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10 Things You Might Not Know About Stephen King’s It

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Stephen King’s novel It, first published in 1986, is known for its whopping page count and multigenerational horror saga. Thanks to a new film adaptation, buzz around It has spiked again recently. It will be the novel’s second trip to the screen, following a 1990 television miniseries.

If you only have a passing familiarity with the story, you might think it’s simply about a killer clown. But there’s far more to the sprawling saga of The Losers' Club and the fictional setting of Derry, Maine. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the bestselling book of 1986.

1. THE NOVEL WAS INSPIRED BY A NORWEGIAN FAIRY TALE.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a classic Norwegian fairy tale about three scrappy goats outsmarting a bridge troll, might sound like a far cry from a 1000-plus page horror novel, but Stephen King cites it as a primary inspiration. He expanded the bridge to encompass an entire city, and the troll morphed into the terrifying demonic entity known as IT.  

“I decided that the bridge could be the city, if there was something under it,” King wrote on his website. “What’s under a city? Tunnels. Sewers ... I thought of how such a story might be cast; how it might be possible to create a ricochet effect, interweaving the stories of the children and the adults they become. Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write the troll under the bridge or leave him—IT—forever.”

2. STEPHEN KING SPENT FOUR YEARS WRITING IT.

King is notoriously prolific, with more than 50 novels to his name. In fact, when It first came out, it was part of a wave of four books King published in the span of just 14 months. Between 1986 and 1987, King published It, The Eyes of the Dragon, Misery, and The Tommyknockers. Given that kind of productivity, it would be easy to assume that King seamlessly produces doorstoppers in mere months. But appearances can be deceiving: It took four years to write.

3. IT'S KING’S SECOND LONGEST NOVEL.

Clocking in at a whopping 1138 pages, It is second only to The Stand (which came in at 1153 pages) as King’s longest work to date. It weighs four pounds.

4. THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL SCENE IN IT IS TOO DISTURBING FOR ANY ADAPTATION.

It contains an infamous sex scene. In it, the main group of 11- and 12-year-old kids—known as The Losers' Club—gets lost in the sewers after temporarily defeating IT. In order to find their way out, they all have sex with the lone female member of the group as a sort of ritual. “Mike comes to her, then Richie, and the act is repeated ... she closes her eyes as Stan comes to her and she thinks of the birds,” King writes in It.

“I wasn't really thinking of the sexual aspect of it," King later explained of his intentions in writing the controversial scene. "The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood ... Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues."

5. IT WAS WRITTEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF COCAINE.

King has been sober for over three decades now, but in his youth he suffered from addiction to drugs and alcohol. His prolific writing career did not halt during this time; he simply continued writing under the influence. “I was a heavy [cocaine] user from 1978 until 1986, something like that,” King told Rolling Stone. According to King, The Tommyknockers—which he published after Itwas the last novel he wrote before cleaning up. 

6. IT COMES TO TERRORIZE DERRY IN 27-YEAR INCREMENTS. THE ADAPTATIONS OF IT ALSO COME IN 27-YEAR INCREMENTS.

In the novel, the creature known as IT is not a clown; IT is a malevolent entity that takes on forms tailored to the person it's terrorizing. Although its most common form is a clown, IT also appears as creatures like werewolves and vampires, wreaking murderous havoc on the fictional town of Derry every 27 years. Oddly, the new film adaptation is hitting theaters 27 years after the 1990 miniseries. Since the film’s production has stalled and changed hands several times, this is pure coincidence.

7. THE FICTIONAL TOWN OF DERRY IS A STAND-IN FOR THE REAL TOWN OF BANGOR, MAINE.

It is set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. According to King, it’s a stand-in for the real town of Bangor, Maine, where he has lived since 1979. King and his wife were debating between moving to Portland or Bangor; King was in favor of Bangor because he considered Portland “a yuppie town” and that Bangor was “a hard-ass working class town ... and I thought that the story, the big story, I wanted to write, was here … all my thoughts on monsters and the children’s tale Three Billy Goats Gruff."

8. PENNYWISE TAKES ON A CLOWN FORM BECAUSE KING THINKS CLOWNS ARE WHAT SCARE CHILDREN THE MOST.

King has stated that his goal with It was to blend all of the scariest monsters together. "But then I thought to myself, ‘There ought to be one binding, horrible, nasty, gross, creature kind of thing that you don’t want to see, [and] it makes you scream just to see it,’" he explained. "So I thought to myself, ‘What scares children more than anything else in the world?’ And the answer was ‘clowns.'"

9. KING ONCE HAD A CREEPY CLOWN ENCOUNTER—WITH RONALD MCDONALD.

In a 2005 interview with Conan O’Brien, King shared that his own creepy clown experience was with Ronald McDonald. King was on an airplane and Ronald McDonald came to sit next to him, in full clown attire. "You think, 'What if this plane crashes? I’m going to die next to a clown,” King said.

