Each member of the Losers’ Club has a recollection about Pennywise the Dancing Clown, or It, and this shared experience and ability to tell a story brings them all together. Sometimes, the group’s stories are linked to early memories or associations with other victims, which forge a personal connection between It and those whom It terrorizes. The storytelling during the Losers’ Club’s reunion in 1985 is necessary to help them remember all that they have forgotten about the summer of 1958. King presents storytelling as both a coping mechanism to try to recover lost memories as well as an act that reinforces relationships.
For Bill Denbrough, storytelling is particularly important, as it is Bill’s way of controlling the darkness that shrouds his life after It kills his brother, George. Bill becomes obsessed with his brother’s death, for which he feels partly responsible. Through writing, Bill can articulate himself in a way that he cannot in speech, giving shape to his fears and obsession and attempting to correct what went wrong in his family. His first published story, “The Dark,” harks back to his younger brother George’s fear of going alone into the dark basement. Though the story is rejected by Bill’s writing instructor, it is published in the men’s magazine, White Tie, proving to Bill that, while “politics always change, stories never do.” The story of his brother’s death will always exist, and it will always matter, particularly because it this memory that fuels Bill’s will to confront and control fear.
During his childhood, Bill also tries to understand It through photographs—another medium of both storytelling and memory. He uses his brother George’s old photo album and Will Hanlon’s album, which is a collection of pictures from Derry’s history, to learn how far back It goes. The photos serve to connect Bill to It's history, which is directly connected to that of Derry’s origin. Photographs thus serve as key aspects of both preserving memory and helping Bill understand the larger contexts of his experiences with It.
The group also recalls its travails with It in the context of more personal difficulties with parents and other authority figures. For Eddie, this aspect of his storytelling is particularly important. He feels that, in some ways, his challenges with monsters under the sewers of Derry were less difficult than those confrontations with his mother, Sonia Kaspbrak, or their pharmacist, Mr. Norbert Keene. Eddie is a hypochondriac whose fear of illness, particularly asthma, has been imposed on him by his mother. He recalls the instance in which Mr. Keene invites him into his office at the drug store to tell him that he does not have asthma but is merely a nervous child taking camphor-infused water through his aspirator. Eddie mistakenly thinks that Mr. Keene is accusing him of being “crazy.” The revelation, however, is disturbing to Eddie because it reveals that the forces that can cause him pain and mortal danger do not necessarily come from within himself, but can also be external. Though he does not yet realize it, this will make it much easier for him to test his strength in true physical challenges.
Such a physical challenge arises when Henry Bowers and his gang confront Eddie, in revenge for the “rockfight” when the members of the Losers’ Gang throw rocks at Henry’s gang. Henry makes Eddie eat rocks, and then breaks his arm. Next, in a moment that would have horrified Sonia, Patrick Hocksetter spits phlegm in Eddie’s face. The incident, as painful as it is, frees Eddie. Firstly, it disproves his mother’s narrative that he is a sickly weakling. Secondly, it allows him to create his own existence apart from his mother, one in which he asserts his relationships with his friends. Eddie thus remembers the development of his selfhood by recalling stories about his most painful moments in childhood.
Interestingly, the members of the Losers’ Gang (except perhaps Mike, who stays in Derry) tend to almost supernaturally lose their memories of It. As adults in 1985, this means they all struggle to recall the events of 1958, including their encounters with It and also their memories of each other. Their shared attempts to recall these memories make up much of the narrative, but also show how important memory and storytelling are—as it is only once they can remember everything that they can defeat It once and for all. This idea is then further complicated, however, by the fact that they again begin to forget things almost immediately after It is killed—and in this case, the forgetting seems like a positive thing, since it allows the characters to move on past the horror they have experienced.
