In this post, I will tie into my discussion of Stephen King’s IT something that Tikva Frymer-Kensky says on pages 116-117 of In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. Frymer-Kensky argues that, in the Hebrew Bible, human beings are responsible for the development of culture, with its “array of powers, functions, occupations, and inventions”, whereas other ancient Near Eastern myths attribute the origin of these things to gods. Frymer-Kensky then discusses the problems that the Hebrew Bible’s approach can pose:
“This is not always a comfortable thought for humankind (then or now). Our knowledge is after all, limited, and was even more limited then than now. As a result, we are sometimes caught between the responsibility that our knowledge offers us and the insufficient nature of our knowledge. There is always a tension between the central importance of humankind, on the one hand, and its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the unknown universe and the immeasurable God. The gap is enormous, and the tension almost demands a mediating figure through which humans can attain the knowledge they require, through which they can avoid the pitfalls of wrong decisions. [T]he centrality of humankind in biblical thought is so threatened that the tension gives rise to nonhuman intermediary figures, literary images such as Lady Wisdom to give us knowledge, holy mothers to lament for us.”
This passage makes me think of two issues in Stephen King’s IT:
1. There is the issue of divine guidance. The Losers’ Club was trying to figure out a strategy to defeat IT, but there were things that the members did not know: For example, is IT omniscient, meaning that he knows the plans that they are devising? There is speculation in the book about this. In the midst of this uncertainty, however, they feel that they are being guided by a supernatural force. On pages 742-743, Ben Hanscom has an idea that he got from a library book, Ghosts of the Great Plains. Essentially, Native Americans would create a smoke-hole, go into it, and start a fire, which would create a lot of smoke. Many would leave the hole because they could not tolerate the smoke, but a few would remain and would have visions. In IT, the significance of this ritual is that Mike and Richie have a vision of how IT arrived to earth.
On page 743, Richie thinks the following after Ben proposes the idea for the ritual: “I’ll bet if we asked him, Haystack [(Ben)] would tell us that book practically jumped into his hand. Like something wanted him to read that one particular book and then tell us about the smoke-hole ceremony. Because there’s a tribe right here, isn’t there? Us. And, yeah, I guess we do need to know what happens next…Was this supposed to happen? From the time Ben got the idea for an underground clubhouse instead of a treehouse, was this supposed to happen? How much of this are we thinking up ourselves, and how much is being thought up for us?”
I know Christians who believe that God guides them, and they attribute certain thoughts or impressions they have to God. I remember listening to one Christian speaker who said that the best teacher is the Holy Spirit—whether the subject matter being taught is dentistry (he was a dentist), the Bible, or whatever. I‘m hesitant to go this route because I do not know how to distinguish my own thoughts from God’s thoughts, and so I just assume that the thoughts that I have are my own. But if I have a thought that appears to be wise and to make sense of things, perhaps I may thank God, but I try not to get dogmatic about the thought being from God.
Personally-speaking, I think it is good to have guidance from somewhere, whether it be books, or mentors, or friends, or our own inner voice…and maybe even God. Some, however, actually do not get perturbed by not knowing all of the answers, for they enjoy the journey and learn from it.
In IT, it seems that Ben simply had an idea and proposed that the club try it. He didn’t tell his friends to try it because he thought it was divinely-inspired, but simply because it might work: they were in the dark about how to fight IT, here was an idea Ben found in a book, and so what could be the harm of trying it out to see what happens? But, through this process, it appeared that a supernatural force was guiding them. Perhaps a lesson here is that we don’t have to create supernatural guidance, for it just happens. At the same time, it’s good to make prudent decisions. And yet, God can redeem even mistakes.
2. Frymer-Kensky’s comments about our significance compared to the vastness of God called to my mind the vast scale of the supernatural characters in it. There was IT, and there was the Turtle, and the Turtle vomited out the universe. And, although IT thinks that IT is eternal, that may not be the case, for there very well may have been a higher being who created IT and the Turtle. On page 1008, IT has an odd thought: “…if all things flowed from It (as they surely had since the Turtle sicked up the universe and then fainted inside its shell), how could any creature of this or any other world fool It or hurt It, no matter how briefly or triflingly.”
I find that passage bizarre. All things flow from IT? Does that mean everyone and everything is evil? Is this accurate, as far as the book is concerned, or simply one of IT’s delusions of grandeur (like his belief that he is eternal)? How could all things flow from IT, if IT was not even the creator? Does this simply mean that IT has a lot of influence due to the Turtle’s alleged inactivity, the same way many Christians argue that God has allowed Satan to be the god of this world?
Also, if IT is so cosmically significant, then why does he confine his activity to a small town like Derry? I know that he can get by with a lot in a small town, which escapes the larger society’s radar. But shouldn’t he have the power to influence things outside of Derry? As far as I can see in the book, he does not, or at least he does not exercise that power. He somehow does have an effect on the Losers’ Club so that they prosper as adults, outside of Derry, and he (or maybe also the Turtle) can call the Losers back to Derry for another fight. But, by and large, IT limits ITs jurisdiction to Derry.
In addition, I’m wondering how to label the cosmology of IT, or if there’s something with which I can compare it. Essentially, a higher power created the Turtle and IT, and the Turtle vomits up the universe. But IT does not think that the Turtle plays an active role in the universe, for IT sees all as an extension of ITself—as if the Turtle’s inactivity gives IT free-reign. And yet, the Turtle does play some role, as does the higher power: they bring the Losers’ Club together to defeat IT.