Part 1: The Shadow Before
Way back in 1957, Stuttering Bill Denbrough has a kid brother, right up until a week’s worth of steady rain floods their hometown of Derry, Maine. Bill, stuck in bed with the flu, makes George Denbrough a paper boat to sail along the swollen curbs downtown. They dig each other, Bill and Georgie, which is why we’re not entirely happy when a clown speaks to the younger brother from a storm drain, introduces himself as Mr. Bob Gray— also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown—entices him closer with a balloon, and rips one of Georgie’s arms right the fuck on out of its socket. Georgie dies in that kid-sized yellow raincoat, and our st-st-st-stuh-story buh-buh-begins.
Pat: All right, so, iIt has been around 20 years since I last read this book. Probably at least 15 since I’ve seen the miniseries. And it is very much like the grownups returning to Derry and remembering the summer of ’58 for me.
Except a bunch of things are super clear in my memory. And Georgie Denbrough getting his arm ripped off is right the hell up there.
Pat: I still have the image of Pennywise in that storm drain in my head. The one I had when I first read it. It’s outlasted even the image from the movie, which I can’t even picture.
Andrea: I always picture him being in the storm drain in the ditch in Scotland Run.
Pat: The funny thing is, I can’t remember details about the street I was imagining. It’s JUST the storm drain. There’s nothing else in the image.
Pat: The whole scene with Bill making the boat, waterproofing it, explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing while Georgie watches him is like an arrow through the fucking heart.
Andrea: I know. It’s as bad as, if not worse, than the goddamn Gage/kite scene. Probably worse, since poor Bill is just a kid.
Pat: And then they start calling each other assholes. I don’t have any brothers, but that shit is like the Platonic archetype of brotherhood.
Warms the cockles.
Andrea: I actually flagged the George and Bill “big brown a-hole” conversation because it cracked me up so much.
Pat: It’s genius. And exactly how boys act, brothers or not.
Andrea: Yes, totally. SK as always is amazing at writing brotherhood/male friendship relationships.
Pat: This doesn’t really happen later in the book: when we meet Pennywise in the storm drain, he’s actually acting like a clown.
“How did you get down there?”
“Storm just bleeeew me away,” Pennywise the Dancing Clown said.
I wonder if we’re only treated to Pennywise’s goofy side because it makes a better contrast when he goes apeshit and starts growling about how they float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too—
And thereafter, he’s always pretty much in murder mode.
Andrea: Yeah, because he acts goofy to pull George in. Cause he’s a little kid. There’s that part where he says he would not have believed it if he was sixteen, but he’s only six.
Pat: He kind of doesn’t bother lulling anyone else, though.
Like, the entire rest of the book.
Hell, he isn’t a clown most of the time.
Andrea: “Something for which he had no name: the smell of It, crouched and lurking and ready to spring. A creature which would eat anything but which was especially hungry for boymeat.”
Pat: I guess It does prefer boymeat, but it ain’t like Mr. Bob Gray was like, “Oh, a chick? Nvm y’all.”
Andrea: It’s the juxtaposition of the word “meat” when referring to a person that always gets me.
Oh, btw: “The boat dipped and swayed and sometimes took on water, but it did not sink; the two brothers had waterproofed it well. I do not know where it finally fetched up, if ever it did; perhaps it reached the sea and sails there forever, like a magic boat in a fairytale. All I know is that it was still afloat and still running on the breast of the flood when it passed the incorporated town limits of Derry, Maine, and there it passes out of this tale forever.”
Two things here. First, that is a homage to Charles Dickens if ever I did read one.
Andrea: If I brought up that quote you would laugh me out of the building for being corny.
Pat: First and a half, you’re mentally fucking deranged because you know I love Dickens, and so no, you are wrong wrong wrong!
Second, the “I” in that passage is who? I don’t think it’s Mike Hanlon. That means it’s another voice, probably the author, most likely, which works with the Dickensian thing.
Andrea: Yes, it is definitely an homage to Dickens, who I am lukewarm about at best.
Pat: You haven’t read the right Dickens, then. What the fuck have you read? Great Expectations? In 9th fucking grade?
King is the Dickens of this era.
Andrea: You think so? Present me with the evidence.
Pat: He’s both prolific and beloved and successful in his own time.
And he writes too goddamn much in his books and they’re too long because of it.
Andrea: I am going to chew on that while I get something from the vending machine cause I’m a dumbass who forgot about lunch.
Pat: Chew on what Dickens you’ve actually read so I can smack the figurative candy bar out of your metaphorical mouth.
Andrea: Um, I read Bleak House over the winter.
Pat: That’s it?
I didn’t even finish Bleak House. Fuck Bleak House. It is garbage.
If you haven’t read Great Expectations (as an adult), Tale Of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend, or David Copperfield, you are a shitbag who cannot talk trash on Dickens because YOU AIN’T EVEN BE KNOWIN’.
