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Stephen King’s It and Lord of the Flies

I recently watched the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It which is a book I’ve not read since I was a teenager. The film got me thinking about the possible connections between the book and Lord of the Flies, which we know has influenced King’s writing. King wrote the introduction to the centenary edition of Lord of the Flies, and his invented place, Castle Rock, is named after the landmark in Golding’s book. Much of the narrative of It takes place when the protagonists are eleven or twelve, which seems to give it some neat parallels to Lord of the Flies. So, I opened up this monster of a book (in more ways than one – It runs to 1376 pages), and felt myself quickly absorbed again in this tale of a terrifying clown (red balloons still give me a shudder after all these years), and an even more frightening evil.

Some of the members of the Losers’ Club share characteristics with Golding’s troubled group of boys. Ben Hanscom is overweight, just like Piggy, and is bullied as a result. His early run-in with the main group of bullies – Henry Bowers, Victor Criss and Belch Huggins, leads to Henry carving the letter ‘H’ into Ben’s stomach; Ben is luckily able to escape before Bowers can complete his name. In the moments before the knife attack, Victor exclaims, ‘Jeezum, he sounds just like a pig’ … ‘Don’t he sound like a pig?’ Henry expresses disgust when he exposes Ben’s stomach, and calls him ‘Tits’ for the rest of the book. In Lord of the Flies, Piggy confesses to Ralph that the children at his school call him Piggy, which Ralph then cruelly reveals to the other boys on the island. Golding never reveals Piggy’s real name, but there is some affection in the nickname at the end of the novel when Ralph remembers a ‘true, wise friend called Piggy’. Ben is also given a nickname by Richie Tozier which is adopted by the Losers’ Club: Haystack. However, this is a term of endearment; Richie, also known as Trashmouth, calls the other Losers a variety of names which become accepted.

Eddie Kaspbrak has asthma, and carries around an aspirator, which eventually becomes a useful weapon against It. Once again, this seems like a nod to Piggy, who announces proudly to Ralph that he ‘was the only boy in our school what had asthma’. Ralph responds ‘Ass-mar?’ and this mis-pronunciation becomes a refrain. There’s a lovely moment in It when Bill Denborough goes to the pharmacy to collect Eddie’s medicine, and on account of his stutter, writes the order, rather than attempt to speak it. In the note Bill writes, ‘He’s got a bad ass-mar attack’.

Despite the horror that surrounds the children in Derry, there is also a beautiful sense of what it means to be a child, and the formative impact of these experiences. As the Losers’ Club starts to come together, there is a joy in these developing friendships:

It was one of those perfect summer days which, in a world where everything was on track and on the beam, you would never forget.

Moments like this also occur early on in Lord of the Flies – there is joy in their new-found freedom, and childish delight in their island surroundings:

Every coign of the mountain held up trees – flowers and trees. Now the forest stirred, roared, flailed. The nearest acres of rock flowers fluttered and for half a minute the breeze blew cool on their faces.
Ralph spread his arms. ‘All ours’.

But for me, the most important link between the two books is the presence of a monster, and I don’t mean a murderous clown, or a ‘snake-thing’/the beast. King writes in It, ‘Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters’. The opening of It features a homophobic attack on Derry visitor Adrian Mellon, and his partner Don tells police that a passing driver ‘never even looked around … No one came to help’. Later, Bill has a ‘feeling that Derry was cold, that Derry was hard, that Derry didn’t much give a shit if any of them lived or died’. When Beverley faces her own attack from Henry, Victor and Belch, an adult witness simply folds his newspaper and goes in his house, rather than trying to help. As Simon in Lord of the Flies says: ‘Maybe there is a beast … Maybe it’s only us’. And the conclusion of the novel, with the Naval Officer staring at his war cruiser, reminds the reader that the tragic events on the island, in the microcosm of the young boys’ society, is merely a scaled-down version of the horrors of the grownups’ war. The scariest thing about It is not Pennywise the Clown. It’s the people who don’t help, the bullies determined to torture the other kids, the parents who abuse their children, through a variety of methods. The Losers’ Club, along with Ralph and Piggy, fight against this ‘darkness’. We all should.