Friendship, in Stephen King’s IT

I first read Stephen King’s IT in the winter of 1999.  I didn’t read too much fiction in those days, but I found that I had some spare time before school started again, and I liked the TV miniseries of IT.  The miniseries gave me a warm feeling inside because it was about friendship—and not just about any kind of friendship, but friendship among people who were on the social margins.  There was a reason that they called themselves the Losers’ Club!  And so I decided to read the book because of that warm feeling.  I also wanted to read the book because I was intrigued by the mystery of who or what IT was, and I wondered if the book shed light on this question.  In this particular post, however, I will focus on the issue of friendship and community in Stephen King’s IT.

I’ll start with Ben Hanscom, and I’ll see where I go from there.  On pages 175-176, the narrator reflects on how young Ben Hanscom would have reacted had a person asked him if he was lonely.  Before joining the Losers’ Club, Ben Hanscom kept to himself.  Ben was also liked by adults because he was polite and witty, but, for a while, he did not have friends from his own peer-group.  But was he lonely?  The impression that I get from pages 175-176 is that he was not, for he had his own hobbies, and he enjoyed spending time in the public library. Ben may have still desired community, for page 186 describes a dream that he had in which he hit a home run and was celebrated by his team.  But pages 175-176 say that Ben was not lonely because he had never had friends, so he did not feel bad when he lacked them.  He did not know what he was missing.  Once he tasted being a part of a “we” of folks who liked him and valued him, however, he was lonely when he was alone, as Richie Tozier observed when he invited Ben to see a couple of horror movies with him.

The Losers’ Club was a safe place.  As page 290 says, Eddie liked Bill because Bill never made fun of his asthma or called him a sissy.  Richie, the comedian of the group, called Eddie “Eds” and Ben “Haystack”, and, while Eddie complained about this, he actually did not mind, for he saw that as a “secret name”—“A way to be people who had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands” (page 289).  (And, considering Eddie’s overbearing mother, I can see how that would be a concern of his!)  As adults, the members of the Losers’ Club were recovering old memories and taking turns to share them with one another, and, while Beverly had something that she wanted to say, she kept silent because she realized that it was Eddie’s turn to speak.  Everyone in the group had a chance to be heard.  Moreover, the Losers’ Club was a place of support.  On his hospital sickbed, Eddie reflected that friends “stand by you when you’re hurt and…help you feel not so lonely” (page 806).  They can also give a person strength in hard times, as the Losers’ Club (as adults) sent power to Mike Hanlon when a male nurse (under the influence of IT) was about to kill him.

When I first read IT, I thought that the Losers’ Club was a sort of clique, which was closed off to outsiders.  I recalled one of Bill’s friends who (like Bill) had a speech impediment, and he hung around the members, got mad, and left.  I somewhat identified with him, as one who often doesn’t fit in myself.  In my reading this time around, however, my impression was a little different.  Indeed, the members of the Losers’ Club were more present, salient, or (to quote Stephen King) “there” to each other than the outsider (Bradley) who hung around them, for some supernatural power was drawing them together for a specific purpose, to defeat IT.  But, as Richie reflected, Bradley “might stay for awhile today, might even come down to the Barrens again—no one would tell him no, so sorry, the Losers’ Club membership is full, we already have our speech-impediment member—but he was not a part of it” (pages 361-362).  And, on pages 404-409, Bradley is not excluded, but he accuses Beverly of cheating at pitching pennies, even though she said that she was not playing to keep the money.  Bradley’s behavior shocked the members.  He was excluding himself, but his behavior was also (in some manner) being influenced by a supernatural force.  This doesn’t completely rub me the right way, for it reminds me of an evangelical Bible study group I was once in.  Many people stopped coming to it, and the leader talked as if that was God’s will, as if those who stayed (well, maybe not me) were the ones God wanted in the group.  Then there was a preacher I heard who prayed that those who did not share the mission of the church might not come into the door.  I thought those sorts of mindsets were stupid, and I still do, for I do not believe that God is exclusive.  I think that God loves and welcomes everybody.

How did one come to fit in to the Losers’ Club?  Stan (a Jew) impressed people with his wit when Richie was saying that the Jews killed Christ, and Stan replied, “That was my father.”  Many times in my experiences of the real world, wit can go a long way (and that has worked for and against me).  But Stan was not accepted on account of his wit, for Mike Hanlon observed that, ordinarily, Stan’s sense of humor was peculiar and people rarely got it.  Yet, Stan was accepted.  Richie felt that he was becoming obligated to the Losers’ Club and its mission when Ben Hanscom took responsibility before a cop for building a dam that was interrupting the flow of sewage, even though most of the Losers’ Club had a hand in building it.  And Mike was accepted into the club without question, for he was destined to become a part of it.  And that’s what bonded all of them to each other.

It was interesting to read the one-on-one interaction among the members, for they were not just a communal mass, but they had individual relationships with each other.  Richie showed Bill that the death of his (Bill’s) little brother Georgie was not Bill’s fault, for Bill did not intend for Georgie to die.  Eddie admired Bill.  Ben loved Beverly, and Beverly found strength in his love for her.  And Beverly thinks about a time when she came to the Losers’ hang-out in the Barrens and only Eddie was there, and both of them had fun reading Little Lulu comic books all afternoon.

On page 927, Bill and Beverly (as adults) say that making friends is not their strong suit.  That may have been one thing (in addition to their destiny) that bound them together: they were social outcasts.  I can understand their reluctance to make friends, for I myself have not done too well in friendships.  Many times, I feel put down, or that my opinion is not valued.  I also feel uncomfortable around people.  But what is good about friendships is to have somebody who cares, which can be better than a cold world where nobody cares.  I think of page 274, where Will Hanlon tells his son Mike to go to the dump and to come back with a souvenir.  Mike had someone to show his souvenir to, someone who cared about what he did and found.  While I think often about receiving love, I myself should also try to show that same sort of interest in other people.

I’d like to turn to something profound on page 885: “But sometimes, when a man has spent a life being distrusted and distrustful, being a loner (or a Loser) both by choice and by reason of society’s opinions of him, he can find a friend or a lover and simply live for that person, the way a dog lives for its master.”

This reminds me of different things—Eddie’s love for Bill in IT, the love for the sinister Randall Flagg by Lloyd and the Trashcan Man (who said “My life for you”) in the miniseries of the Stand, etc.  Personally, I often have valued too much what charismatic people think about me, rooting my self-worth in that.  This can be dangerous.  At the same time, perhaps I have done so because I have feared that the alternative is cold loneliness.  And yet, there are many times when I am like Ben Hanscom, in that I am too occupied with my interests to feel lonely, and I especially hate when people try to make me feel guilty or freakish to preferring to be by myself.  But there have been other times when I have been lonely, not in the sense that I desire to socialize, but rather in the sense that I want to be affirmed, or I want people to care about my souvenir (to recall Will Hanlon).  Nowadays, my loneliness is alleviated because I am around people (my Mom and her husband), as well as their kitties.

In my reading this time around, while I learned things about friendship and community, I did not have that “warm feeling”.  But I have a hunch that I will miss the community of the Losers’ Club after I finish the book.

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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