Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Interesting Interpretation of Stephen King's 'IT'

I re-read 'IT' recently...well, relatively recently. Time moves pretty fast when you have a busy life, which is why I'm posting my Monday entry on Thursday. The point is, on re-reading it, I was struck by the idea that It doesn't actually seem to be very intelligent. That is, in all the scenes where it's interacting with people, it seems to be calculating and manipulative, finding people's secret phobic pressure points and skillfully working on them to extract the utmost in paralytic terror...

But in the scenes towards the end that are told from Its perspective, it doesn't seem to be much more than a mindless animal that kills and eats and sleeps. And it's interesting to re-read it in that light and consider the idea that maybe It's not intelligent at all. After all, just because something is capable of complex behavior doesn't mean it's actually reasoning; beavers build very complicated dams, but they do so purely on instinct. What if It works the same way?

Assuming It's telepathic (which seems pretty obvious from the book), it seems likely that it's capable of finding and reflecting our fears without ever actually understanding what they are. "If I look like this," It says to Itself, "and I make these noises that I see in that person's head, it will make them scared because this is what they are most scared of." Whether that fear is the Creature from the Black Lagoon or prostate cancer, it doesn't really matter to It. The fear is ours, the shape comes from us. Like all the old stories of a glamour, what we really see is ourselves reflected back at us. Even its attempts to scare off the Losers is nothing more than the blind reflex of a cornered animal, no different from a cat hissing or a rattlesnake's rattle save that we give it a more nuanced texture with our own thoughts.

Which means, of course, that in the end It's faintly pathetic. Because if It needs fear, if It feeds on fear (something King is ambiguous one point, he suggests that the feeding is only because it's such a primal fear, but at another, he suggests that the fear merely seasons the meat...) Then it's never realized that it could live just as long by scaring the same people over and over. We're always scared by the same stories, always trembling at the same myths. Unlike animals, who eventually calm down once they no longer have the threat of harm, people can be scared again and again and delight in it each time. Whatever It is, It's old and sad and probably needed to be put out of Its misery.

(Unlike Misery, who probably should have been left alive. That writer was just being a dick. But that's another post.)

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