The Turtle Can't Help Us: The Lovecraft Legacy in Stephen King's It

By Margaret L. Carter

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It may be said that two writers, H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, have, each in his own way, single-handedly changed the direction of American horror fiction in the twentieth century. It is not surprising that King's study of horror in fiction and film, Danse Macabre, acknowledges Lovecraft's importance not only to the development of the modern dark fantasy but to King's personal growth as a writer. Danse Macabre remarks of Lovecraft that "it is his shadow . . . and his eyes . . . which overlie almost all of the important horror fiction that has come since" (102). On a personal level, King testifies that "Lovecraft . . . opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me" (ibid.). He calls his discovery, at about age twelve, of a collection of Lovecraft's stories "my first encounter with serious fantasy-horror fiction" (ibid.). He praises Lovecraft for tales of "outside evil" that "make us feel the size of the universe we hang suspended in, and suggest shadowy forces that could destroy us all if they so much as grunted in their sleep" (72).

Yet King himself is better known for horror that operates on individual, microcosmic terms in familiar settings, and his early published stories, unlike those of some twentieth-century masters such as Robert Bloch, do not feature Lovecraftian pastiche. Only one of King's early tales falls into this category: "Jerusalem's Lot," in the Night Shift collection. Set in New England in 1850, it includes a sinister mansion with a secret room, forbidden tomes, a mysteriously abandoned village, and the invocation of Lovecraftian deities such as Yog-Sothoth. In the later story "Gramma," collected in Skeleton Crew, the names of Yog-Sothoth and Hastur are invoked, and the title character, at the point of death, forcibly switches bodies with her grandson, a device reminiscent of Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep." Otherwise, the grandmother might just as well be a witch of a more conventional type.

Without reference to names from Lovecraft's mythos, Pet Sematary hints that the Wendigo, first introduced as a cannibalistic spirit feared by the Indians of New England and Canada, may be a cosmic entity like Lovecraft's "gods." The protagonist, Louis, climbing toward the ancient Micmac burial ground with the body of his son, prays, "let there not be these dark and draggling horrors on the nightside of the universe" (329). At the burial ground, Louis "cocked his head back once and saw the mad sprawl of the stars. There were no constellations he recognized" (330). The reference to a change in the stars hints that the Wendigo may have lured him into an alternate dimension.

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Clearly, this being is meant to be seen as more than a regional or even terrestrial monster. Louis's colleague Steve, who barely glimpses the power of the Wendigo, later has dreams in which "he would sense that something huge had shrugged by him" (372). This statement recalls the Lovecraftian theme of a universe not precisely malevolent, but notheless lethal in its indifference. Jud, the old man who introduces Louis to the Pet Sematary, suggests that the Wendigo feeds on human pain, as the entity in It does. Jud also perceives that the burial ground's "power goes through phases, same as the moon. It's been full of power before, and I'm ascared it's coming around to full again" (246). The motif of cosmic cycles appears frequently in Lovecraft's work and dominates It.

Unlike Pet Sematary, which merely hints at Lovecraftian motifs in the passages cited, It uses these motifs as integral to its plot. In the latter novel, the creature called "It" originally appears in the grotesque mask of a clown, then wears the guises of monsters from classic horror films. Yet this being eventually reveals itself as an entity beyond human comprehension. It is Stephen King's most Lovecraftian work. The philosophy behind this novel, however, differs radically from the monistic materialism of its source. King uses the framework of Lovecraft's cosmology in the service of a fundamentally theistic worldview.

Lovecraft's definition of the essence of horror in his historical survey of the genre, Supernatural Horror in Literature, obliquely comments on his own work. He characterizes the apex of literary horror as evocation of "the darker and more maleficent side of cosmic mystery," which draws its power from "the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions" (14). The test of excellence for the literature of fear, he says, is its ability to give the reader a sense of "contact with unknown spheres and powers," an awareness of "the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe's utmost rim" (16). As everyone knows, the most characteristic of Lovecraft's own fiction focuses on the evocation of "cosmic mystery." Because he frames his protagonists' encounters with "unknown spheres and powers" in a nihilistic universe that reflects his own scientific materialism, devoid of any belief in a benevolent Creator, his best stories generate an unrelievedly bleak vision of reality.

