It

It

by

Stephen King

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It: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Before the universe, there were only two things: It and the Turtle. It arrived long after the Turtle withdrew into its shell. Derry had been Its “killing-pen,” and the people of Derry were like sheep, until these children came along. When It burst into the house on Neibolt Street, It had meant to kill all of them, but something happened that caused It pain and fear. Now, they are coming again, entering Its domain under the city. It listens to their approach, awaiting them.
It is inherently evil, while the Turtle is the creator of the universe who also accidentally created It. For many years, It had free reign in Derry, until the Losers’ Club successfully confronted It. The thing that caused It “pain and fear” at the house was their unified faith that they could destroy It through the power of belief.
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In 1958, the Losers’ Club enters the tunnels at 2:15 PM. Beverly and Richie have ten matches between them, but Bill won’t let them use them. The water is deeper now and a few dead animals pass by. Bill surveys the three pipes. One is venting nearly clear water but with leaves, sticks, and trash flowing through it. Bill asks Eddie which one they should take, but he says it depends on where they want to go. His response annoys Bill, though Bill also knows that Eddie is right. He trusts Eddie because he has a natural compass. They all also agree with Richie’s assessment that It is in the middle of town, near the Canal.
Bill suspects that they will have greater need for the matches later. Bill asks Eddie where to go because he relies on Eddie’s talent for navigation, just as the other kids rely on Bill’s talent for leadership. Richie knows that It is in the middle of town—the heart of Derry—because the children have often seen It near the Canal.
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Eddie indicates that they need to go through the third pipe—the shit pipe. Bill leads them through, grimacing. They go twenty feet and the air becomes rancid. Bill hears water or sewage running in controlled bursts over their heads. He is not aware that he has reached the end of the pipe until he falls out of it and staggers forward. He falls to his belly into a semi-solid mass and something squeaks past his hand. He tries to stand up and hits his head on the new pipe’s low ceiling. Bill warns the others to be careful. Suddenly, the others come tumbling out of the pipe. Bill asks Beverly if any of the matches are still good. She says that she has kept them in her armpit to keep them dry. Bill lights one and sees a dead body on his right.
Its proximity to “the shit pipe” is a reminder of how It uses human waste from toilets to terrorize the group. The leper, for instance, is covered with vomit. Later, at Mrs. Kersh’s house, Beverly notices that her cup of tea is actually a cup of feces. Bill falls into a pile of feces when he reaches the end of the pipe, and then a rat runs past his hand, but he tries to stay focused on his task of finding where It lives.
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Bill lights another match so that everyone can see “the green, swelled thing that had been Patrick Hocksetter.” Suddenly, Henry Bowers bellows through the pipes, saying that he will get the Losers’ Club. Then, “a shriek of such mad fear and pain [comes] through the pipe that the guttering match fell from Bill's fingers and went out.” Mike thinks that something has gotten hold of one of them. Bill asks Eddie which way they should go. Eddie suggests the Canal—to the right and past Patrick. They crawl further into the darkness.
Mike rightly suspects that the three bullies have just been confronted by It. In this instance, It takes on the form of Teenage Frankenstein and decapitates Victor Criss and “Belch” Huggins, while Henry runs away to safety. Eddie repeats Richie’s directive to go to the Canal, which he instinctively knows is to the right. By crawling “further into the darkness,” they get closer to It and Its evil.
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In 1985, the “writer’s woman” is with It. She is alive but not quite alive. She is in Its “deadlights.” The glamours are amusing to It. For instance, Mike does not consciously remember the large crow that pecked at him when he was in his carriage at six-months old. A part of this memory has lingered with Mike, however; so, when It came to him, It came as a giant bird. Tom Rogan, who became Its “dogsbody,” looked at It once and dropped dead of shock. Audra Phillips glanced at It and realized, with horror, that It is female. It has since prepared her physical remains for later feeding. She hangs now, crisscrossed in silk, with her head lolling on her shoulders.
Audra has entered a catatonic state. It chooses Audra to feed on because she is still alive, and It prefers to feed on live humans. Tom, on the other hand, died instantly. His beaten and bloodied body made him more useful as a tool to terrorize Audra, who saw him as something from a horror movie. It uses things that people have seen and maybe long forgotten to tap into their imaginations and terrorize them.
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It has always fed well on children, but on some adults over the years. Adults have their own fears, but they are usually complex. The fears of children are so much simpler and more powerful. If bait were needed, It could always assume the visage of a clown. In the end, It escaped and they had chosen to believe it dead or dying. Now, It will call them and kill them.
Adult fears are often rooted in complex anxieties about loneliness or economic insecurity, whereas children are likely to fear things they have seen in movies or heard in a story. When they lack fear, images that they trust can be used against them.
