This month’s reading list is a little lacklustre because I only managed to read one book (“And you call yourself a writer and a book-lover, how dare you?!” I KNOW). Thanks to NaNoWriMo and a very busy work month, I’ve pretty much been shackled to my keyboard and it’s been hellish. But the book I did read was a bloody big ‘un – Stephen King’s It. There be spoilers ahead.
It, Stephen King
I’ve never read any Stephen King before (I know, where have I been, what am I doing with my life?) so what better way to jump in than with the book that everyone is talking about thanks to the movie adaptation that was released last month. I haven’t seen the film yet because, I’ll be totally honest, I’m a huge baby with horror flicks. I can read scary, gruesome stuff no problem, but when it’s on the big screen I can’t handle it. Saying that, I’m actually really intrigued to see it now I’ve read the book, because I think it’ll be interesting to see how the vast, complex plot will translate onto the screen.
It is a heavy book. Physically heavy, because it’s fucking long, but also emotionally. It’s dark, and not just because there’s a sinister shape-shifting clown roaming around the sewers and murdering and eating children. With seven main characters and backstories about their childhood and adulthood to cover, I felt overwhelmed with information at times. I went through phases of thinking “Man, surely some of this should have been cut,” but in reality, everything is kind of necessary. Well, almost everything; there is one scene which… well, we’ll get to that.
Derry is a weird town where weird shit goes down, and I guess the only way to really explain the weirdness of it is to describe its intricacies in great detail. In a way, reading It feels like you’re reading a whole bunch of intertwining short stories and a factual Derry history book, rather than a novel. It’s only during the last third of the book that the story really feels like it pulls together, and the pace picks up and makes you feel as though you simply can’t put it down. Not that I was bored through the first two-thirds; it was an enjoyable read from start to finish, but eventually you get so deep into the story that you desperately want to understand what It, the monster, is and why It’s plaguing Derry.
The backstories of the characters are so intricate that I almost want to re-read the whole thing straight away. But honestly? I can’t handle it. It’s dark, it’s intense, and there are so many moments, aside from, obviously, the gore (which I loved), that make you wince or cringe. Many of the human characters were as cruel and brutal as It (although it’s always suggested that they’re unwittingly controlled by It), and it’s almost torturous reading about their exploits.
One particular scene that made me uncomfortable was the Loser Club’s sex scene. Beverley, the only female in the group of childhood friends, asks each of the six boys to have sex with her in the dingy darkness of the Derry sewer system, seemingly to unite them and ignite some kind of power within them all to ensure they get out of the sewers alive. Side notes: the children are all 11 years old, and the scene occurs almost immediately after they successfully (or so they think) defeat It.
Yeah, it made me feel icky, and it just felt so unnatural. It is a coming of age story for all of the young characters, but throughout the book I felt as though there was too much focus on the way Beverley was physically changing into a woman at the age of 11, while with the boys the emphasis was on their emotional changes as they began growing from boys to men. There were multiple mentions of the early development of her breasts and how she would soon become a beautiful woman, and it seemed to build up towards this pivotal and controversial sex scene. I understand that the point of the scene was to demonstrate the closeness of the group and unite them in a momentous way, but I felt it was the wrong way to do it.
Not long after the sex scene, when they emerge from the sewers, the children cut each other’s hands with glass and stand united in a group, sharing blood as they vow to return to fight It once more if It ever returns. In my mind, this would have been enough to demonstrate the group’s unity and hint at the magical connection between them. And it made the sex scene simply unnecessary.
After I finished reading It, I took to the internet to find out what others thought. Sure enough, there are plenty like me who feel uncomfortable about the idea of not only 11-year-olds having sex, but of a single girl within a group of boys who lets them all have sex with her each in turn. Don’t get me wrong, Beverley chose for the act to happen herself, and she even had to talk the boys into it (which made me even more comfortable), but it was as though King used her as nothing more than a female body, which was a shame because Beverley had so much more to offer. She was the one with the impeccable aim who sent It whimpering back down to the sewers after shooting It in the head with a silver bullet. She got stuck into bloody rock fights and participated in building the clubhouse, and was happily involved in all the “boy” games that the Loser Club played. But ultimately, her most poignant moment was allowing six boys to have sex with her.
At StephenKing.com, this scene is discussed in the readers forum and Mr. King himself gives the following explanation:
I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children–we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.
For one, the sexual aspect can’t be ignored, because, well, they’re having sex, and King describes what pleasure (or displeasure) the participants take from the act. If the sexual aspect is so unimportant, then why make it a sexual act at all? Doing so is, at least in my opinion, unrealistic. Do 11-year-olds have sex? I’m sure some do. Do they have group sex? Maybe, but I’d say it’s rare or unlikely. If it was sex between Beverley and just one of the boys, I might feel uncomfortable reading about children having sex, but I’m not ignorant enough to believe that children of that age aren’t ever ready to explore their bodies and intimacy with others. But it’s the group sex which is just plain unrealistic. And sure, we’re talking about a story in which children are fighting a mysterious, child-eating monster, but all other aspects of the children and their lives are realistic, and that’s what makes the story so compelling and the concept of a sewer-dwelling evil clown all the more vivid and terrifying.
Secondly, I appreciate that the scene unites the characters and blends childhood and adulthood but, like I said, the scene in which the group take the blood oath demonstrates unity enough. Plus, there are many other moments in the book in which childhood and adulthood are blended (for example, we see aspects of each character’s childhood personality reflected in their adult careers – Ben the dam-builder becomes an architect, Richie uses his childish voices to become a radio personality, etc).
I’m yet to see this year’s film adaptation of It, but I hear that the sex scene did not make it into the script. The movie’s director Andy Muschietti made this statement about it in an interview:
I don’t think it was really needed in the movie, apart that it was very hard to allow us to shoot an orgy in the movie so, I didn’t think it was necessary because the story itself is a bit of a journey, and it illustrates that. And in the end, the replacement for it is the scene with the blood oath, where everyone sort of says goodbye. Spoiler. The blood oath scene is there and it’s the last time they see each other as a group. It’s unspoken. And they don’t know it, but it’s a bit of a foreboding that this is the last time, and being together was a bit of a necessity to beat the monster. Now that the monster recedes, they don’t need to be together. And also because their childhood is ending, and their adulthood is starting. And that’s the bittersweet moment of that sequence.
Basically, the blood oath scene does everything the sex scene does, as I just explained, and it does so in far less jarring manner. Ultimately, I believe the sex scene was simply redundant, and it offered me little more than an uneasy feeling in my stomach and… well, a lot to write about on my blog. But if you’ve read It, what do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
My NaNoWriMo project
If you follow we on Twitter you’ve probably seen me wittering on about how hard it is to write 50,000 words in a month, even if it is in the form of short stories instead of a novel. I broke away from NaNoWriMo traditionalism this year and became a rebel, and I’m creating a series of stories all set in one town on Christmas eve. I say “I’m creating” instead of “I’ve created” because I still have seven left to write if I’m to hit that hallowed word count by midnight on the 30th of November. It’s safe to say I won’t be sleeping tonight.
I’ll be posting one story each day from 1st December until the 24th, so stay tuned for the fun! If you love Christmas I’m sure you’ll appreciate the festive tales, but if you absolutely despise Christmas I’m pretty sure you’ll get a kick out of them too. After all, a story just isn’t a story unless some characters are put through hell, even when it is Christmas.