The opening sentence of "The Call of Cthulhu" aptly summarizes Lovecraft's view of humanity's position in the universe: "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents" (45). Numerous authors, of course, often encouraged by Lovecraft himself, have added stories to the Cthulhu Mythos, which centers upon "the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky" (59). Dead and yet not dead, they speak to selected worshipers in dreams, and when "the stars . . . come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity," these "gods" will revive (60). The mode of their existence is ambiguous, "not composed altogether of flesh and blood," their true forms "not made of matter" (ibid.); yet at present they are bound by their terrestrial prisons. The Great Old Ones are "beyond good and evil" (ibid.). When they return to rule Earth, humankind will become like them and learn from the Old Ones "new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves" (61).

Yet many Cthulhu Mythos writers decline to embrace Lovecraft's nihilistic worldview in its full rigor. Instead, they impose upon his cosmology a dualistic model that allows a more optimistic picture of humanity's place in creation. Dirk W. Mosig attributes this revisionist approach mainly to August Derleth, who, while preserving and popularizing Lovecraft's fiction, also popularized a distorted interpretation of it. According to Mosig, Derleth and his followers have superimposed upon the "materialistic tale of supernatural horror" (Mosig 106) created by Lovecraft a quasi-Christian mythology of benevolent Elder Gods who expelled the "evil" Great Old Ones from our space-time continuum as God expelled Satan from Heaven.

As Mosig points out, in Lovecraft's original conception the Great Old Ones "are not merely symbols of the power of evil, although they may appear inimical to man, in the same way that man would appear inimical to ants, should these get in his way" (107). If a Lovecraft protagonist escapes destruction, "it is ironically due, not to his own efforts, but to some accident beyond his control" (ibid.). Though Lovecraft several times mentions the "Elder Gods," they play a minor role in his fiction. Derleth, Mosig points out, converted the Elder Gods into "benign deities representing the forces of good" that occasionally intervene to rescue the heroes "with a timing reminiscent of the U.S. Cavalry in cheap Western films" (108). Derleth also invented un-Lovecraftian protective devices, the Elder Signs, described by Mosig as "ridiculous star-stone amulets which played the role of garlic and the crucifix in the hackneyed vampire tale" (ibid.).

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Although King, in It, overlays Lovecraft's cosmology with a dualistic worldview, he permits no outside force to rescue his heroes; but neither does he, like Lovecraft, attribute their escape to blind chance. And although he does provide them with magical amulets that they wield against It like crucifixes against a vampire, these devices do not operate in the mechanical fashion of such devices in "the hackneyed vampire tale." At the center of It lurk a pair of entities that correspond, respectively, to a Great Old One, lethal to humanity and interested in our species only as we can serve their needs, and to a Derlethian Elder God, benevolent or at least neutral toward us but relatively powerless. King, however, adds a third power, a mysterious entity that stands beyond and above both the "evil" force, It, and the "good" force, the Turtle. He hints that the heroes tap into this power, apparently equivalent to the Judeo-Christian God.

The kinship of It with the Great Old Ones is made clear by the mode of Its arrival on Earth. Like Lovecraft's deities, It "came to the young world out of the sky." As revealed to the child protagonists in a shamanistic trance, in prehistoric times It plunged into the ground at the future site of Derry, Maine, in the form of a meteorite—an obvious homage to Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space." In his vision, Richie sees It as "a burning, falling object" (It 758), which he first identifies as a spaceship. But on reflection he decides the object "was not a spaceship, although it might have come through space to get here" (ibid.). It originates in "a place much farther away than another star or another galaxy," and Richie realizes that he labels it a spaceship "only because his mind had no other way of grasping what his eyes were seeing" (ibid.). Like Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, It comes ultimately from beyond our space-time continuum. In fact, King presents It as even more wholly Other than the Lovecraftian gods, who have names by which they are worshiped, such as Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and Hastur. It, as the very title of the novel emphasizes, has no name; we realize early in the narrative that Pennywise the Clown, the only title It gives Itself, is simply one of many masks. And no human cult worships It, though legends of shape-changing demons throughout the world hint at It. It does, however, like Lovecraft's gods, occasionally use human tools, speaking to them in dreams. It sends Henry, the former town bully, and Tom, Beverly's abusive husband, to attack the now grown-up child heroes. It, like the entities in "The Call of Cthulhu," both kills directly and incites Its minions to violence.

