Ben Hanscom has boarded his United Airlines flight. He is drunk and stinks of whisky. A flight attendant asks if he is okay. Ben confirms that he is and tells her of how he was thinking about a dam he once built with his friends and what a mess that dam made. The flight attendant excuses herself so that she can check on other passengers. She hurries away to escape from Hanscom’s “almost hypnotic gaze.” Ben feels in the pocket of his vest and wishes that he had kept one of his silver dollars that he gave Ricky Lee. Ben then closes his eyes and imagines that he hears bells. The imagined sound takes him further back in time. He recalls a bright June day in Derry, twenty-seven years ago. The bells signal the end of the last day of school.
Ben has gotten drunk to overcome his fear of returning to Derry and, in a sense, going back in time. He is dazed and distracted by his memories, which come flooding back to him as he moves toward his hometown. His “hypnotic gaze” suggests his increasing lack of awareness on the present and fixation on the past. He wishes for one of his silver dollars, as he associates silver with protection. It was a silver dollar, which Ben transformed into a slug (a crude bullet or projectile), that saved the Losers’ Club’s lives.
The bell rings through the halls of Derry Elementary School on Jackson Street. Mrs. Douglas’s class, in which Ben Hanscom is a student, lets out a cheer. Mrs. Douglas asks for their attention while she hands out their report cards. Sally Mueller turns to Beverly Marsh, whom she never speaks to normally, and says that she hopes she passed. Beverly says that she does not “give a shit” if she passed or not. Sally sniffs in disgust and talks to her friend Greta Bowie. Beverly is lower-class, while Sally and Greta are rich, snotty girls from West Broadway. Ben thinks of how much better he likes Beverly, on whom he has a crush.
Ben’s memory returns to the excitement of being released from school for the summer. The excitement is so great that Sally, who normally looks down on Beverly, is friendly to her. Beverly is unmoved by Sally’s sudden change in behavior and is shunned by the girls for being rough and tomboyish. Her manners differ strongly from the decade’s expectations of how a girl should behave.
Mrs. Douglas calls the children to her desk, one-by-one, to get their report cards. When Ben Hanscom’s turn comes, he rises and steals a glance at Beverly Marsh while he passes. Ben is obese but hides it with baggy sweatshirts. He decides to wear baggy clothes after the sight of him in an Ivy League shirt, which his mother had given him for Christmas, once prompted “Belch” Huggins to say that Ben had gotten “a big set of titties” for Christmas. Since that day, he has worn sweatshirts, despite his mother’s objections.
Ben is embarrassed by his weight, which causes him to have a slightly androgynous look. This creates a feeling of awkwardness in him, given that he is on the cusp of adolescence and wishes to appeal to girls, particularly Beverly. For his mother, however, his excessive weight assures her that Ben is well-fed.
Mrs. Douglas hands Ben his report card and tells him what a pleasure it has been to have him in her class. When Ben thanks her, Henry Bowers mocks him from the back of the classroom. Ben notices that Henry’s name has not been called, which could mean that Henry has to stay back again. This could mean trouble, for which Ben would be partly responsible, due to his refusal to let Henry cheat off of him during a math test. Ben figures he can stay out of Henry’s way during the last week of school and, if Henry is held back, they will no longer see each other anyway. Still, Henry vows to get back at Ben for not letting him cheat.
Henry resents Ben for the favorable opinion that most adults have of him, due to Ben being polite, intelligent, and, despite his weight, unobtrusive. Henry is Ben’s foil. Both boys are large, but Ben is gentle and embarrassed by his size. Henry uses his greater size, which is partly due to his being too old to be in the fifth grade, to bully the other students. Ben is one of his main targets.
Ben takes his rank card and walks fast out of the school building. Someone bumps into him and nearly knocks him over. It is Victor Criss, who calls Ben a “tub of guts” and demands that Ben get out of his way. Victor goes to join “Belch” Huggins, who is standing in the street, smoking a cigarette. Beverly comes out behind Ben and they wish each other a good summer. He watches her walk away and notices her milky complexion and how her red hair bounces against the back of her sweater.
