My friend Lindsay had the misfortune of asking me a fairly apocryphal question about Stephen King’s “IT,” and she got a full-on geek answer. “Interesting question. Let me talk your ear off about it for the next thirty minutes …”
Like many people, she had seen the miniseries with Tim Curry but had not read the 1,100+ page book. Her real misfortune is that I have read those 1100+ pages about a gajillion times, know it practically by heart, and love it like a family member.
Spoiler alert – I am hopping thrilled about the upcoming movie. This trailer had me in goosebumps; I watched it at least 10 times a day for the full week after it was released.
Oh, and all kidding aside, actual spoilers ahead.
For the record, I think it was a fine choice to update the movie’s time frame from 1958/1987 to 1988/2017. It makes the concept more contemporary, and I bet we won’t have to deal with any embarrassing utterances of “Bet your fur!” or “Beep Beep, Richie!”
In fact, none of the dialogue featured in either trailer is native to the book. Literally none of it. I’ve read the book so many freaking times, so I’m an expert at this point. For all I know, they threw out every line of dialogue from the King book. Plenty of story beats seem out of place from the book. In the book, Mike never has a vision of the Black Spot fire. Ben never sees a balloon in the library. There’s no scene where Stan, Bill, Richie, and Beverly confront It in the house on Niebolt street – it’s either Richie and Bill, or all seven kids. While Bill does encounter Georgie’s ghost a few times, it’s never in a flooded basement, and there is no literary precedent for that already-classic Pennywise Jump Scare. The equally classic slideshow scene is a period-specific technological update of a scene that involves a photo album. Many liberties are taken.
The movie seems to have stayed faithful to the paper boat scene; Eddie’s encounter with the leper; the blood from the sink (albeit a geyser rather than a spurt) and the Apocalyptic Rockfight. I’m particularly excited about the Rockfight — the limitations of television really took the teeth out of the rockfight in the miniseries, leaving me underwhelmed compared to the harrowing, bloody, triumphant scene in the book. But in the book we never see Stan’s Bar Mitzvah. The kids never have an underwear swimming party in the Barrens. All the dialogue seems fabricated for the movie.
And yet … I’m still thrilled. Because in a way that the miniseries missed, this version, with all the artistic liberties, seems more true to the original. To its tone, spirit, etc. It’s weird, seeing the same characters do totally different things, and yet to still feel more real. None of the dialogue found in the sewer scene in the second trailer is in the book; yet Bill feels like Bill, Richie like Richie, Eddie like Eddie. Stan’s eye rolls look like what Stan would do.
Which brings us to Lindsey’s question – “Did the nerdy kid get fleshed out more in the book?”
I replied that all the kids in “IT” were nerdy. That’s why they were called the Loser’s Club. So she clarified – “The Jewish one.” Oh right, how could I have forgotten that “Jewish” and “nerdy” are synonyms? Okay, in Lindsay’s defence, the character in question also wears bowties and Boy Scout uniforms …
She meant Stan Uris, played in the TV series by Ben Heller. One of the reasons Stan gets the short shrift is that his segment is last. A two-hour network television special is divided into seven acts with six commercial breaks. Perfect, right? Each of the seven Losers gets their own act, framed by Mike’s phone call and their reaction to the realization that It has returned and resumed Its killing spree in their home town after thirty years of dormancy.
So why is it a problem that Stan goes last? That late in the story, all six other characters have been introduced and require story service. Stan is prominently shot throughout the segment, but yeilds time to some of the more pro-active Losers, like Bill, Beverly, and Eddie. Three of his scene partners were genuine stars – then-contemporary child star Jonathan Brandis; future film star Seth Green; and future cult film star Emily Perkins of “Ginger Snaps” and “Juno” fame.
Young Stan is given more to do in the sewer climax than he has in the book, like get caught by Henry Bowers, see It’s true form, and get singled out by Pennywise as the weak link and nearly eaten before Eddie and Beverly save his ass.
Afterwards, as the Losers swear to each other to come back if it turns out It is not dead, Stan is the last and most reluctant to swear, capping off his nominal starring role in this segment. This is a departure from the book, where the oath is practically Stan’s idea. The symbolism of him cutting his friends’ hands for a blood oath is transcendently beautiful … and horrifically ironic, given his fate. In fact, the movie’s representation of Stan’s reluctance squares better with his fate.
Which brings us to reason #2 for finishing the episode with a focus on Stan. It allows Part One of the miniseries to close on the distressing image of Adult Stan’s response to the news of It’s return – suicide. We fade out on the sounds of Stan’s screaming wife and the sight of him dead in the bathtub, wrists cut, the word “IT” scrawled in blood. This is a dark, deeply upsetting cliffhanger that adds stakes to the horror of It and damns the Losers to do battle with the creature in the next episode a man down from the get-go.
