I have three items from Stephen King’s IT. They revolve around the issue of optimism vs. cynicism.
1. On page 1057, Bill Denbrough (as a child) is in a combat with IT, and faith plays a significant role in Bill’s success. Bill encourages himself to believe: “believe in all the things you have believed in, believe that if you tell the policeman you’re lost he’ll see that you get home safely, that there is a Tooth Fairy who lives in a huge enamel castle, and Santa Claus below the North Pole, making toys with his trove of elves, and that Captain Midnight could be real, yes, he could be in spite of Calvin and Cissy Clark’s big brother Carlton saying that was all a lot of baby stuff, believe that your mother and father will love you again, that courage is possible and words will come smoothly every time; no more Losers, no more cowering in a hole in the grounds and calling it a clubhouse, no more crying in Georgie’s room because you couldn’t save him and didn’t know, believe in yourself…”
Then Bill laughs: “‘OH SHIT, I BELIEVE IN ALL OF THOSE THINGS!’ he shouted, and it was true: even at eleven he had observed that things turned out right a ridiculous amount of the time. [S]uddenly he felt power rush through him.”
I agree with Bill that there are numerous times when things work themselves out. But there are also times when they do not. Still, hoping, dreaming, and thinking about “my favorite things” (to echo Julie Andrews) can give one happiness and strength. There are many times when I am reluctant to do this because I fear that I am setting myself up for disappointment, or that I am jinxing any chance I have for success. There is wisdom in this attitude, for I have found that my resentments are based in part on my frustrated expectations. At the same time, I like what Joel Osteen said in Your Best Life Now: find a place where you can dream. I wonder if there is a way to combine the two approaches: dreaming, yet not having expectations that are so high that I become resentful. Not having dreams can be paralyzing. In my case, I can dream that I will write scholarly articles and (eventually) books that will build my CV, and I can envision myself having an academic teaching position. Will everything turn out the way that I hope throughout this process? Probably not. How many rejections have authors and people looking for work gotten? But I can still press on, as I am motivated by hope.
2. On page 1055, Bill is in combat with IT, and he is trying to stay in mental communication with IT to prevent IT from taking him to the deadlights. In a physical form, IT was vulnerable, but the deadlights were dangerous for human beings and could drive them crazy. Bill then observes: “To pass beyond communication was to pass beyond salvation; he understood that much from the way his parents had behaved toward him after George had died. It was the only lesson their refrigerator coldness had had to teach him.”
There are different applications that one can make from this statement. I think of prayer, for example, and how it is important for me to continue to be in communication with God, since keeping the channels open can be a door to salvation. Cutting off communication out of resentment, however, can lead to the death of the relationship. This passage also stood out to me because Bill is actually communicating with IT, which adds an I-Thou dimension to the relationship. IT is still evil, for IT does not have love and empathy: ITs main concern is to feed on human fears in Derry (which, on page 1007, he says is his killing-pen, and the people of Derry are ITs sheep), to sleep, and to wake up and repeat the cycle all over again. But Bill can still dialogue with this sort of being. The dialogue does not lead to ITs redemption, but Bill still does humanize IT, in a sense, and he buys himself time in the process.
But the way that this quote relates to optimism is that, sometimes, we are the ones who have to work to make our future brighter, and that may involve communication. I remember attending a class at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and a speaker was saying that many people pray for God to restore a relationship, when the Bible commands them to restore it. That involves keeping the channels of communication open. I’m not saying I’m good at this, for I am a shy person. And there are some relationships that I do not feel compelled to restore, for interacting with some people is like mixing oil and water. But there are cases in which I can do a better job of keeping the lines of communication open.
3. On pages 232-233, we are introduced to Mr. Keene, who owns the local pharmacy. Pages 233 states: “Mr. Keene grinned a little. If Bill had seen that grin, it might have gone a good way toward confirming the idea that Mr. Keene was not exactly one of the world’s champion nice guys. It was sour, the grin of a man who has found much to wonder about but almost nothing to uplift in the human condition.”
My impression as I read this book is that Stephen King does not particularly like Mr. Keene. I, however, do. I would not want to be close friends with Mr. Keene, mind you, for something I would like in a friendship is to be affirmed and valued, and I doubt I would get that from Mr. Keene. But I think I could get along with him if I were his employee, or if I came to his pharmacy, or maybe if I saw him on the street-corner. Why, I do not know. I like the fact that he does not make fun of Bill’s stutter, and that does create a safe atmosphere. I also did not particularly mind when Mr. Keene revealed to Eddie that Eddie’s asthma was solely in his mind, although Stephen King was portraying Mr. Keene as a cynical observer, waiting to see what would happen next. Mr. Keene told Eddie that he had observed Eddie was making friends, and he did not want Eddie to be held back by the feeling that he (Eddie) was sick all of the time. I can appreciate that sort of concern.
Mr. Keene is not a sentimental sort of guy, but he has a sort of detached concern. I think the rules of the game are pretty simple with him: You don’t threaten him, and he won’t threaten you. Because his mood is generally flat and he does not have high expectations in life, you’re not exactly walking on eggshells when you’re interacting with him. He did yell at his employee at one point in the book, but I doubt that he fired her. There’s something to be said for being interested in life rather than expecting much out of it. It can make coping easier. But I still think there’s a place in my life for hope.