King uses the theme of storytelling and memory as a device that helps the characters understand the nature of the force they are fighting, but also as a means of moving forward into lives that are healthy and whole. Though It is a form of evil that exists outside of themselves, it feeds off of the fears and anxieties that they harbor within. To recall and better understand those anxieties, and then to defeat them once and for all, they must remember through stories.
Storytelling and Memory ThemeTracker
Storytelling and Memory Quotes in It
Her father tucked her in as he always did, and kissed her forehead. Then he only stood there for a moment in what she would always think of as “his” way of standing, perhaps of being: bent slightly forward, hands plunged deep—to above the wrist—in his pockets, the bright blue eyes in his mournful basset-hound's face looking down at her from above. In later years, long after she stopped thinking about Derry at all, she would see a man sitting on the bus or maybe standing on a corner with his dinnerbucket in his hand, shapes, oh shapes of men, sometimes seen as day closed down, sometimes seen across Watertower Square in the noonlight of a clear windy autumn day, shapes of men, rules of men, desires of men: or Tom, so like her father when he took off his shirt and stood slightly slumped in front of the bathroom mirror to shave. Shapes of men.
What a bunch of losers they had been—Stan Uris with his big Jew-boy nose, Bill Denbrough who could say nothing but "Hi-yo, Silver!" without stuttering so badly that it drove you almost dogshit, Beverly Marsh with her bruises and her cigarettes rolled into the sleeve of her blouse, Ben Hanscom who had been so big he looked like a human version of Moby Dick, and Richie Tozier with his thick glasses and his A averages and his wise mouth and his face which just begged to be pounded into new and exciting shapes. Was there a word for what they had been? Oh yes. There always was. Le mot juste. In this case le mot juste was wimps…
He looked at her, eyes narrowed, mouth smiling casually, completely alive, ready to see what would come next, how she would react. His cock was stiffening in his pants, but he barely noticed. That was for later. For now, school was in session. He replayed what had just happened. Her face. What had that third expression been, there for a bare instant and then gone? First the surprise. Then the pain. Then the (nostalgia) look of a memory . . . of some memory. It had only been for a moment. He didn't think she even knew it had been there, on her face or in her mind. Now: now. It would all be in the first thing she didn't say. He knew that as well as his own name […] He had regressed her. He was in this car with a child. Voluptuous and sexy as hell, but a child.
Ben could see the clown's face clearly. It was deeply lined, the skin a parchment map of wrinkles, tattered cheeks, arid flesh. The skin of its forehead was split but bloodless. Dead lips grinned back from a maw in which teeth leaned like tombstones. Its gums were pitted and black. Ben could see no eyes, but something glittered far back in the charcoal pits of those puckered sockets, something like the cold jewels in the eyes of Egyptian scarab beetles. And although the wind was the wrong way, it seemed to him that he could smell cinnamon and spice, rotting cerements treated with weird drugs, sand, blood so old it had dried to flakes and grains of rust…
The leper was crawling out. It was wearing a clown suit, he saw a clown suit with big orange buttons down the front. It saw Eddie and grinned. Its half-mouth dropped open and its tongue lolled out [….] The leper's tongue had not just dropped from its mouth; it was at least three feet long and had unrolled like a party-favor. It came to an arrow-point which dragged in the dirt. Foam, thick-sticky and yellowish, coursed along it. Bugs crawled over it.
There was no zipper on the thing's jacket; instead there were big fluffy orange buttons, like pompoms. The other thing was worse. It was the other thing that made him feel as if he might faint, or just give up and let it kill him. A name was stitched on the jacket in gold thread, the kind of thing you could get done down at Machen's for a buck if you wanted it. Stitched on the bloody left breast of the Werewolf's jacket, stained but readable, were the words RICHIE TOZIER.