Ben associates Victor and “Belch” with his struggles growing up, particularly his embarrassment about his weight, while Beverly represents the pleasing memory of his first love. In his memory, Ben idealizes her appearance.
Ben stands at the bottom of the steps for a moment longer and hurries around the building, hoping to get away from Henry Bowers. School has just let out past noon and his mother, Arlene Hanscom, will not be home until around six. He goes to McCarron Park and sits under a tree, whispering, “I love Beverly Marsh” under his breath, and whispering her name as “Beverly Hanscom.” As he leaves the park to go to the library, Peter Gordon yells after him. Peter and some friends are playing a baseball game and wonder if Ben would like to be right-field. This sends Gordon and the others into an explosion of laughter. Ben is embarrassed and escapes as quickly as he can, grateful, at least, not to be physically attacked.
Ben’s whispering of Beverly’s name as “Beverly Hanscom” foreshadows their future romantic union at the end of the novel, which carries the suggestion that they will eventually marry. Ben’s exclusion from pastimes like baseball is indicative of his social ostracism. He lacks athletic ability, which is a key marker of youthful masculinity in this culture. His inability to conform and be like other teenage boys makes the possibility of being with a girl like Beverly seem much more unlikely.
Ben then goes to the Costello Avenue Market and buys some candy. He thinks that if he continues to eat candy, particularly in the large quantities he buys, Beverly Marsh will never look at him. Then again, he feels that Beverly is a pleasant dream, while the candy is a pleasant reality. He walks to the Derry Public Library, not realizing that “Belch” Huggins, Victor Criss, and Henry Bowers are standing nearby.
Ben comforts himself with food. He figures that he will never lose weight, just as he thinks that he will never be with Beverly. His only other solace is in going to the library, though this will later be ruined by the three bullies.
Henry Bowers watches Ben Hanscom cross the street to the library. Victor Criss and “Belch” Huggins encourage Henry to “get him.” Henry decides that he will wait until Ben comes back out. Meanwhile, Ben takes great relief in entering the library, which he loves. He likes the glass corridor connecting the old building that houses the adult library with the Children’s Library and how the corridor is usually warm in the winters. He enters the Children’s Library, which is bright and sunny, and overhears Mrs. Davies reading “Three Billy Goats Gruff” to a group of children. There are bright posters tacked everywhere, including a white poster from the Derry Police Department which reminds every one of the 7:00 PM curfew. Looking at the poster gives Ben a chill. He was so worried about Bowers that he forgot about the recent spate of murders.
Ben’s apprehension about Henry matches that of the three Billy goats in the story who must cross a bridge without alerting the troll that awaits underneath. The glass corridor parallels with the bridge in the story—it is a place that literally provides patrons with a more comfortable passage, but it is also symbolic of adolescence—or, the passage from childhood to adulthood, and Ben’s growing awareness of the dangers that exist in the world. The story that Mrs. Davies reads is meant to be make-believe, but the notice of the curfew reminds Ben that the threat of harm is very real.
Two weeks earlier, a boy named “Frankie-or-Freddy” Ross had been “prospecting” the sewers with an invention that he called “The Fabulous Gum-Stick.” Frankie-or-Freddy and his gum-stick found the body of Veronica Grogan floating below Derry. Richie Tozier tells Ben Hanscom about how Frankie-or-Freddy pokes around with the gum-stick all day, and then chews the gum at the end of the night. Ben is disgusted.
The gum-stick is a silly childhood invention that alerts the children to unpleasant truths about their town. However, the children are seemingly less shocked by the discovery of the dead body than they are by Frankie-or-Freddy’s poor hygiene.
