Stephen King

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It Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Stephen King's It. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Stephen King

Stephen King was born to Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. His parents separated when he was a toddler, causing him and his older brother, David, to bounce between Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his paternal family lived, and Stratford, Connecticut before settling in Durham, Maine. King began writing when he was six or seven and was heavily influenced by comic books and movies. King graduated from high school in 1966, then went on to the University of Maine at Orono. While there, he wrote a column for the school newspaper and participated in anti-war protests. King was dismissed from the draft due to physical ailments that made him unfit for service. In 1970, he earned a B.A. in English, with a qualification to teach high school. Around this time, he met his wife, Tabitha Spruce, at a university library and they married in January 1971. Tabitha King is also a writer of suspense novels. King worked menial jobs before securing a position as a high school English teacher in the fall of 1971. He sold his first short story to a men’s magazine in the same year and continued to write stories in the evenings. He also began to work on his first novels. Carrie was the first to be published in 1974, after he secured a contract with Doubleday. King is known as one of the most prolific and popular American authors of the twentieth-century. His novels have been adapted for numerous successful films and television series. One of these, The Shining, is based on his own struggles with alcoholism as well as his family’s brief sojourn at a hotel in Boulder, Colorado. King still resides in rural Maine, where many of his novels and short stories are set. He and Tabitha have three children: Naomi Rachel, the novelist Joe Hill, and Owen Philip, as well as four grandchildren.
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Historical Context of It

Most of the story’s events take place in 1958 and 1985. The first year is at the tail-end of the Eisenhower era, a period characterized by the Cold War, the beginning of the space race with the Soviet Union, and initial steps toward desegregation in the South. For many white Americans, the 1950s are remembered as a decade of peace and prosperity, marred only by the underlying threat of nuclear annihilation. Nineteen fifty-eight is unique for being the year in which a major recession hit the U.S. economy—the first economic downturn since the Great Depression—and the year in which President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA). Culturally, television and rock-and-roll became significant fields of influence. King mentions numerous popular television shows at the time, particularly Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a show hosted by the eponymous film director, nicknamed “the master of suspense.” Like 1958, 1985 was a time in which conservative politics ruled under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, who Ben Hanscom remembers as the host of the 1950s television show General Electric Theater. The United States was in the midst of the AIDS crisis, which King mentions in the context of Derry’s rampant homophobia. The Reagan Administration was inactive in addressing the crisis and, in one notorious moment in 1982, White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes laughed about the virus, which he and several reporters called the “gay plague.”

Other Books Related to It

Though King is the world’s best-known author of horror and suspense novels, the genre includes a plethora of other writers who started publishing in the 1970s, along with King. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire debuted in 1976—two years after Carrie. Like King, Rice explores how elements of the supernatural collide with reality, though her work focuses on vampires. Also like King, Rice is a regional writer whose work chronicles New Orleans as closely as King chronicles Maine. King has praised Clive Barker, an English writer whose novella, The Hellbound Heart, became the basis for the popular Hellraiser film series. Barker also scripted most of the films in the series and directed the first Hellraiser. The children’s author R.L. Stine has been nicknamed “the Stephen King of children’s literature,” according to The Associated Press. Stine’s Goosebumps series has sold 400 million copies all around the world and the books have been translated into various languages. Like his contemporaries, King’s influences are broad, which may explain his popularity. He read widely as a child. Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, and Thomas Hardy were major influences. After reading Hardy’s Tess of the d'Urbervilles, King developed a better understanding of misogyny in literature and worked to create female characters who are as fully developed and central to his stories as male characters.
Key Facts about It
  • Full Title: It
  • When Written: September 9, 1981-December 28, 1985
  • Where Written: Bangor, Maine
  • When Published: September 1986
  • Literary Period: Late-20th Century Popular Fiction
  • Genre: Fiction; Horror / Suspense
  • Setting: Derry, Maine
  • Climax: Bill Denbrough reaches inside of It and squeezes It’s heart until the organ bursts.
  • Antagonist: It / Pennywise the Clown / Bob Gray
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient; First-person when Mike Hanlon narrates during the interludes

Extra Credit for It

I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, and Beverly Marsh go to see this film at the Aladdin Theater and, later in the novel, Bill Denbrough and Richie are chased by a more menacing version of the cinematic werewolf. During a “Fresh Air” interview with Terry Gross, King talked about how the “schlock” horror films of the 1950s have influenced his work, and how characters such as “the werewolf” and “the mummy” have remained fixtures in his imagination. Other influential “schlock” films include The Fly and It Came From Outer Space, both of which are also mentioned in the novel.

Shawshank State Prison. After pleading guilty to killing Dorsey Corcoran, Richard Macklin is sent to Shawshank—a place where inmates are supposedly forced to work in the prison’s lime pits, causing one’s tongue to turn green. The fictional Shawshank is best known as the setting of the film The Shawshank Redemption, starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, which is based on King’s short story, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” This story appears—along with “The Body,” on which the hit film Stand By Me is based—in the story collection Different Seasons. Shawshank State Prison is also mentioned in “The Body.”