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At 4:30 AM in 1985, the adult group enters the tunnels. Richie calls out to find Eddie and Bill. Eddie responds and says that Bill is up ahead. Bill looks “haggard and almost used-up” as he waits for them in the sewer-shaft where the three pipes are lined. He points to the skeleton of “Belch” Huggins and the headless remains of Victor Criss. This section of the system has fallen into disuse. Bill says in a mechanical voice that Audra is dead. Beverly tries to help him snap out of it so that he can help them. Bill then asks Eddie which pipe they need. Eddie points to the small one.
Like Eddie, Bill looks increasingly aged due to contending with It. Beverly does not want Bill to wallow in his worry that Audra is dead. If he does, he will lose faith and be unable to lead the group. He will also make them all more vulnerable and likely to be killed. Bill remembers how Eddie was the navigator in 1958 and asks him, again, which pipe will lead the group to It and to the center of Derry.
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At 4:55 AM, Bill crawls through the pipe and reminds himself of the drop-off at the end, though it still surprises him. He asks Richie for matches, but Beverly offers some. Bill strikes a match and sees his wife’s wedding ring on the ground. In the darkness, he puts the ring on.
Bill’s act of putting on the ring is an indication of his continued commitment to Audra. He is more determined to find her and It now, and his memory of their first trip through the pipes becomes clearer.
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At 2:20 PM in 1958, the kids wonder how long they have been wandering through the tunnels since they left the place where Patrick Hocksetter’s body was. Bill remembers how his father said that one could wander in the pipes for weeks. Some of the pipes are so big that Bill cannot even reach across them by stretching. The only thing that Bill knows is that they have reached the disused portion of the sewage system. Ben thinks that the place smells like the mummy, while Eddie thinks that it smells like the leper. When they reach the end of the narrow pipe, they slither down like eels. Richie asks Eddie how deep they are. Eddie figures that they are a quarter of a mile down.
Time seems to stop when the children are underground, due to the endless darkness. The smell of decay in the pipes triggers Ben and Eddie’s sensory memories of their encounters with It. Ben smells the sour-sweet scent that emanated from the clown / mummy he saw on the Canal, and  Eddie smells the dried vomit on the leper. It uses the smells of things that people throw away or cast down into toilets. Its ability to inspire revulsion with familiar materials is part of how it frightens the children.
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A scream floats down to them. It is the voice of Henry Bowers. Richie says that some people are too stupid to quit. They start walking down the pipe. Suddenly, Richie stops, claiming to see the crawling eye from the horror movie. A gigantic eye fills the tunnel. The white of Its eye is bulgy and membranous, laced with red veins that pulse steadily. The eye stares at them. Bill cannot move, and he senses that It approaches. Beverly feels one of Its tentacles slip around her ear, and tells Ben that It has her. He pulls her away from the tentacle and Beverly screams with pain when it tears through her ear. The tentacle then scrapes over Ben’s shirt and twists around his shoulder.
Richie does not realize that the scream from Henry Bowers is his own feeling of horror, because he has just watched Victor Criss and “Belch” Huggins get decapitated. When Richie sees the crawling eye—a memory from the horror movie that scared him the most—the others see it, too, because he has put the thought into their imaginations, thereby making the vision as real for them as it is for him.
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Bill puts his hand out and plunges it into the eye up to his forearm. Eddie suddenly thinks that he should run home to his mother. Then, after hearing Bill scream, he is overcome by the need to save “Big Bill.” He emits a scream that sounds like a Norse warrior. He raises his aspirator and imagines that it is acid. Eddie feels tentacles touch him. Bill’s strength returns. Eddie screams deliriously that it is just an eye. Richie stumbles forward and delivers a single, weak punch. He feels his fist sink into the eye. Bill strikes another match and they all see thick, cloudy goo running from his arm. Beverly notices that the eye has eaten Eddie’s shoe. Bill says they are getting close to It, and Ben suggests that they keep moving.
Bill refuses to be intimidated and tries to remember that the glamour will have less power if they express less fear. Eddie and Richie also try to conquer their fears of what they see. For Eddie, his hesitation surfaces as anxiety about getting himself dirty or concerns about physical harm, which cause him to regress, momentarily, to a boy who wants to run home to his mother. Richie weakly punches the eye because he still retains fear of the eye as a symbol of his fear of blindness.
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They are approaching “Derry’s dark and ruined heart.” Mike and Beverly are able to feel that evil power. They crane their necks back to look at the ceiling, where the complexity of the pipe network resembles a cathedral. Suddenly, they hear a “loud, braying cry.” The giant bird that Stan once saw in the Standpipe is back. It heads for Eddie. Mike rushes forward and digs a Buck knife out of his pocket. He cuts one of the bird’s talons. The bird then flies up on the tunnel. The group helps Eddie onto his feet and examines his cuts, which are not deep.