Like the Great Old Ones, It is somehow bound to Its lair beneath Derry, yet Its true form is not matter as we understand the term. When the heroes, as children, first glimpse It without a mask, Ben sees only "a silvery-orange shifting shape," which "was not ghostly; it was solid, and he sensed some other shape, some real and ultimate shape, beyond it . . . but his eyes could not grasp what he was seeing" (869, King's ellipsis). To manifest Itself to human eyes, It assumes the shape of each victim's deepest fear. In Its extradimensional home, beyond "some wall at the end of the universe where It really lived," as Ben perceives when he confronts It through a visionary extraterrestrial flight, "It existed as a titanic, glowing core" of "homicidal endless formless hunger" (1054). The heroes' most accurate perception of this ultimate reality takes the form of "a great blind light" that "glared and moved, smiled and snarled," which It inspires them to call "deadlights" (1064). Its terrestrial body reveals Itself to the heroes as "a nightmare Spider from beyond time and space" (1047-48). Bill, however, realizes that It is "not a Spider, either, not really, but this shape isn't one It picked out of our minds; it's just the closest our minds can come to whatever It really is" (1048). The best approximation human minds can comprehend, and only for an instant, consists of "an endless crawling hairy thing, which was made of light and nothing else, dead light that mocked life" (1049).

This dual nature makes It vulnerable, as Bill intuits when he pursues It beyond the borders of our solar system. "Somehow the Spider-It and the It which It called the deadlights were linked. Whatever lived out here in the black night might be invulnerable when It was here and nowhere else . . . but It was also on earth, under Derry, in a form that was physical" (1055, King's ellipsis). It is bound somewhat like Cthulhu, imprisoned beneath the sea in R'lyeh. Moreover, like Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones, It wakes and sleeps in a cyclical pattern. Mike, the keeper of memory for the circle of heroes, discovers that inexplicable violence erupts in Derry at twenty-six- or twenty-seven-year intervals. Mike theorizes that "a monstrous sacrifice is needed at the end of the cycle to quiet whatever terrible force it is which works here" (641). Through his research into Derry's history, he comes to see the town as "a feeding place for animals" (159). It feeds on human pain, hate, and above all, fear. When the heroes, as adults, debate whether Its predatory nature makes It "evil," they decide that, while "evil" may not be precisely accurate, It, like Lovecraft's gods, is "no part of a natural order we understand or condone. . . . It kills, kills children" (515). It prefers children as prey because "the fears of children were simpler and usually more powerful" and "could often be summoned up in a single face" (1016). All of its masks or "glamours" are "only mirrors . . . throwing back at the terrified viewer the worst thing in his or her own mind" (1015). Besides needing nourishment, It is also material enough to reproduce; Its spider-shape is, in a sense, female and ready to spawn (as Yog-Sothoth, in Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror," is material enough to impregnate Lavinia). Hence the urgency of the heroes' mission when, as adults, they must again confront the entity they defeated as children.