Ben’s mother, Arlene Hanscom, warns him to come home every night by supper time during the summer. If he does not return home at this time, she says, she will call the police. She knows that he isn’t a fool and won’t accept candy or rides from strangers. She also knows that he is big for his age, but warns him that a grown man could still overpower him if he wants to. She advises him to go places with his friends, when he can, not realizing that Ben does not really have any friends. She gives him a Timex watch to help him ensure that he is home by 6:00 PM every day.
A gift of a watch is often given as an adolescent’s initiation into young adulthood. Ben is happy to receive the watch, despite his mother’s reason of giving it to him out of concern for his safety. Arlene thinks, like the police, that an adult male is preying on children. Her sense of evil is mundane and cannot fathom the danger that truly exists in Derry.
Arlene Hanscom asks Ben if he has ever seen anything out of the ordinary. Ben considers telling her about the strange thing he witnessed last January, but he thinks better of it. Ben falls asleep that night and has a dream about playing baseball “with the other boys in the vacant lot behind the Tracker Brothers' Truck Depot.” Beyond the chain-link fence which marks the boundary between the lot and the Barrens, Ben sees a figure who looks like a clown, clutching a bunch of balloons. When Ben wakes up, he forgets the dream, but his pillow is wet. It feels as though he were weeping throughout the night.
Ben considers telling Arlene about seeing the clown dressed as a mummy that stood on the frozen Canal. However, Ben knows that Arlene, who believes that a stranger is abducting and murdering children, would not understand this. Since Ben’s sighting of the clown, the figure haunts him and confuses his understandings of safety and danger, good and evil.
Back at the library, Ben walks up to the main desk in the Children’s Library and greets Mrs. Starrett. She likes Ben for the same reason most adults do—he is polite, soft-spoken, thoughtful, and funny in an unobtrusive way. He pulls three books off of the shelves. Mrs. Starrett tells him that he may not like one called Hot Rod, for it is “extremely bloody.” Still, Ben wants to “give it a whirl.” He goes over to a table by himself and reads three chapters of Hot Rod. He then looks up and sees a poster, prompting visitors to send a pre-stamped postcard to a friend. Ben marks his place in the book and asks Mrs. Starrett for a postcard. He addresses it to Beverly Marsh. He writes Beverly a haiku, which he learned to write in Mrs. Douglas’s class. He says “good-bye” to Mrs. Starrett and leaves the library to mail the postcard.
Despite Ben’s fear of the clown and the growing awareness of other missing children, he and other children are still attracted to reading stories or watching films that allow them to fantasize about danger. The novel Hot Rod is “extremely bloody,” like the stories about the children who have turned up dead, including George Denbrough. This taste for violence contrasts with Ben’s wish to write a haiku to Beverly as an expression of his growing love for her.
While Ben imagines Beverly reading the poem and offering to kiss him for writing it, Henry Bowers, Victor Criss, and “Belch” Huggins are closing in on him. Ben walks alongside a “rickety whitewashing railing, about waist-high,” which runs beside the sidewalk. Down below the railing are the Barrens, and the Kenduskeag River runs through the center of the Barrens. A hand suddenly falls on Ben’s shoulder: it is Henry. He prompts Victor and “Belch” to hold Ben’s arms while Henry reaches into his pocket and grabs a Buck knife. Ben is terrified. Henry demands that the two other bullies hold onto Ben, but “Belch” starts to feel uneasy. Henry presses the tip of the knife to Ben’s stomach. He reminds Ben of how he would not let Henry cheat on the math test. Ben feels like he wants to faint, but forces himself to stay upright.
The three bullies interrupt Ben’s romantic idyll. Henry makes Ben revisit his fear of Henry’s retaliation over Ben not allowing him cheat on the math test. Henry’s actions surpass those of a childhood bully when he threatens Ben with mortal harm by pulling out his Buck knife. The other bullies feel uneasy with Henry’s actions, but lack the courage to challenge his assumed authority. Henry will use knives in other instances in his life as well, when he attacks members of the Losers’ Club and his own father.