The next glamour is the giant bird, which was familiar both to Stan and Mike. The rest of the group sees the bird, too, because they can recall Stan and Mike’s stories about it. In this instance, because Mike is the one with a fear of birds, he is the one who must confront the bird and his fear by fighting back.
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From behind them, they can hear Henry Bowers screaming. The group continues on, holding hands. Beverly notices a blank wall ahead, broken by a single door. There is a mark on the door and a heap of small bones at its base. They have come to the place of It. Bill imagines the mark as a paper boat. Henry, coming behind them, sees it as the moon—"full, ripe…and black.”
The group holds hands to assure each other that they are confronting It together. The small bones are those of dead children. The mark on the door is a kind of Rorschach test, which exposes the thoughts that are predominant in each child’s mind. For Bill, it is his guilt over making the boat and sending George out alone.
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Ben says that he is scared. Bill pushes the door tentatively with his fingers. A flood of “sick-yellow green light” comes out along with a zoo smell. They pass through the fairy-tale door to the land of It.
The yellow-green color is similar to the fluid that they have seen on the leper and what came out of the werewolf’s nostrils when it sneezed.
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At 4:59 AM, the aged Losers’ Club comes to the place where they had once seen the Eye. Beverly begins to ask Bill how his wife knew to come. Bill says that he mentioned the name of the town. Beverly realizes that Tom Rogan also knew where she was going, and she  confesses that, in a way, she married her father. Bill suddenly prompts everyone to move around him, and  they get in a circle. Beverly then remembers that they fought It with Chüd. Ben calls to Bill. He hears something coming, and Bill thinks that it may be Audra. He strikes a match.
The adult members of the Losers’ Club repeat the circle that they made in 1958 to assert their power. However, they are missing two members, and now have only five. The number five, however, also has significance in the Bible, symbolizing God’s grace and favor toward humans. The pentacle (a five-pointed star) is also a powerful symbol in many traditions.
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The first wrong thing happens on that day in 1985 two minutes before sunrise. The clock in the white spire of the Grace Baptist Church does not chime at 5:00 AM. This is a clock that has always chimed at each hour and each half-hour. This sets off a sense of disquiet in the old-timers. Then, thunder rolls in the sky.
The clock is a symbol of the town’s orderliness. When the clock fails to chime, it acts as a signal alerting them to what they have long ignored, and as a symbol that the town’s order is about to devolve into chaos.
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In 1985, Bill holds up a match and sees the body of his brother, George, whose face is as white as cheese. His eyes are silver. George’s teeth gnash together as he comes toward Bill, saying how his death is Bill’s fault and he is going to kill him. Richie tells Bill to fight his guilt. He wonders what his friends are doing beside him, given his earlier feeling that they had left him. Eddie shouts for him to kill the phantom because it is not his brother. George cuts his eyes at Eddie, causing Eddie to reel back and strike the wall, as though he were pushed. Bill stands mesmerized, watching his brother come toward him. He has a balloon face and his body consists of rotted leaves. Beverly shrieks.
George’s face has the white, cheese-like appearance of the moon. Its silver eyes are an indication that the body has been possessed by It. These are Its attempts to keep the children at bay so that they will not succeed in killing It. Here, It is tapping into Bill’s feelings of guilt and love for his brother. Unlike the others, who try to fight back, Bill stands “mesmerized” because he is unsure of what to do and does not want to hurt something that looks like George.
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George tells Bill that they can look for his paper boat together. George says that it is still “down here” and they all float in that place. George’s “fishbelly” hand closes around Bill’s neck, and Bill cries out the rhyme that he learned in speech school. His voice is deeper and hardly his own. Richie remembers that Bill only stuttered in his own voice. The George-thing recoils and hisses. Bill tells It that George knows that Bill did not mean for him to die and that his parents were wrong. Bill continues to say the rhyme, and leaps at It. The rainslicker no longer feels like a slicker; it feels like warm taffy in his fingers.
Bill recites the entire rhyme, giving himself power and confidence. It in the form of George recoils, because It knows that Bill is conquering one of his key fears and weaknesses. In his adult and non-stuttering voice, Bill is also able to express that his parents were wrong for shutting him out and passive-aggressively blaming him for George’s death.
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Bill feels something grow in his chest, something as painful as fiery nettles. A “wavering moan” escapes from him. He cries out again that he is sorry about what happened to George. His friends surround him to comfort him.
The feeling is Bill’s repressed grief, which he has withheld to appear as a strong leader and someone on whom his friends could depend.
