Stephen King’s ‘IT’ and the Power of Childhood

Warning! This Post Contains Spoilers

You’ve been warned so don’t be a cockwomble and complain in the comments. There are spoilers throughout this post based on the book, TV series and film. Go watch and/or read first if you don’t want to know ‘the things’.

My IT History

IT and the Power of Childhood - PennywiseI have just returned from watching the new film adaptation of the book. I was hoping that it would not be a remake of the TV series. I am in the camp of ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ as far as the original series goes. It messed around with the plot but the characterisation, in my opinion, was spot on. I still can’t quite get over John Boy Walton being in it though.

Shoot me down if you must but I am not a huge fan of Stephen King. I must be the only writer in the world who does not live my life according to lines from On Writing.

That said, I devoured a lot of his books in my teens when I wanted to be scared senseless. I admire more of his ‘straight’ stuff like Dolores Claiborne and The Shawshank Redemption, where his skills of characterisation shine through.

I remember loving IT when I read it as a teenager. It did nothing for my fear of clowns but it made me see how a writer can create multiple ‘rich’ characters rather than investing all their writing efforts solely into a protagonist.

I have been reading it again now. I confess that I have found it convoluted and a bit of a show boat for King’s writing. It could have been shorter. That said, and before the King fans kill me, I can see that the message at the heart of the novel is a solid one.

Childhood in IT

Childhood is integral in IT. Without the childhood experience we cannot relate to the adults that have to face IT once more. Even the title suggests childish propensities to not want to give a name to that monster that lurks in our fears. To call it ‘IT’, is to name it as ‘other’.

2017 FILM SPOILER COMING UP!

The film makes an interesting choice in being based entirely on the childhood experiences of ‘The Losers Club’. I initially felt cheated as I saw that we were way into the film and there wasn’t a hint of the kids as grown ups. I then began to see that this was an informed choice.

Of course it paves the way for a sequel. The ending leaves no doubt about that. If a follow up doesn’t happen there will be some mightily pissed off movie-goers.

I am usually a cynic. I thought I would say that the choice to split the narrative in two is to make more money. Yes, there is that. However, I think this film, based on the characters’ younger years serves to display the power of childhood.

The Power of Childhood

IT and the Power of Childhood - The Losers ClubWe often view children as innocent, incapable of looking after themselves, unable to make the right decisions and vulnerable. Can you honestly say that you were all those things, all the time when you were younger?

Of course children need to be looked after. Without adult supervision and care a child is left exposed to badness. This is where IT becomes menacing as the adults are unable to see the horror that Pennywise inflicts upon children. Childhood is not in the adult domain. That’s what makes it even more powerful.

Through ageing we develop a form of amnesia as to what it was to be a child. Sure, we have memories and sometimes feelings too. As we transport ourselves back to childhood events we often feel like we can almost touch it. Almost, but never quite there. That is because we no longer belong in that world. We are barred from entering the childhood world. Only those of certain ages are allowed in and have the power to participate.

The Power of Childhood in IT

The gang of children in IT has to take charge. Not only do they have to face dubious childhood rites of passages like bullying and crushes, they are dealing with a monstrous clown.

It is no accident that Pennywise is largely manifested as a clown. Imagine a children’s party or the circus and clowns will appear. Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) is a long-standing thing. I know I certainly have it, along with fear of those mascots, you know, people who dress as animals etc for football matches and at theme parks. This is why I will probably never go to Disneyland.

You may think it’s because I fear what I see; a clown with make-up on or some dude dressed as a rabbit. It’s not that. I fear what is underneath. My childhood imagination transcends into adulthood to wonder who is behind the mask. Sometimes that is scarier than the obvious surface.

Children question ‘why’ on a regular basis. The children of IT are made powerful in how they rally together and deduce the ‘why’ of IT. IT is more than just a clown, werewolf, mummy or leper. IT feeds on fear and makes it real.

As adults we like to think that we have left our fears behind. We relegate them to childhood. As adults we are losing because we deny our fears.

Children learn to speak their fears and name their monsters. In facing their fears they can defeat them. That is the power of childhood. IT loses power because of the force of a group of children who refuse to allow IT to attack them with their fears.

The Bonds of Childhood Friendship

I believe that the message of IT isn’t to avoid clowns or to never play with boats in a puddle. For me, IT is focused around the bonds of childhood friendship.

IT and the Power of Childhood - GeorgieThere is power in having childhood friends. In IT they’ll help you to defeat scary ass clowns. In normal life they will help you see off loneliness and bring a sense of belonging. Ask any previously bullied or lonely child who is now an adult just how important childhood friends are.

Some of us still have our childhood friends in our lives. They are often our closest buddies. They knew us as children and even if we do not see them for years, they can still see the powerful child we hold within us. We have a connection with our childhood mates even if that remains in the past.

Like the adults in IT, childhood bonds aren’t easily broken. We move away and forge different lives but it is with the reunion of childhood friends that the power of memory and shared experience reigns. It also helps if you were up against a monster back then and know how to defeat the bloody thing when it comes for you 27 years later.

Be More Childlike

‘Childlike’ is not ‘childish’.

Adults become sensible. We forget to dream seemingly impossible dreams. We feel silly if we roll in mud or run into the sea fully clothed. We are supposed to be setting the youngsters and example, right? Wrong.

Let kids show us the way. They know what it is to imagine and be transported to better places. It is no accident that I am a writer. I was a child with an active imagination. I was always going to be an adult who needed to keep that fire of imagination alive. No wonder I felt for years that the light was going out. It wasn’t until I started writing that the childlike imagination breathed new life.

Do not be afraid to find some part of your childhood again. Flick the power switch back on and get a little foolish.

Phone old friends. Meet up and marvel at how you’ve aged but are still those kids at the core.

Get on a bike and feel the wind rushing past you as you go downhill.

Throw stones at bullies even if they’re metaphorical rocks.

Do it all, except probably making boats, wearing yellow macs or going anywhere near a sewer. Leave that to the kids of Derry.

 

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer and blogger. When not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, the cat, and the Husband. Not particularly in that order.

6 comments on “Stephen King’s ‘IT’ and the Power of Childhood

  1. Great post, IT scared the shi….. out of me when I was a kid, but even so I was cheering those brave kids on all the way. I love the analogy you’ve made of this, I still find my inner child sometimes and it definitely comes out in my writing. Here’s to pooh sticks!

    1. The kids made the book and film. I find those sections the most appealing in terms of characterisation.

      I’m always up for a game of Pooh sticks! Thanks so much for commenting Debbie.

    1. Sounds like you’re quite a fan Lainy! I am reading the book again now. It has been many years since I first read it too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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