Andrea: Well maybe we can do a Dickens blog after this, when I’m 70.
Pat: Damn, trick, I be readin’ film handbooks in the middle of Stephen King books.
After The Festival
Meanwhile, in 1984, a gay fellow by the name of Adrian Mellon runs into some trouble with a few locals, who don’t like the hand-holding he’s doing with his boyfriend and what-all. Drunk, they set on the feisty Adrian, knocking him into the canal. All of this is interspersed with the police interrogations later, when no one believes for a second that there really was an insane clown under the bridge that did the real murderin’ of Mellon.
Pat: I should’ve hated this—you’ve read my rap sheet. It comes off as such sloppy, mindless storytelling at first. But it is actually all kinds of awesome, and I can’t imagine this little story being told in any other way.
Andrea: I love how there is one gay bar in town and rumor has it that a guy in a Nazi uniform will fist you. Wtf??
Pat: It was the 80s. Was there anything straight white people WOULDN’T have believed about gays if they were told?
If someone had just said, “Yeah, there’s a murderous GAY clown with balloons eating people’s armpits in the Canal,” the cops would have mobilized immediately. But no, since it was just a murderous clown, they didn’t even believe it.
Andrea: This is also where we first get the sense of Derry not only as a relatively bad place, but “a place that’s like a strumpet with maggots squirming out of her cooze”
Pat: Cooze is such an intensely gross word.
Andrea: It is. It’s because you can’t have cooze without ooze.
Pat: For fuck’s sake.
I liked the story of the Falcon’s owner, who didn’t realize his clientele was gay for YEARS, and by the time he did, he was making a comfortable living and just didn’t give a shit. Because that’s the story of America.
Andrea: Yeah, that guy was awesome.
Pat: Also, the Don/Adrian backstory was just a wee bit heartwarming. And it presented them as just a normal-ass couple. Who interacted the same as a hetero couple. Which may not be as much so as I’m imagining, but I can’t imagine that was altogether de rigeur in writing back then.
Andrea: Right. It makes you wonder if SK actually had a couple gay buddies up there in Bangor. It’s pretty effing realistic.
Pat: So that’s two chapters we’re through now, and both have been unimpeachable. I want to print them out, turn them into a blanket, and swaddle myself in them.
Andrea: Think of the paper cuts.
Pat: I’d soften the edges, you lunatic.
Six Phone Calls
Stanley Uris gets a call from some old friend, and then his wife reminisces about their lives thus far. Meanwhile, Stanley draws himself a bath, slits both his arms from wrist to elbow, and scrawls “IT” on the wall in blood. Wheeeee!
Pat: Going back over this, I’m seeing that these sections were all shorter than I remembered. Stan’s whole backstory, though, was too involved. WAY too involved for a guy who is about to die.
Andrea: This was rough, BUT my one complaint is that we don’t really know Stan yet, so it’s not as affecting as it could be.
Pat: I think he’s getting us as much into Stan’s life as possible so that at least we’re moored to him in some way, so that the enormity of him slashing his wrists is apparent.
Andrea: So, since he spells “IT,” do you think It made him do it?
Pat: No. I don’t think It did it.
As we see later on, Stan had trouble coming to terms with the situation when he was a kid and more open to possibilities. Now he’s had two decades of living a rigid and clean life, a life without “offense.” And when all of that came back after the phone call, he couldn’t do it.
I mean, come on, marry that to the fact that later on, he says he would rather “die clean” than live dirty. And where does he kill himself?
Andrea: THE BATHTUB WITH A BIG FAT DRAIN, MOFO
Pat: BOOM, YOU JUST GOT LIT CLASS’D
Richie Tozier is a radio disc jockey. He does a lot of voices, because it’s the 80s and people were still putting up with that shit back then. He gets the same call as Stanley Uris, tells his boss he’s taking a powder, and sets off east.
Andrea: Bringing “Kinky Briefcase, sexual accountant” with him.
Pat: Hello, and welcome to the 1980s. If you’ll look to your right, you’ll notice how fucking weird it is that a disc jockey was something you could be, let alone be successful at.
Andrea: And he actually got good at the voices, which made me happy.
Pat: I really and truly cannot divorce Richie Tozier from Harry Anderson in my head. I just can’t.
They are the same person.
And Harry the Hat from Cheers.
And Judge Harry from Night Court.
He is the Dark Tower of actors.
Andrea: I don’t know any of these people.
Pat: NIGHT COURT? YOU DON’T KNOW NIGHT COURT? Get the fuck out of my house.
Andrea: No. I never watched Night Court, since I was a normal, well-adjusted child.
Pat: Yeah, being born when you were and NOT having ever watched Night Court means you were not normal, and not well-adjusted.