10. KING CONSIDERS IT HIS “FINAL EXAM” ON HORROR.

Although King is widely considered to be the master of horror, he’s previously said he doesn’t have an answer when people ask what drives him. It was his answer to these inquiries. “I thought to myself, 'Why don’t you write a final exam on horror, and put in all the monsters that everyone was afraid of as a kid?'" King told TIME in 2009. “And I thought, ‘How are you going to do that?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to do it like a fairy tale. I’m going to make up a town where these things happen and everybody ignores them.'"

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Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
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Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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15 Facts About Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire
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In a sweltering New Orleans, a wilted Southern belle collides with the dysfunctional marriage of her sweet sister and brutish brother-in-law. This is the plot of Tennessee Williams's classic play, A Streetcar Named Desire, which opened on Broadway on December 3, 1947. But the story of its making and legacy is even wilder than Stanley Kowalski's screaming.

1. WILLIAMS SET THE PLAY IN HIS CHOSEN HOME.

The boy born Thomas Lanier Williams III lived in Columbus, Mississippi, until he was 8 years old. From there, his traveling salesman father bounced the family around Missouri, moving 16 times in just 10 years before abandoning them. As he forged a path of his own, Williams wandered from St. Louis's Washington University to the University of Iowa to the New School in New York City, and even spent some time working on a chicken ranch in Laguna Beach, California. But at 28, he found his “spiritual home” in New Orleans. There he officially changed his given name to the college nickname he'd come to prefer. Inspired by the culture of the French Quarter, he wrote short stories and what would become one of his most popular plays. There he became Tennessee Williams, in more ways than one.

2. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE WAS NAMED AFTER A REAL STREETCAR LINE.

Named for its endpoint on Desire Street in the Ninth Ward, the Desire line ran down Canal Street onto Bourbon and beyond. It operated from 1920 to 1948—meaning that shortly after becoming famous on Broadway, it was retired in favor of buses that were quieter and put less stress on the streets and surrounding buildings. Gone but not forgotten, one of the Desire cars was restored in 1967, and was made a tourist attraction. In 2003, the city even proposed resurrecting the streetcars and this famous line's name, but this dream died when federal funding was denied.

3. STANLEY KOWALSKI WAS INSPIRED BY TWO MEN.

The name "Stanley Kowalski" was borrowed from a factory worker Williams met while living in St. Louis. But the playwright's true muse was Amado ‘Pancho’ Rodriguez y Gonzales, a Mexican boxer who was once Williams's lover, and who argued the character he inspired should be Latino, not Polish.

Ten years his junior, Gonzalez met Williams when the writer traveled to Mexico City in late 1945. Entranced by the macho 24-year-old, Williams invited Gonzalez to move into his New Orleans home. Their relationship lasted only two years. By the time Streetcar Named Desire hit Broadway, Williams had moved on to who would be the love of his life, aspiring writer Frank Merlo.

4. BLANCHE MAY HAVE BEEN A STAND-IN FOR WILLIAMS.

As a gay man, the writer had been mocked all his life, called "sissy" by sneering peers, and “Miss Nancy” by his drunken, abusive father. In some respects, he was like Blanche, a gentle Southern soul, thirsty for love and kindness, yet dangerously fascinated by gruff men. Elia Kazan, who directed both the original Broadway production of Streetcar and its movie adaptation, once said of Williams, "If Tennessee was Blanche, Pancho was Stanley….Wasn’t he [Williams] attracted to the Stanleys of the world? Sailors? Rough trade? Danger itself? Yes, and wilder. The violence in that boy, always on a trigger edge, attracted Williams at the very time it frightened him.”

The closest Williams came to commenting on this comparison was saying of his work, "I draw every character out of my very multiple split personality. My heroines always express the climate of my interior world at the time in which those characters were created.”

5. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE WAS WILLIAMS'S SECOND BIG BROADWAY HIT.

In 1945, Williams broke through with his groundbreaking autobiographical drama The Glass Menagerie. Just a year and a half after this acclaimed production closed, A Streetcar Named Desire opened to even greater praise. Reportedly, the standing ovation lasted for 30 minutes after the curtain descended on opening night.

6. THE PLAY WAS DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT FROM ITS BROADWAY CONTEMPORARIES.

In her historical essay on Williams, critic Camille Paglia notes that A Streetcar Named Desire was a total change from The Glass Menagerie. Where the former had a "tightly wound gentility," the latter boasted "boisterous energy and eruptions of violence." But more than that, "Streetcar exploded into the theater world at a time when Broadway was dominated by musical comedies and revivals." She adds, "the shocking frankness with which Streetcar treated sex—as a searingly revolutionary force—was at odds with the dawning domesticity of the postwar era and looked forward instead to the 1960s sexual revolution."