“Oh!” He smiled a little at her now, as if pleased by this explanation. “Was that it? Damn! If you'd told me, Beverly, I never would have hit you. All girls are scared of spiders. Sam Hill! Why didn’t you speak up?” He bent over the drain and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out a warning . . . and some other voice spoke deep inside her, some terrible voice which could not have been a part of her; surely it was the voice of the devil himself: Let it get him, if it wants him. Let it pull him down. Good-fucking-riddance. She turned away from that voice in horror. To allow such a thought to stay for even a moment in her head would surely damn her to hell…
“It was most pop'lar in the big cities and the manufacturin areas. New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston, Portsmouth—they all had their chapters. They tried to organize in Maine, but Derry was the only place they had any real success. Oh, for awhile there was a pretty good chapter in Lewiston—this was around the same time as the fire at the Black Spot—but they weren't worried about niggers raping white women or taking jobs that should have belonged to white men, because there weren't any niggers to speak of up here. In Lewiston they were worried about tramps and hobos and that something called ‘the bonus army’ would join up with something they called ‘the Communist riffraff army,’ by which they meant any man who was out of work. The Legion of Decency used to send these fellows out of town just as fast as they came in. Sometimes they stuffed poison ivy down the backs of their pants. Sometimes they set their shirts on fire.”
“If we have to call It something, it might as well be what we used to call It. I've begun to think, you see, that It has been here so long …whatever It really is…that It's become a part of Derry, something as much a part of the town as the Standpipe, or the Canal, or Bassey Park, or the library. Only It's not a matter of outward geography, you understand. Maybe that was true once, but now lt's…inside. Somehow It's gotten inside. That's the only way I know to understand all of the terrible things that have happened here—the nominally explicable as well as the utterly inexplicable.”
Then they were all babbling together, laughing at him, calling him banana-heels, asking him how he'd liked the shock-treatments they'd given him when he came up here to the Red Ward, asking him if he liked it here at Juh-Juh-hooniper Hill, asking and laughing, laughing and asking, and Henry dropped his hoe and began to scream up at the ghost-moon in the blue sky and at first he was screaming in fury and then the moon itself changed and became the face of the clown, its face a rotted pocked cheesy white, its eyes black holes, its red bloody grin turned up in a smile so obscenely ingenuous that it was insupportable, and so then Henry began to scream not in fury but in mortal terror and the voice of the clown spoke from the ghost-moon now and what it said was You have to go back, Henry. You have to go back and finish the job. You have to go back to Derry and kill them all. For Me. For—.
In Henry's ears, it was a constant litany: the nigger, the nigger, the nigger. Everything was the nigger's fault. The nigger had a nice white house with an upstairs and an oil furnace while Butch and his wife and his son lived in what was not much better than a tarpaper shack. When Butch couldn't make enough money farming and had to go to work in the woods for awhile, it was the nigger's fault. When their well went dry in 1956, it was the nigger's fault.
Glamour, he said, was the Gaelic name for the creature which was haunting Derry; other races and other cultures at other times had different words for it, but they all meant the same thing. The Plains Indians called it a manitou, which sometimes took the shape of a mountain-lion or an elk or an eagle [….] The Himalayans called it a tallus or taelus, which meant an evil magic being that could read your mind and then assume the shape of the thing you were most afraid of. In Central Europe it had been called eylak, brother of the vurderlak, or vampire. In France it was le loup-garou, or skin-changer, a concept that had been crudely translated as the werewolf, but, Bill told them, le loup-garou (which he pronounced “le loopgaroo”) could be anything, anything at all: a wolf, a hawk, a sheep, even a bug.
He saw the gratitude in their eyes and felt a measure of gladness for them…but their gratitude did little to heal his own horror. In fact, there was something in their gratitude which made him want to hate them. Would he never be able to express his own terror […]? Because in some measure at least he was using them […] And was even that the bottom? No, because George was dead, and if revenge could be exacted at all, Bill suspected it could only be exacted on behalf of the living. And what did that make him? A selfish little shit waving a tin sword and trying to make himself look like King Arthur? Oh Christ, he groaned to himself, if this is the stuff adults have to think about I never want to grow up. His resolve was still strong, but it was bitter resolve. Bitter.