Before they can undertake that quest, their memories must be reawakened. Amnesia frequently results from confrontation with the "gods" in Lovecraft's fiction; for instance, the narrator of "The Rats in the Walls" forgets much of what he has experienced in the catacombs beneath his ancestral mansion. It is unclear whether the children's adult amnesia in It (Bill even forgets the existence of his beloved younger brother) is a side effect of the horror generated by It or a natural outgrowth of the adult mind's inability to retain the "impossible" realities children can accept. This power in the minds of children causes It to lust for them, yet, to Its fury, also fear them. Unlike any other prey It has ever known, the circle of seven children almost manages to kill It. While their ability to believe the incredible makes them appetizing and vulnerable to It, that same capacity gives them power against It: "It understood vaguely that these children had somehow turned Its tools against It . . . by the bonding of seven extraordinarily imaginative minds" (1017). It expects to renew Its strength in "sleep" and arise refreshed to face the seven, now adults, with "their childhood . . . burned away like seven fatty candles" (ibid.). Yet somehow they have not wholly lost the power of imagination and belief. As Beverly realizes, if they succeed in reforming their circle, "their present lives would merge smoothly with their own childhoods; they would become like creatures on some crazy Mobius strip" (933). King's narrative structure, alternating scenes from the present and past, foregrounds this merging process. As memories revive bit by bit, each character does become his or her childhood self. Bill's stutter returns; Eddie again suffers from asthma. At the climactic confrontation with It, past and present alternate paragraph by paragraph, until the reader experiences the fusion of former and present selves along with the heroes.

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In both past and present, the heroes appear forced to rely solely on their own intelligence and imagination. As children, they cannot even consider appealing to the adult world for help. They discuss and dismiss the notion of telling the police about It. When Beverly finds blood welling up from her bathroom sink, her father sees nothing, and she must explain her panic by claiming to have seen a spider (perhaps an intentionally ironic foreshadowing). As for supernatural aid, when It flings Bill "outward into utter blackness, the blackness that was the cosmos and the universe" (1052), he discovers that this Lovecraftian emptiness is not the whole truth about reality. He meets the Turtle, a "large presence ahead in the dark" whose eyes appear kind, whose voice can drown out Its threats (1053). When Bill addresses the Turtle, the Turtle says, "I made the universe, but please don't blame me for it; I had a bellyache" (ibid.). In this cosmology, creation appears to be a randomly generated by-product. To Bill's appeal for help, the Turtle says, "I take no stand in these matters" (ibid.). Though Bill views the Turtle as good, this being offers only advice. When the heroes return as adults, they find the Turtle perhaps dead, certainly senile and moribund, as weak and distant as Lovecraft's Elder Gods. In both the past and present, Mike believes Bill's statement, "The Turtle can't help us" (149). Yet this vaguely benign but impotent force is not the ultimate reality, either. "Bill understood somehow that there was yet Another, and the Final Other dwelt in a voice 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" (1054).

Two principal factors, the presence of the Other—God—and the central importance of belief and imagination, especially as embodied in children, differentiate King's vision of cosmic horror from Lovecraft's. In his personal life, King labels himself a nonpracticing Methodist and says, "I try to keep church in my heart" (Underwood 141). While avowing his belief in "a God, an Oversoul, some kind of sentient being who's in charge of everything that goes on here" (140), he sees no need to argue whether the presence of evil among us casts doubts on God's existence. Compared to the relative insignificance of Homo sapiens (and, by implication, our sufferings), he says, "The cosmos is just too big. . . . We fall from a mystery into a mystery" (141). Though it is, of course, hazardous to equate a novelist's personal convictions with those expressed by his authorial persona, the image of God in It does appear to reflect King's real-life philosophy. The God of It, the Other, is a remote embodiment of numinous power as nameless and unknowable as It. The Other never intervenes on the heroes' behalf and has, apparently, nothing to do with organized religion. As King remarked in another interview, reprinted in Bare Bones, "I don't see good as a completely Christian force. It's what I think of as white. White. Just tremendously powerful, something that would run you right over if you got in its way" (119).