7. IT CEMENTED WILLIAMS'S REPUTATION AS A MAJOR VOICE IN AMERICAN THEATER.

The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson proclaimed, "Mr. Williams is a genuinely poetic playwright whose knowledge of people is honest and thorough and whose sympathy is profoundly human." A Streetcar Named Desire went on to run for more than 800 performances, and would win the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Jessica Tandy earned a Tony Award for originating the role of Blanche, and Williams was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

8. STANLEY KOWALSKI LAUNCHED MARLON BRANDO.

At 23, Brando was a method actor who was drawing praise in a string of Broadway roles. The year before A Streetcar Named Desire debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York critics had voted him "Broadway's Most Promising Actor" because of his powerful performance in Maxwell Anderson's Truckline Café. His portrayal as Kowalski delivered on that promise, and then some. Playwright Arthur Miller wrote that he seemed "a tiger on the loose, a sexual terrorist … Brando was a brute who bore the truth." And this intensity was captured in the 1951 film adaptation, which earned the actor an Oscar nomination for what was only his second film role.

9. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE REDEEMED WILLIAMS'S HOLLYWOOD REPUTATION.

Following the success of The Glass Menagerie's Broadway run, Warner Bros. hired Williams to draft an adapted screenplay for a movie version. But seeking a more commercial offering, they hired another writer to tack on a happy ending, behind Williams's back. The result was a critically panned dud that the playwright denounced as a "travesty." Nonetheless, Williams returned to Warner Bros. with A Streetcar Named Desire. This time, however, the director and most of the cast from the Broadway show were kept on for the film, which went on to earn an impressive 12 Academy Award nominations, winning four, including Best Supporting Actress (Kim Hunter) and Best Actress (Vivien Leigh).

10. JESSICA TANDY WAS THE ONLY LEAD OF THE BROADWAY PLAY NOT CAST IN THE MOVIE.

Hollywood didn't care about her Tony or her rave reviews. Warner Bros. needed a big name to assure the film's success. So Tandy was dropped in favor of Leigh, who'd played the role of Blanche in a London production of A Streetcar Named Desire, but more importantly was a household name thanks to her first Oscar-winning role, that of Scarlett O'Hara in 1939's historical epic Gone With The Wind.

11. THE FILM WAS TAMER THAN THE PLAY.

With mounting pressure from a public concerned about the influence movies have on children, Hollywood created The Motion Picture Production Code, a series of guidelines about what was acceptable and not in film. Thus, A Streetcar Named Desire's movie adaptation was forced to tone down some coarser language, and cut some of its most scandalous elements, like Blanche's promiscuity and her late husband being a closeted homosexual. For instance, in the play Blanche demands of her sister, "Where were you? In bed with your pollack!" In the film, she says, "In there with your pollack!"

12. WILLIAMS FOUGHT TO KEEP BLANCHE'S RAPE FROM BEING CUT.

Following their climactic confrontation, the play implies Stanley rapes Blanche. But Warner Bros. felt this was too dark for the movie. Williams and Kazan sparred with the studio over this. The former argued, "[The] rape of Blanche by Stanley is a pivotal, integral truth in the play, without which the play loses its meaning which is the ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate by the savage and brutal forces of modern society." Like in the play, this grievous crime occurs between scenes, but its implication is clear by the violent events that lead up to a fade to black.

13. ONCE AGAIN, HOLLYWOOD TACKED ON A HAPPY ENDING.

The compromise on including the rape was that Stanley would have to be punished for the act. So just as they did with The Glass Menagerie, Warner Bros. softened the end of William's acclaimed tragedy with a script change. In this case, a line is included, where Stella declares she won't go back to her abusive husband. It's a stark contrast to the play, which concludes with the stage direction "He kneels beside her and his fingers find the opening of her blouse," as Stanley coos to her. Williams would go on to say the adaptation was "only slightly marred by [a] Hollywood ending."

14. THE FILM MADE A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE ICONIC.

Brando's tour de force performance may not have won him the Oscar, but his brutish performance, tight white t-shirt, and signature "Stella!" cry made the movie one that would not be forgotten. Today, the play is considered a classic, and has been revived on Broadway eight times. In 1999, the movie adaptation was added to the National Film Registry, which aims to preserve "culturally, historically or aesthetically" works of cinema. And in 2005, the American Film Institute included Kowalski's agonized scream of "Stella! Hey, Stella!" among its 100 greatest movie quotes of the last 100 years. It came in at number 45.

15. EVERY SPRING, NEW ORLEANS THROWS A FESTIVAL IN HONOR OF THE PLAY.

Called the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, the annual five-day event celebrates Williams's world-famous work, showcases emerging writers, and provides educational opportunities for literary students. It also offers tours of the French Quarter locations where Williams walked, conversed and worked, like the Hotel Maison de Ville, the restaurant Galatoire's, which gets a mention in Streetcar; and the apartment where he lived with Pancho, which overlooked the Desire line.

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