The kid in you just leaked out, like the air out of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grownup looking back at you. You could go on wearing bluejeans, you could keep going to Springsteen and Seger concerts, you could dye your hair, but that was a grownup’s face in the mirror just the same. It all happened while you were asleep, maybe, like a visit from the Tooth Fairy. No, he thinks. Not the Tooth Fairy. The Age Fairy.
He looked at his mother, seeing her clear in his pain: each flower on her Lane Bryant dress, the sweat-stains under her arms where the pads she wore had soaked through, the scuff-marks on her shoes. He saw how small her eyes were in their pockets of flesh, and now a terrible thought came to him: those eyes were almost predatory, like the eyes of the leper that had crawled out of the basement at 29 Neibolt Street […] Even through the haze he could see that the nurse was angry and he thought he said, She’s not the leper, please don't think that, she’s only eating me because she loves me, but perhaps nothing came out because the nurse's angry face didn't change.
She looked back and here he came again, Al Marsh, janitor and custodian, a gray man dressed in khaki pants and a khaki shirt with two flap pockets, a keyring attached to his belt by a chain, his hair flying. But he wasn’t in his eyes—the essential he who had washed her back and punched her in the gut and had done both because he worried about her, worried a lot, the he who had once tried to braid her hair when she was seven, made a botch of it, and then got giggling with her about the way it stuck out everyway, the he who knew how to make cinnamon eggnogs on Sunday that tasted better than anything you could buy for a quarter at the Derry Ice Cream Bar, the father-he, maleman of her life, delivering a mixed post from that other sexual state. None of that was in his eyes now. She saw blank murder there. She saw It there.
He would kill them all, his tormentors, and then those feelings—that he was losing his grip, that he was coming inexorably to a larger world he would not be able to dominate as he had dominated the playyard at Derry Elementary, that in the wider world the fatboy and the nigger and the stuttering freak might somehow grow larger while he somehow only grew older—would be gone.
The former power of their imaginations would be muted and weak. They would no longer imagine that there were piranha in the Kenduskeag or that if you stepped on a crack you might really break your mother's back or that if you killed a ladybug which lit on your shirt your blouse would catch fire that night. lnstead, they would believe in insurance. Instead, they would believe in wine with dinner—something nice but not too pretentious, like a Pouilly-Fuissé ‘83, and let that breathe, waiter, would you? Instead, they would believe that Rolaids consume forty-seven times their own weight in excess stomach acid. Instead, they would believe in public television, Gary Hart, running to prevent heart attacks, giving up red meat to prevent colon cancer. They would believe in Dr. Ruth when it came to getting well fucked and Jerry Falwell when it came to getting well saved. As each year passed their dreams would grow smaller. And when It woke It would call them back, yes, back, because fear was fertile, its child was rage, and rage cried for revenge.
Bill marked it as a paper boat. Stan saw it as a bird rising toward the sky—a phoenix, perhaps. Michael saw a hooded face—that of crazy Butch Bowers, perhaps, if it could only be seen. Richie saw two eyes behind a pair of spectacles. Beverly saw a hand doubled up into a fist. Eddie believed it to be the face of the leper, all sunken eyes and wrinkled snarling mouth—all disease, all sickness, was stamped into that face. Ben Hanscom saw a tattered pile of wrappings and seemed to smell old sour spices […] Henry Bowers would see it as the moon, full, ripe…and black.
He touches his wife's smooth back as she sleeps her warm sleep and dreams her own dreams; he thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood…its beliefs and desires, I will write about all of this one day, he thinks, and knows it's just a dawn thought, an after-dreaming thought. But it's nice to think so for awhile in the morning's clean silence, to think that childhood has its own sweet secrets and confirms mortality, and that mortality defines all courage and love. To think that what has looked forward must also look back, and that each life makes its own imitation of immortality: a wheel.