It means you were a social pariah who lived at the bottom of a pool.
Andrea: I preferred Alfred Hitchctsock Presents.
And reruns of Dragnet.
Pat: You can’t even spell Hitchcock. GTFO.
You spelled some German sock manufacturer’s name.
Andrea: No, my computer does this annoying thing where the cursor jumps around.
Ben Hanscom is pretty handsome, even with the strange ‘H’ carved into his chest, a weird scar that has lately returned. He’s also a righteous architect who designs all manner of well-known buildings, and he always makes sure to be at the bar back home on Saturday night. This week, he comes in pale as a sheet and drinks an entire pint glass of whiskey and freaks out the bartender. He, too, has recently received a phone call from the past, and the memories are just about blowing his mind. Then ol’ Ben gets a move on.
Pat: This is easily the best of the six phone calls.
Andrea: Why do you think so? I prefer Beverly’s.
Pat: I don’t know. I just relate to Ben. He’s got this weird schedule that he keeps at his local bar even though he’s in another country the other six days.
Andrea: I had a hard time connecting the adult people to the kids, not sure why. I think it will get easier the further I get in the book though
Pat: Didn’t notice anything weird in the first paragraph?
Perhaps the fact that Ben Hanscom lives in Hemingford Home? Which is on Route 63, “which runs straight as a string through the deserted little town of Gatlin”?
Andrea: Gatlin is from Children Of The Corn right?
Andrea: So what is the Hemingford Home connection?
Pat: Are you fucking mentally deranged?
He’s got a very, very old lady as a neighbor, I’m guessing.
Andrea: From The Stand? Mother Abigail?
Pat: Andrea googles “Hemingford Home” because she is a bozo.
Andrea: Nope. I am waiting for you to tell me.
Pat: That’s it.
Andrea: AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR GOOGLE
Pat: The town all the good people dream about. Not for nothing, but two towns where there is some heavy corn imagery in their respective stories.
Andrea: And Ben made it there. Because he is truly good.
Pat: Ben’s my favorite by far.
Eddie Kaspbrak married his mother, metaphorically speaking, and his wife has flipped her proverbial lid because Eddie is packing up his whole cabinet of prescriptions and zooming on home, even though he’s supposed to chauffeur Al Pacino around New York the next day. We get some vignettes of Eddie’s mom as Lunatic Helicopter Parent/Medic, and we’re on our way to understanding his deep-seated hypochondriac. And away he goes!
Pat: Flashback: Eddie uses a “See If Your Shoe Really Fits By Putting Your Foot In This Radiation Bath, Dummy!” display.
Andrea: I wanted to see Eddie’s mom catch fire.
Pat: I could not stand Eddie after this section, and I had to be brought around.
Andrea: Agreed. But again, it was hard for me to make the mental/emotional connection between the adult characters and the kids.
Pat: We haven’t met anyone but Bill as a kid yet, though.
Beverly Rogan is a married to an abusive man who gets a hard-on every time he whips her with his buckleless stretch of belt. She’s a fashion designer of some reknown, and boy howdy, does she have a set of rules to live or die by, including Not Smoking. A good ol’ whuppin’ is headed her way, courtesy of Tom Rogan, Husband Of The Year, 1981-84, but instead, he’s faced with a whole different Bev who is Not About To Take His Shit. They throw down, and she leaves to heed the call she received before the shit Went Down.
Andrea: This was intense.
Pat: I don’t even know how to characterize this. I believe it would take as many words as the passage itself.
She goes fucking nuclear. In the most ice-cold, steely way.
Andrea: I loved it and her. I think this was a smart choice because you need to be rooting hard for Bev in this book and this kicks that right off.
Pat: Yeah, you’re like, “I hope she survives to have sex with six 11-year-old boys in a sewer.”
Andrea: No, because that happened before.
Pat: I know when it happened. I stand behind my joke.
Andrea: She went through all that, plus childhood abuse, so you want her to also survive abusive husband.
Pat: The detail King goes into of how Tom works out the logic of manipulating Beverly is batshit. How does anyone even develop that complicated and ordered a set of inner laws? Sheeshboy.
Andrea: I think that is pretty common of abusers. But they introduce them slowly so it kind of seems normal until all of a sudden, it doesn’t.
Pat: She deals on him but good. And he is just all kinds of thrown off.
GOOD ON YA, BEV
Andrea: Yup. Was this in the miniseries?
Pat: Fucked if I know.
Andrea: I also really liked Bev’s women’s lib friend and also thought their phone convo was really well-written and realistic.
Pat: I can dig that. I did, however, find myself thinking she’s probably a lesbian, which I realize is a neanderthal thought.
Andrea: Yeah, well, you know.