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By 5:30 AM in 1985, it is raining hard. Water runs down Up-Mile Hill in streams and roars in stormdrains and sewers. At 5:45 AM, a transformer explodes beside the abandoned Tracker Brothers’ Truck Depot. The Derry Fire Department arrives at the scene at 6:09 AM. Calvin Clark is the first to step off of the fire truck and he is electrocuted almost instantly. Something like an underground explosion causes plates to rattle and fall off of shelves. A woman is killed when a violent reversal of sewage causes her toilet to explode. At 6:19 AM, a bolt of lightning strikes the Kissing Bridge. The wind picks up. Mike Hanlon awakes in his room at 6:46 AM.
Another flood occurs. This is the first major storm that the town has seen since 1957, when George died. However, this storm is more violent and is also accompanied by an earthquake. As the Losers’ Club approaches Its lair in the heart of Derry, It goes into turmoil. Its ability to interfere with both the sewage system and the weather indicates Its power over the forces of nature as well as Its ability to use human technology. It also shows how inextricably linked It is to Derry as a whole.
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Mike looks up and sees bottles hanging overhead. One has clear liquid and the other is full of blood. Mike tries to move his legs. One moves freely but the other does not move at all and has nearly no feeling, and is tightly bandaged. He remembers the notebook and the return of Henry Bowers. He tries to think of where Henry could be and if he went after the others. Mike gropes for the call bell and his nurse, Mark Lamonica, comes in. Mike wants to talk to him, but Mark tells Mike to hush, walking toward him with a syringe to put Mike to sleep.
Mike only vaguely remembers his confrontation with Henry in the library. However, he does remember that Henry was still alive when he left. When Mike tries to call for help, he is confronted by Mark, who has also been possessed by It. The syringe is undoubtedly filled with a powerful narcotic, which would kill Mike. It is still trying to break the group’s strength by taking away members.
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Back under the city, Richie strikes a light. Bill senses that something is wrong—something related to Mike. Bill tells everyone to grab his hands, as he wants to send Mike their power. In his hospital bed, Mike feels the power wash over him. His right hand goes to a night table where there is a pitcher of water. He smashes the glass into Mark Lamonica’s face. The power then leaves him as quickly as it comes.
The power of the five friends, which is the sense that goodness is on their side, also makes them clairvoyant. Bill’s ability to send Mike their power is further proof of the group’s intuitive connection to each other.
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Bill then has the sensation that Mike is fine. They continue into the tunnel, with Richie or Bill periodically lighting matches. The chamber they are walking through is getting larger and larger. It is no longer a tunnel. Their footfalls echo. Beverly whispers that they are approaching the door that they first came to twenty-seven years before. Bright greenish-yellow light floods out from under the door, just like before. Again, they each see something different on the door. Beverly sees Tom’s face. Bill sees Audra’s severed head, and its eyes staring at him “in dreadful accusation.” Bill reminds them that the door is not locked and that places like this never are locked.
The “bright greenish-yellow light” is also reminiscent of the phlegm that comes out of the werewolf’s nose and the dried vomit on the leper’s pants. It is a color that the children (or the reader) might associate with revulsion. They see the same symbol on the door, and for each it takes the form of whatever fear is foremost in their minds, as the symbol did when they were children. Bill’s greatest fear is that Audra is dead and, just as with George, it is his fault.
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The adult Beverly shrieks and clings to Bill while a nightmarish spider “from beyond time and space” scurries down a web within It's lair. Bill coldly thinks that It is not really a spider either, but this is the closest that their minds can come to whatever It really is. It is about fifteen feet high and as black as a moonless night. Its jagged mandibles open and close, dripping ribbons of foam. Ben notices that the foam is alive and slithers away like protozoa. The creature is “squealing and mewling.” Ben sees Its belly bulging and think that this is Its egg sac. It is pregnant, and Stanley Uris understood this. Bill steps forward to meet It.
The spider has recurred elsewhere in the novel, and Bill rightly thinks that it is the most obvious object of fear. A spider in the drain of her bathroom sink is Beverly’s excuse to her father when she screamed, for instance, and Lars Theramenius sees Al Marsh transform into a spider when Al is chasing Beverly down the street. This seems to be a culmination of Its glamours, or perhaps Its most natural form.
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Bill tells the others to stay back, and curses It for killing his brother, George. It rears up over Bill and buries him in Its shadow. Ben looks into Its “timeless, evil red eyes.” For an instant, he sees the shape behind the shape currently in front of them. He sees lights and “an endless crawling hairy thing” made of orange light. It is the dead light that mocks life. The ritual begins for a second time.
The eyes change color from the silver eyes of the clown to the red eyes of a spider. Ben sees another shape behind this glamour, as though another force is manipulating the monster before them, and the “deadlights” are finally revealed.
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