Yet he does admit the possibility of tapping into that "white" energy: "Belief in itself is a kind of power . . . the belief is sort of a line into The Other Thing" (91). This conviction is reflected in It, where, as already noted, children's capacity for belief constitutes both their weakness and their strength. Although the Other does not act openly to save them, It suspects the existence of Another and fears "that these children were agents of that Other" (It 1008). Otherwise, "if all things flowed from It (as they surely had done since the Turtle sicked up the universe and then fainted inside its shell), how could any creature from this or any other world fool It or hurt It . . . ?" (ibid.). The children themselves do not ascribe their victories to God. When they discuss why silver slugs repel It in Its werewolf form, they come to no conclusion as to the ultimate source of the power. Searching for weapons against It, they recall movies in which a cross or a prayer defeats the monster, but they cannot depend on such symbols to subdue It. If the Other does help the heroes, that help takes the form of enabling them to draw upon their own inner strength of imagination and belief. As It recognizes, "If there are ten thousand medieval peasants who create vampires by believing them real, there may be one—probably a child—who will imagine the stake necessary to kill it. But a stake is only stupid wood; the mind is the mallet which drives it home" (1017). Only thus can the seven heroes tap into the "white" energy beyond both It and the Turtle.

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The protagonists of King's vampire novel 'Salem's Lot, unlike the protagonists of It, do employ the traditional crucifix and other conventional weapons against vampires. In King's fiction, however, the cross does not work mechanically, as it often does in what Mosig calls "the hackneyed vampire tale." Instead, its efficacy depends on the faith of the wielder. When Jimmy Cody and Ben Mears confront the resurrected Marjorie Glick in the morgue, they improvise a cross out of tongue depressors and bless it with hurried prayers. Charged with their faith, this makeshift symbol "seemed to flash with brilliance," a light that "spilled over [Ben's] hand in an elvish flood" (268). Yet when Father Callahan faces the vampire Barlow in a duel for the lives of Mark Petrie's parents, the "preternatural dazzling brilliance" (353) of the cross fades and dies when Callahan's faith wavers. Because his fear and doubt keep him from throwing away the cross and relying on God alone, the weapon becomes useless. The vampire, understanding the principle better than the priest does, reminds him, "Without faith, the cross is only wood . . . if you had cast the cross away, you should have beaten me another night" (355). True faith resides not in the ordained priest, but in the boy, Mark, who can drive away the vampire Danny with a cheap cross from a plastic monster model. Incarnating one of King's central, recurring themes, the power of childhood imagination, Mark does not hesitate to believe in the cross and use it. Through the same imaginative power, however, he suffers terrors unknown to his parents, primal fears for which "the only known cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary [sic] faculties, and this is called adulthood" (242-3).

King takes this principle further in It. The seven children's faith embodies itself, not in traditional religious symbols, but in talismans personally meaningful to each. When, as adults, they try to recall their first victory over It, to arm themselves for the new battle, they recognize this truth. "What it really came down to was," Bill realizes, "we wuh-wuh-wished our way out. . . . I'm not sure that grownups [sic] can do that" (932). (Perhaps Bill's extreme stutter over the word "wished" reflects that adult disability.) Several times the boys, engaged in combat with It, "wish" themselves free by means of devices that symbolize power for them alone. Eddie, afflicted with asthma, shoots vapor from his aspirator into Its eye, converting the contents into "battery acid" by the power of his mind: "it's acid if I want it to be" (1026). He attains this faith despite the town druggist's disclosure that the aspirator contains only water, a placebo. Years later, as an adult, Eddie uses the same tactic, recreating his boyhood mind-set, reclaiming his "childhood belief in the medicine . . . that could solve everything, that could make him feel better when the big boys roughed him up . . . it was good medicine, strong medicine" (1068). As both boy and man, Bill challenges It by reciting without a stutter the tongue twister he cannot say at any other time: "He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts!" (1040)—an affirmation of belief in the supernatural in defiance of everyday fact. The other focus of Bill's faith is Silver, his old bicycle, which Mike almost miraculously rediscovers for him. After the destruction of It, Silver provides the final link to childhood's magic and enables Bill to revive his wife from catatonia before the merciful amnesia returns to obliterate all memories, good as well as terrible, of his friends and their battle with It. Richie draws power from his Voices, which win him fame and wealth as an adult, but in childhood are poor imitations of the dialects he tries to produce—until he needs them to oppose It.

