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.'"

8 Tips For Overcoming 'Reader's Block'

iStock.com/deyangeorgiev
iStock.com/deyangeorgiev

We’ve all been there. Your eyes glaze over, and you can’t get past the first paragraph on the page. Or perhaps you can’t will yourself to pick up a book in the first place. “Reader’s block” is a well-documented problem, and even avid readers occasionally suffer from it. The good news is that it’s not incurable, but it might require a little creativity and effort on your part. Read on to hear tips from longtime readers who have been through it—and managed to come out on the other side of a good book.

1. START EASY.

If your reading skills are a little rusty, it’s probably best not to start with War and Peace—or any of the classics, for that matter. Sometimes people fall into the trap of being overly ambitious and choosing one of the literary “greats” without stopping to question whether they actually want to read it. “This is the problem with readers: we aim too high,” Stuart Jeffries wrote in The Guardian. “Ultimately, reader's block is caused by the great is-ought dilemma. You know you should, but you probably won't.” Instead of setting yourself up for failure, start off with something short and easy to digest. Once you get back into the swing of things, you can graduate to more challenging books.

2. TRY A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES ...

Compared to a 300-page novel, short stories won’t seem like such an insurmountable task. Ginni Chen, Barnes and Noble’s “Literary Lady,” suggests trying a collection of stories written by different authors. That way, you’ll have the chance to figure out which styles and subjects you enjoy most. In an advice column addressed to someone with reader’s block, Chen recommended the Best American Short Stories and the Best American Nonrequired Reading collection. And if you want to start really small, there’s an app called Serial Box that will send you 150-character stories as push notifications.

3. … OR A DIFFERENT GENRE.

Sometimes, it helps to change up your routine and read something outside of your comfort zone or usual go-to. It worked for Bustle writer Charlotte Ahlin, who wrote, “I once read about four Vonneguts in a row and then spent a week feeling crushing despair over the human condition. Your mind needs a varied diet of books to stay sharp.” In a blog for the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville, North Carolina, book lover Michele Coleman offered similar testimony. “For me during my last slump or block, I found browsing the non-fiction eased my mind,” she wrote. Do you enjoy mystery? She suggests switching it up and reading a humorous book. Is romance your thing? Give historical fiction a shot instead.

4. READ PAGE 69 BEFORE COMMITTING TO A BOOK.

This unusual tip comes from John Sutherland, an English professor and the author of How to Read a Novel. As Jeffries of The Guardian puts it, “Once you have read page 69, you will have an idea of whether the book is up your street. (Why he didn't say page 56 is anybody's guess.)” If that snippet doesn’t appeal to you, put it back on the shelf. Otherwise you might get stuck reading something that isn’t suited to your tastes, which can make your reader’s block even worse.

5. DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED TO FINISH A BOOK IF YOU’RE NOT ENJOYING IT.

Reading is supposed to be enjoyable—not a chore. If you find yourself filled with dread any time you pick up the book you’re currently reading, you may want to rethink your choice of material. If you feel guilty about abandoning a book, just use this quote from philosopher Francis Bacon as an excuse: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Interestingly, Goodreads compiles a list of the most popular abandoned books based on its user data, so you’ll be in good company if Infinite Jest goes infinitely unfinished.

6. LISTEN TO AN AUDIOBOOK.

Many traditionalists are of the opinion that audiobooks don’t really count as “reading,” but some researchers would disagree. One 2016 study found no difference in reading comprehension between those who had listened to an audiobook and those who had used an e-reader. It may seem counterintuitive, but audiobooks can also help beat reader's block, according to Jonathan Douglas, director of the UK's National Literacy Trust. This is because they can help reignite your passion for learning and consuming stories at a time when you’re having difficulty reading. Try listening to the audiobook while you drive to work, clean your house, or work out. You’ll feel extra accomplished for having done two productive things at once, and it may provide the momentum you need to get back into reading.

7. DISCONNECT FROM TECHNOLOGY.

In an article for Arré, writer Karan Mujoo said he’s been an avid reader since childhood. Yet he still occasionally struggles with reader’s block, and finds himself abandoning book after book when they fail to capture his interest. In his case, the availability of quick entertainment via streaming platforms like Netflix is simply too difficult to resist. “Unlike books, which require imagination and effort on the part of the reader, these shows serve you everything on a platter,” he writes. “Why then, should we expend our energies in reading, imagining, and creating a world when it has already been done for us?” Faced with a similar predicament, writer Hugh McGuire explained that his inability to focus on books was due to a “digital dopamine addiction” that stemmed from his consumption of television and online articles. With a few adjustments, though, he was able to get back into a regular reading habit. He suggests removing smartphones and computers from your bedroom, refraining from watching TV after dinner, and reading a book each night before bed. “I am reading books now more than I have in years,” he writes.

8. REREAD AN OLD FAVORITE.

When all else fails, “Literary Lady” Chen recommends paying a visit to an old friend. Your favorite books are memorable for a reason, and sometimes rereading a beloved book for the third time is all it takes to lift the reader’s block curse. You may also want to investigate options that are similar to your favorite authors and books. Book Browse is a good resource for finding “read-alikes” that might suit your tastes, and Literature Map will give you a visual overview of authors you may enjoy.

Dutton's New Young Adult Books Are the Size of a Smartphone—and They're Horizontal

Sometimes, the desire to read takes a backseat to how cumbersome it can be to carry a hardback book around all day, but a new line of pocket-sized volumes will ensure that’s never a problem. Dutton Books for Young Readers, a Penguin Random House imprint, has released a new line of books that are only a fraction of the size of the traditional hardback, as The New York Times reports.

The new design takes inspiration from the popular Dutch books known as dwarsliggers. In contrast to nearly every other book on the market, the text of these minute volumes is oriented horizontally, creating a flipbook effect. (The term comes from the Dutch words dwars—meaning crossways—and liggen—to lie.) The Dutton books are about the size of a smartphone, with extra-thin pages that make each volume only as thick as your finger. In other words, you'll only need one hand to read them.

A copy of the Penguin Mini version of 'Paper Towns' resting on two open copies of the book
Penguin Random House

The Penguin Minis are made by a Dutch printer, Royal Jongbloed, which is currently the only company in the world that makes books in this specific format. It uses ultra-thin paper sourced from just one Finnish mill.

The first books released in the new format are young adult novels by none other than Mental Floss friend John Green, host of our YouTube series Scatterbrained. You can buy the tiny versions of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska at major retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart, as well as at independent bookstores for $12 each. (There's also a boxed set of all four books on Amazon for $27.)

A boxed set of John Green novels released as Penguin Minis
Penguin Random House

Dutton is printing 500,000 copies for the first run, and if the compact novels prove popular over the holidays, there will be more volumes on their way in the future.

[h/t The New York Times]

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