith is what makes children (and childlike adults) vulnerable to IT, but faith is also what can enable people to defeat IT. That is probably why IT caused the Losers’ Club to forget their experiences with him as children, and maybe even had a role in their prosperity as adults: he didn’t want them to recapture their faith and thereby defeat him. Rather, his desire was that they live their adult lives and forget about him. These are helpful insights. But they do not explain IT’s interaction with adults, or how the “gaudy sacrifices” perpetuate his power.
Although Mike doesn’t address my questions in a direct manner, however, Stephen King writes in such a way that leaves me at least halfway content. Stephen King presents IT as a mystery to the characters, too, so I don’t have to feel bad about not understanding everything. I don’t have to grade Stephen King on the consistency of his universe, for he has deliberately left some things mysterious.