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

Viking
Viking

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.'"

10 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history. 

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad, as well as the unfinished Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians.  

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain said Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood playmate whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” he wrote in Autobiography. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." 

However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain admitted it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi.

In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn. In August 1883, he wrote: “I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days; I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884. 

4. Like Huck, Twain changed his view of slavery.

Huck, who grows up in South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up. 

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.”

At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and housed Frederick Douglass.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. A PENIS DRAWING ALMOST RUINED THE BOOK.

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants. 

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.” You can view Kemble’s original illustrations here.

7. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." 

While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote. 

8. The end of the book is often considered a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured.

To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

9. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachussets in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books.

The objections are usually over n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist.

In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offensive word with “slave.” Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with “hipster.” The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

10. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as librarian wrote Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply: 

DEAR SIR:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. 

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

S. L. Clemens

5-Year-Old Logan Brinson Couldn't Find a Library Near Him—So He Opened One Himself

iStock.com/clu
iStock.com/clu

The benefits of having access to books are clear: According to a 2018 study, people who grow up surrounded by books develop higher reading comprehension and better mathematical and digital communication skills. But not every kid has access to reading materials in their house or even their hometown. A 5-year-old resident of Alpha, Illinois recently solved this problem within his own community by opening a Little Free Library in his front yard, WQAD 8 reports.

Logan Brinson loves to read, but until recently, the village of Alpha didn't have a library of its own. He went to Alpha officials with his family and proposed setting up a small lending library in town. Logan's Little Library opened to the public in summer 2018. Today readers of all ages come to the Brinson house and check out one book at a time from the tiny case out front.

Following the success of the first location, Logan plans to open a second library next to the gazebo in Alpha's town center. That's set to open in May of this year, and in the meantime, the Brinsons are accepting book donations from around the world. You can add a book to Alpha's little libraries by mailing packages to P.O. Box 672, Alpha IL, 61413 or 113 West B Street, Alpha, IL 61413.

It's easier than ever for kids to find books to read, even if they don't have a conventional library in their town. In Long Beach, New York, you can borrow books on the beach, and in New Zealand, kids are getting books with their McDonald's happy meals. Learn more about Logan's library efforts in the video below.

[h/t WQAD 8]

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