Beverly, the only girl in the circle, presents a special case; she employs no material talisman, but the power of her awakening sexuality. When the circle threatens to fall apart after the first defeat of It, causing the children to lose their way in the tunnels beneath the Barrens, Bev, like a priestess, recreates the bond by coupling with each of the boys. King here seems to allude to the familiar magical motif of a virgin sacrifice, but again he sets the image in a context of personal spiritual power, not the rituals of an organized cult. "There was power in this act, all right," Bev reflects, "a chain-breaking power that was blood-deep" (1082). When she experiences her first orgasm (with Ben), "she feels her power suddenly shift to him; she gives it gladly and goes with it" (1084), forging the necessary connection.

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Stan, for a different reason, is also set apart from the other members of the circle. An obstinate rationalist, he is the last to accept Its supernatural reality. When It attacks him in the form of a monstrous bird, he repels it by chanting names from his bird-watcher's guidebook, the symbol of his faith in science and order. Here his reluctance to believe in the impossible actually strengthens him. When Its bird-shape later reappears to attack the children as a group, Stan shouts at It, "I believe in scarlet tanagers even though I never saw one. . . . And I think there really might be a phoenix somewhere. But I don't believe in you" (1030). The philosophy underlying his disbelief echoes the Lovecraftian theme that true horror consists of the unknowable, the invasion from Outside, the violation of reality as we conceive it. Stan reflects that Its manifestations "had done something worse than frighten him; they had offended him" (429). In Stan's rationalist worldview, "there were things that were not supposed to be. They offended any sane person's sense of order" (ibid.). He sees God as the Creator who set the universe in motion and gave human beings the ability to decipher its laws, then "sat back about halfway up the auditorium to watch the show" (ibid.). Even benign suspensions of natural law, such as the miracle of Jesus' walking on water, repel Stan. "It's offense you maybe can't live with," he muses, "because it opens up a crack inside your thinking . . . and after awhile you think maybe there's a whole other universe down there" (430). His terror at the unnatural and his determination to cling to rationality as he understands it render him unable, as an adult, to recreate the childhood power of imagination and rejoin the circle. Like a Lovecraft hero taking refuge in madness to escape insupportable knowledge, he refuses to have his memory revived. Mike's long-distance call to summon him back to Derry, in accordance with their childhood promise to return if It ever reawakens, leaves Stan with, in Mike's words, only two choices, "stay alive and get dirty or die clean" (500). Rather than plunge back into the chaos of Its impossible reality, Stan kills himself.

Stan's suicide lends credence to Mike's insight that "It protects Itself by the simple fact that, as the children grow into adults, they become either incapable of faith or crippled by a sort of spiritual and imaginative arthritis" (894). How can that deterioration be avoided? In organized religion, Mike notes, "power is perpetuated and renewed by periodic ritualistic acts" (ibid.). Neither as children nor as adults do the heroes turn to any established church for support. They do, however, engage in two rituals adapted from shamanistic traditions they have discovered in their research. They undergo a Plains Indian ordeal called the Smoke-Hole Ceremony, building a fire in their underground clubhouse to induce visions through smoke inhalation. "The visions were supposed to tell the tribe what to do" (743), Ben explains, and Mike and Richie, the only members of their self-made "tribe" who endure the full ceremony, do, in fact, see visions of Its original irruption into their world. This rite serves a purely informational purpose.

The second rite, rather than invoking a supernatural force to protect the heroes, bestows upon them a means of confronting It; for the actual combat, they must still rely upon their own spiritual power. This Himalayan tradition, the Ritual of Chud, requires the shaman to meet the taelus, the shape-changer, face to face. After the holy man and the monster each stick their tongues out and overlap them, "you both bit in all the way so you were sort of stapled together, eye to eye" (675), Bill explains. The two then engage in a riddle contest. When the children track It to Its lair, Bill symbolically binds himself to It in the Ritual of Chud and challenges It to mental combat. Thereby It draws his spirit out of the terrestrial sphere into the depths of space where, as described above, he glimpses Its true nature and meets the Turtle. Through enduring this ordeal, Bill empowers his circle of friends to cripple It, perhaps (as they suppose at the time) to kill It.