“Belch” Huggins and Victor Criss look nervous. A car passes and Henry Bowers warns that if Ben yells for it, he will cut his belly open. Henry is standing so close that Ben can smell the Juicy Fruit on his breath. The car passes and Henry asks what Ben will say the next time Henry demands to copy off of him during a test. Ben agrees that he will say “yes” right away. To ensure that Ben never forgets the answer to this question, Henry decides to carve his name into Ben’s stomach. Victor and “Belch” laugh, not realizing that Henry is serious. When they see that he is, they become nervous again.
In this instance, as in several others in the novel, a car passes along during a scene of violence, as though the driver does not see what is happening or does not care. Henry’s threat to carve his name into Ben’s stomach is an attempt to assert ownership and to ensure that Ben, who is a teacher’s pet, regards Henry as his primary authority. Violence is Henry’s method for assuming leadership and control, which he learns from his father.
Everything that happens next occurs very quickly for Ben. Henry Bowers snatches Ben’s sweatshirt all the way up to the nipples and makes a vertical cut above the bellybutton. Henry next draws his knife downward, twice. Ben feels blood running into his underwear and left thigh. Before Henry can form the ‘E’ in his name, Ben pushes forward with his legs and sends himself falling backward into the Barrens. Victor Criss and “Belch” Huggins stare down at Ben, stunned. Henry chases after Ben, with his knife clutched between his teeth, calling after Ben and saying that he is going to kill him.
Ben realizes that he has to get away from Henry or risk being killed. Even if he is not killed, he cannot endure the torture of Henry carving his name into his stomach, or the embarrassment of carrying Henry’s name on his body for the rest of his life, as though he were branded. Ben’s fear gives him the strength to resist Henry.
Henry goes flying through the air, sort of like George Reeves in Superman, then crashes to the earth. Victor and “Belch” come down the embankment after him. Ben wonders when “this lunacy” will end. Ben sees Henry lying on his back “in the middle of the stream.” Ben splashes toward Henry, forgetting that Victor and “Belch” are behind him, and bends over him to see if Henry is dead. Henry’s eyes pop open and he grabs for Ben again. Ben pulls himself backward. Now, Ben finds himself angry—angry that, despite minding his own business, he is now bloody and in tattered clothes. He has also lost his library books, and imagines the future look of reproach in Mrs. Starrett’s eyes. Filled with that anger, he lumbers forward and kicks Henry in the balls.
Ben recalls being bothered less by Henry’s persistent bullying than by the fact that Henry damages Ben’s library books, which threatens to give him a reputation as irresponsible. He also does not like that his clothes are ripped and messy, given that he prides himself on being neat and orderly. Despite his anger toward Henry, Ben still checks to see if Henry is dead. Ben either does this out of empathy or out of the wish to be rid of Henry for good. King is unclear about this, and it is possible that Ben is experiencing both feelings at once.
Henry Bowers lets out “a horrid rusty scream.” Ben is satisfied with the pain that he has caused Henry. Ben scrambles “for the far bank” while Henry and the other boys throw rocks at him. Ben smashes his way through the bushes. Henry, Victor Criss, and “Belch” Huggins catch up to him and Ben crouches low to the ground, out of sight. He falls asleep there and comes out of his hiding place two hours later. Henry, Victor, and “Belch” are still looking for him. Ben works his way down into a shallow cave. He overhears the bullies talking to some other kids and ruining what they call “a baby dam.” Ben overhears splashes, yells, laughter, and cries as Henry and the others break the dam. Finally, there is “a splintering crack.” Ben thinks that he recognizes the voice of one of the kids as “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough.
This episode describes Ben’s first meeting with the beginnings of the Losers’ Club. They bond over being victims of Henry’s wrath. Ben’s cleverness, however, causes him to avoid the worst excesses of Henry’s anger. When he befriends the other boys, the power of their friendship and their strength in numbers will make it easier for all of them to stand up to the three bullies. The reconstruction of the “baby dam” will become a project over which the boys will bond, as well as an opportunity for Ben to demonstrate his engineering talent.