Novelist-turned-screenwriter and former All-Star Stutterer, New England Division Bill Denbrough is out in England when he receives his call. Same deal: you remember what happened? You remember that promise? Yeah boy, sure as shit, but Bill’s wife Audra, a Movie Star Or Somesuch, doesn’t know what the hell’s going on, or that Bill’s dear younger brother George was peeled like a banana by a homicidal clown back home when they were both kids. He, too, has a scar that’s mysteriously reappeared alongside his long-forgotten childhood memories. He says Mike Hanlon’s called all the old gang back to Derry, and he thinks they’re all gonna come, except Stanley Uris, who apparently didn’t sound so good on the phone. He ain’t gonna sound much better if you call him back, Mikey! Meanwhile, 1985 is so far back, you understand, that this stuttering motherfucker can actually take a Concorde back to the States!
Pat: Admission: I am realizing that I don’t think I like Bill. I don’t think I even liked him then.
Andrea: Yeah, he’s whatever to me, although I like him in the kid/big brother role. The one I really don’t like is Richie.
Pat: Richie? Richie’s fine. Especially when he’s a kid who’s just trying desperately to be funny. Stanley is the assbag.
I do enjoy the scars-reappearing thing. Which I don’t think it’s mentioned whether or not that H on Ben’s chest reappeared or had ever disappeared.
Andrea: I don’t think that it was, but I definitely think he would still have a scar due to the nature of the injury. Also, WHO THE FUCK tries to carve their name in another kid?
Pat: Henry Bugshit Bowers, that’s who.
“Due to the nature of the injury”? So just the blood oath scars are magical?
Andrea: Yeah, that is what I gathered.
Pat: I think the H would HAVE to disappear.
Otherwise, Ben would never have forgotten about Derry, unless he never saw himself shirtless.
Andrea: That’s true. or maybe his brain invented some other fuzzy reason for the scar.
Pat: I doubt it.
“Must’ve carved it on my chest back in my frat days. The H is for Hanscom.”
Get out of here.
Andrea: Memory and time do weird things to people. It’s almost like they are in an SK novel.
Pat: I’m sticking on the side of it disappearing.
Derry: The First Interlude
Mike Hanlon, librarian and Chief Black Dude of Derry, Maine, waxes philosophical about his historically fucked-up hometown. He’s babbling about the voice of the Turtle while going over some shit he’s picked up researching the history of Derry. Disappeared settlement? Check. Group of lumberjacks hacked to pieces in the woods? Check. Man killing his entire family (and himself) with poison mushrooms? Check. A factory explosion during an Easter egg hunt that killed eighty-eight children and over a dozen adults? Checketty check. A mysterious cycle that more than one person has noticed, wherein every 27-odd years, a spate of disappearances, deaths, and murders take place in Derry? Check, please!
Pat: You love this back-history-of-a-town shit.
Andrea: Oh MFG, the Easter Egg Hunt explosion. You know I love it. Are you saying you don’t? It’s fucking gold.
Pat: There’s isn’t a thing about this book I don’t love.
Andrea: Backstory of a town with all the crazy gory fucked up shit that’s happened? I’ll read that all damn day. And twice on Sunday.
Pat: It’s a nice break to have a first person perspective in the story. You’ve got so many close third-person perspectives throughout the book, it gets a little taxing.
Andrea: Agreed. I like when he describes Derry as “a feeding place for animals.” And, holy fuck, the part where a lady finds a kid’s head caught in her apple tree after the explosion. And the unbelievable statistic of children who go missing: 40 TO 60 A YEAR??
Pat: Yeah, and they don’t get into why this isn’t a national news story until well into the Grownups chapter. But the people of the town should be a little more bugged out than they are.
Obviously, Mike is bugged out as shit, but that’s because he’s the only one who’s never forgotten. Him and that old guy who also knows about the cycle.
Andrea: Exactly. Even though there is the mention of the fact that kids in Derry know not to go out at night, etc.
Pat: There must be a level of selective amnesia even for people who don’t leave Derry. A lighter version of what Bill, Ben, etc. have.
Andrea: Right. Or else everyone in the town would run screaming.
Pat: Maybe it’s part of an implicit agreement. Or a compromise.
“In Derry, such forgetting of tragedy and disaster was almost an art, as Bill Denbrough would come to discover in time.”
YOU AIN’T JUST WHISTLIN’ DIXIE
Pat: Here’s an inane question: who would win in a fight, It or the Wendigo?
Andrea: I don’t know that I know enough about the Wendigo to make an informed decision about that.
Pat: Yeah, best not to take sides in that fight.
Andrea: I don’t want either to come after me, I’ll put it that way.
Mikey hopes he doesn’t have to call his old friends, who promised to come back if the shit ever hit the fan again, but it’s too late for all that. You’ve already called them all! Didn’t you read the last goddamn chapter?
To run straight into the gaping maw of the Pennywise the Dancing Clown, turn to Part 2.