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This defeat of It by their inner spiritual resources, both in childhood and in the adult reenactment of the childhood battle, distinguishes King's heroes from both the protagonists of traditional horror tales such as Dracula, who rely on the external protection of the symbols of organized religion, and the typical Lovecraft protagonist, who has no effective means of resistance whatever and either succumbs to the overwhelming force from Outside or escapes (virtually never defeating the inimical force) by mere luck. As we have established, the seven children conquer through the power of childhood faith and imagination; as the Turtle reminds Bill, "what can be done when you're eleven can often never be done again" (1057). Bill achieves victory by urging himself to "believe in all the things you have believed in, believe that if you tell the policeman you're lost he'll see that you get home safely, that there is a Tooth Fairy who lives in a huge enamel castle, and Santa Claus below the North Pole, making toys with his trove of elves, and that Captain Midnight could be real" (ibid.). Bill's litany does not mention God or Jesus; his faith is rooted in the symbols peculiar to childhood. Adults, as he sardonically reflects, have lost that kind of faith and instead put their trust in banal icons such as "insurance . . . wine with dinner . . . Gary Hart, running to prevent heart attacks, giving up red meat to prevent colon cancer" (1017). It is confident of defeating the children as adults, for as "each year passed, their dreams would grow smaller" (ibid.).

Yet against all expectation, even with their circle decreased by two (Stan is dead and Mike hospitalized), the heroes manage to merge with their own past. As children they have been "tough enough, anyway, to give birth to the people they will become . . . [who] must necessarily birth the people they were. . . . The circle closes, the wheel rolls" (1135). A trace of this magic remains with Bill, as pure gift, long enough to awaken his wife Audra from the living death of catatonia by taking her for a ride on Silver (his old bicycle). Unlike Lovecraft, King's narrative persona in It allows room for the existence of God—the Other—who enables the heroes to destroy the invader from Outside. This Other, however, saves the heroes, not by intervening on their behalf in a stroke of lightning, like "the U.S. Cavalry in cheap Western films" (in Mosig's words), but by empowering them to tap the spiritual resources with which He/She has endowed them. In the moments when Bill races with Audra on Silver, he achieves an epiphany. Unlike Stan, Bill, even as an adult, can recognize that an ordered universe need not exclude the power of faith. He concludes from all he has suffered that "if life teaches anything at all, it teaches that there are so many happy endings that the man who believes there is no God needs his rationality called into serious question" (ibid.).

Works Cited:

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Everest House, 1981.

——-. "Gramma." Weird Book (1984). Rpt. in Skeleton Crew. New York: Putnam, 1985.

——-. It. New York: Viking, 1986.

——-. "Jerusalem's Lot," in Night Shift. New York: Doubleday, 1978.

——-. Pet Sematary. New York: Doubleday, 1983.

——-. 'Salem's Lot. 1975; rpt. New York: New American Library, 1976.

Lovecraft, H. P. "The Call of Cthulhu." Weird Tales 11, 2 (February 1928). Rpt. in The Colour Out of Space and Others, ed. August Derleth. New York: Lancer, 1964.

——-. Supernatural Horror in Literature. 1945; rpt. New York: Dover, 1973.

Mosig, Dirk W. "H. P. Lovecraft: Myth-Maker." The Miskatonic (February 1976). Rpt. in H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, ed. S. T. Joshi. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980.

Underwood, Tim, and Chuck Miller, eds. Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.


A lifelong vampire fan since reading Dracula at the age of twelve, Margaret L. Carter became interested in classic horror of all types and wrote her PhD dissertation on the Gothic novel. Her novels include horror, fantasy, vampire fiction, and paranormal romance of varying degrees of spiciness. Her work includes Different Blood: The Vampire as Alien, Shadow of the Beast, Child of Twilight, and Wild Sorceress (with Leslie Roy Carter).