Henry Bowers tells the two kids he is victimizing to “shut up” and asks them if they have seen a fat kid “all bloody and cut up.” They say no. Ben hears more splashing sounds after Henry and Victor Criss say good-bye to the kids whom they have been tormenting. Ben finds the sound of the crying kid rather soothing. He listens to the throb of the drainage machinery nearby and feels its “low, steady vibration.” Ben falls asleep again and gets lost in a dream.
It is possible that Ben finds the sound of the crying boy “soothing” because he realizes that he is not alone in facing Henry. The sound of the drainage machinery is also comforting, despite it being the source of the evil that haunts Ben. However, that evil will be another point over which the children bond.
The dream is about what happened to Ben in January. It is the first day of school after the long Christmas break. Mrs. Douglas asks for a volunteer to stay after school and help her count the books that were turned in before the vacation. Ben raises his hand. Henry Bowers calls him a “suckass.” By four o’clock dusk has arrived. Ben feels a sudden fear and notices that Mrs. Douglas senses it, too. He does not know, however, what they are scared of. She asks if Ben would like a ride home from her husband, but he insists on getting home right away. He assures her that he will go into Costello’s Market and stand by the stove if it gets too cold. On his way out of the building, Mr. Fazio warns him not to get frostbite.
In his dream, Ben relives his experience of first encountering the clown. The dream is mundane and seems to be an attempt for Ben, however subconsciously, to understand what he saw on that winter day. The icy air seems menacing, though neither Ben nor his teacher knows why, other than the danger of frostbite. In this instance, “frostbite” could also parallel with the fear of being bitten, or eaten, by the evil clown.
On his way out of the building, Ben feels both terrified and excited. He thinks of Jack London stories in which people freeze to death in the tundra. He sees that the Canal is frozen over. He walks southwest, toward the Barrens, and sees a figure dressed in “a white-silver clown suit.” In one hand, the figure holds balloons that seem to float toward Ben. Ben thinks this is a hallucination. The clown on the ice seems to be calling to him, offering him a balloon. There is something evil in the voice and Ben wants to run away, but his feet feel fixed to the ground.
Again there is both the fantasy of danger but also the fear of it. When Ben sees the clown/mummy on the ice, he is both frightened and fascinated by the figure, which he is not sure is even real. The “white-silver” of the clown suit allows him to blend in with the frozen Canal.
The clown walks toward the Canal bridge where Ben Hanscom is standing. Ben can hear the clud-clud of Its funny shoes as It advances toward him. The clown, which appears in bandages like a mummy, tells Ben that he can stay young forever down there, where they all float. Ben runs away and reaches the corner of his street, “sobbing and winded.” He thinks that the mummy/clown could not have been real. If it were, it would have been waiting under the bridge for him, like the troll in “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
Ben refuses to accept what he has actually seen because the clown’s appearance does not conform to the narrative that he has learned from fairy tales. Dangerous creatures are supposed to lurk out of sight, whereas the clown was in plain view and approached Ben.
Ben hurries home and helps himself to “a dinner of noodles and Sunday’s leftover turkey.” He stuffs himself with food. He assures himself that what he saw on the ice was not real, just as all monsters on TV and from the movies are not real. With this thought, Ben awakes from his nap in the cave. He has been dreaming. He crawls out into the afternoon sunlight. He looks at his ruined clothes and worries about what his mother will say. He goes around “an elbow-bend in the stream” and sees that Bill Denbrough is still there with another boy. The other kid’s head is thrown back as he tries to stop a nose bleed. Bill looks around and sees Ben. He says that the other boy’s aspirator is empty. He is worried that the boy may be dying.
In the dream, Ben seeks comfort from his fear through food, as he likely did in real life. Though he recognized something between a clown and a mummy beckoning him on the ice, the hybrid nature of this creature makes him unsure of what it really it. Its image is one that suggests both innocence (a clown) and horror (a mummy). Furthermore, a clown is associated with entertainment and the world of the living, while a mummy signifies the wish to preserve the dead.