Stephen King’s It remains one of his most disturbing and sprawling novels. The novel contains his definitive depiction of Derry, Maine, his fictional analog for the actual town of Bangor, and sets up the horrific vision of small-town Maine which he returned to in Bag of Bones, Insomnia, and Dreamcatcher.
Similar to his 1982 novella The Body, It is King’s ode to adventurous teens, and it’s full of violent sexual imagery which he largely abandoned in later works. It was first published in 1986, just a few years before King’s family staged an intervention, pleading with the prolific author to get help for his alcoholism. His struggles with alcoholism and guilt are most present in 1977’s The Shining, though the hallucinatory, violent loss of innocence in It feels like it could easily have been written by a tortured man.
“It” — what King’s “Loser Club” of awkward teens call the demon haunting them — is a spiritual parasite, tainting all their positive memories and eating them alive from the inside. It’s no coincidence that It was written during the height of King’s self-destructive path towards death, and he often mentions it when discussing his path to sobriety. Because the book was written during a difficult time for the author, there are several scenes that probably won’t translate well in a film adaptation. The 1990 ABC mini-series starring Tim Curry ignored the following four disturbing elements of the novel, and it’s likely that 2017’s adaptation will follow suit.
We’ve ranked them below, from the least disturbing and problematic to the most uncomfortable.
4. The Fake Native American “Spirit Quest”
Halfway through the It novel, the Loser Club finds itself at a loss when trying to figure out exactly what their demon pursuer is. They do some research, but without the internet (the novel is set in the late-1950s) they’re unable to determine exactly what It is exactly. The plan they come up with is this: Ben learns at the library that Native American tribes sometimes used smoke to hallucinate and find truth. The Losers build a smokehole, the 50s version of hotboxing, and everybody climbs inside. Eventually, Mike and Richie are the only ones left, and they experience a vision of It as an ancient, horrific evil feeding off the town of Derry.
They had gone plunging around in the smoky clubhouse, panicked, scared that if they didn’t act quickly the two boys might die of smoke poisoning. At last Bill had gripped a hand — Richie’s. He had given “a huh-huh-hell of a yuh-yank” and Richie had come flying out of the gloom, only about one-quarter conscious.
Now, understanding that the evil entity in It isn’t just a creepy clown, but a sprawling, ancient demon whose existence traces back to the creation of the Earth, is pretty important to the plot. The strange, undefined “smokehole” scene is what probably won’t work in a modern adaptation.
3. Turtles All the Way Down
It connects briefly to King’s Dark Tower series when the Losers meet Maturin, the godlike turtle that tells them the evil they call It is really a Satan analog. Maturin the turtle created the universe, and It opposes all that’s good in the world. In order to defeat It, the Losers have to enact the Ritual of Chüd, a psychic battle they learn from Maturin.
The Turtle spoke in Bill’s head, and Bill understood somehow that there was yet Another, and that Final Other dwelt in a void beyond this one. This Final Other was, perhaps, the creator of the Turtle, which only watched, and It, which only ate. This Other was a force beyond the universe, a power beyond all other power, the author of all there was.
When the Losers fight It again as adults, the demon tells them that Maturin choked to death on another galaxy. The 1990 TV movie changed the entire mystical King mythology into a creature with many forms instead of a demon.
Suddenly he thought he understood: It meant to thrust him through some wall at the end of the universe and into some other place (what that old Turtle called the macroverse) where It really lived; where It existed as a titanic, glowing core which might be no more than the smallest mote in that Other’s mind; he would see It naked, a thing of unshaped destroying light, and there he would either be mercifully annihilated or live forever, insane and yet conscious inside Its homicidal endless formless hungry being.
Fully adapting Mike and Richie’s vision of Maturin may not be worth the CGI in an otherwise grounded-looking film about suburban Maine.
2. The Schoolyard Bully Handjob
Partway through the novel’s first section, Beverly (the only girl in the Losers club) spies on Henry Bowers, the local bully, and his meathead buddies lighting their farts on fire in a garbage dump. Because they already have their pants off, Patrick, one of Henry’s cronies, starts giving Henry a handjob. He offers to go further, and Henry loses it.
Henry stared at Patrick’s hand as if hypnotized. His lighter lay on the rocky scree beside him, reflecting hot afternoon sun. “Want me to put it in my mouth?” Patrick asked. His big, livery lips smiled complacently. “Huh?” Henry asked, as if startled from some deep dream. “I’ll put it in my mouth if you want. I don’t m—” Henry’s hand flashed out, half-curled, not quite a fist. Patrick was knocked sprawling.
This scene does a couple things in the book: It establishes that Henry is willing to receive sexual favors from boys if he’s the only one benefitting, and it shows his propensity for violence if he’s offended or threatened. It also allows Beverly, a young girl, to start to consider her own sexuality. That prepares her for the craziest scene in the novel, in which Beverly’s virginity saves the entire universe.
1. An 11-year-old Girl Fucks All Her Friends to Save the World
While they’re defeating It down in Derry’s sewer system, the Losers begin to bicker. Beverly realizes that It is using its evil psychic powers to drive the kids apart, and she concludes that the only way to unite them as a team is to invite every single one of her friends to have sex with her, back to back.
Mike comes to her, then Richie, and the act is repeated. Now she feels some pleasure, dim heat in her childish unmatured sex, and she closes her eyes as Stan comes to her and she thinks of the birds.
The children’s orgy goes on for pages and pages toward the end of the novel, and it doesn’t shy away from the sensations Beverly feels as a child experiencing sex for the first time. Eventually, it turns out that an orgy was the only way to get the Losers united mentally, and they find their way out of the sewers because of the whole ordeal.
But her thoughts are swept away by the utter sweetness of it, and she barely hears him whispering, “I love you, Bev, I love you, I’ll always love you” saying it over and over and not stuttering at all.
As this entire segment of the novel was ignored in the TV movie, it’s likely it won’t show up in the 2017 film either (because literally what the fuck Stephen King).
Part One of Stephen King’s It hits theaters this September.