So Stan gets a little shortchanged in the miniseries. Does he fare any better in the book? To understand that question, those who have never read the book needs to understand something about its structure. The first chapter details the story of the paper boat and the death of George Denbrough, younger brother of future lead Loser Bill Denbrough, at the hands of a clown in the sewer. This is the first in a series of child murders that It carries out throughout 1958, ending when Bill, Stan, and the other Losers confront It in the sewers.
The next chapter jumps to 1985 and details the murder of Adrian Mellon, seemingly an act of homophobia but with critical clues that while Mellon was attacked by gay bashers, he was finished off by a clown under a footbridge in the town park. Other parallels to Georgie’s death are noted, and this murder kicks off a new killing spree by the revived It.
The third chapter is called “Six Phone Calls.” Keep in mind that this is very early in the book. The six phone calls are, of course, Mike, the Loser who never moved away, calling the six other Losers to inform them that the killings have started again and It is back.
The first recorded call is to Stan. The subchapter is called “Stanley Uris Takes a Bath.”
At this point in the book, we have very little idea of where this is all going. Because of his involvement in the first chapter about his brother’s murder, we have heard of Bill Denbrough. By virtue of dropping in on his adult life, Stan is the second Loser whose name we have learned. The chapter unfurls mostly from his wife’s point of view, and we learn about Stan’s confidence, sexual prowess, and successful career as an accountant. But we also get disturbing glimpses of Stan’s awareness that a darkness haunts his past, disturbing his sleep and rendering him unfertile. He strains to remember, understanding better than any of the others that his life is cursed in a way he can’t put a finger on. It is dramatic foreshadowing … then the call happens, and an hour later Stan is dead.
As a first-time reader, what was I to make of this? As I moved on to the other five sections of the chapter – Richie, Ben, Eddie, Bev, and Bill – I wondered if every section would start with a phone call and end with a suicide. Of course, all the other sections ended with travel plans as the other Losers prepared to return home to face a vaguely-defined demon from their pasts. Mike’s name and various aspects of his character get dropped in conversation, so by this end of this chapter we have met all seven Losers as adults – six adults, and one corpse in the bathtub with cut wrists.
What impact does this have on the story? Of course, in the flashback scenes set in 1958, Stan is 11 years old and alive. However, the reader’s early knowledge of his future suicide casts a pall on every scene he appears in. You can barely read one of his actions or a line of his dialogue without thinking “MARKED FOR DEATH.” This macabre foreknowledge hangs over his character for the next thousand pages in which he appears.
The flashback chapters, similar to the movie, take on the point of view of one of the Losers at a time. First, as they travel back to Derry individually; then, as they explore the town and reconvene in the library at night, we zoom in on each surviving Loser as they are carried away by memories and into a third-person contemporary description of the memory that they are having, with the child version of that Loser usually in a central role.
But Stan is dead by the time these memories start rolling in. Maybe he had too many memories at once and while alone, which was why he killed himself – the enormity of the task ahead crashed in on him all at once and was too much to bear.
In any case, without Stan alive to participate in the slow remembering, no subsequent chapters focus on him. His death removes him from the adult frame of reference that the childhood stories spring off from. He is thus never the main character of one of the childhood stories, like a “Song of Fire and Ice” character who never gets a first-person chapter.
In this way, Stan once again gets the short shrift. Is this to be expected? He is one of the quieter and more prissy members of an already large collection of protagonists. But I always loved Stan … maybe because I love losers (no pun intended) and the foreknowledge of his untimely death made him the biggest loser of them all. He had moments of great weakness and terror; but also moments of incredible courage. He breaks down in the sewer – “I can stand being scared, but I HATE being dirty!” – but later saves the whole gang by using his birding book as a talisman to ward off It. His Spock-like commitment to logic makes him vulnerable to the madness of It, but his habit of cleanliness allows him to be the quiet hero of his first encounter with Bev. After It causes blood to spurt from her sink and cover the bathroom, Bev runs terrified and finds the first Losers she can – Ben, Eddie, and Stan. Stan can’t explain blood from a sink, but he can clean a bathroom, so he takes charge of the quartet mopping up the blood and then taking the cleaning rags to the laundromat, so that Bev has a clean bathroom to use. Stan is funny and self-effacing through it all, and Bev’s gratitude makes him look ten feet tall.
The first trailer for the new movie prominently features Bill, Ben, Bev, and Eddie. Richie gets involved in Trailer 2, and so, for that matter, does Stan. (Although he gets a cool close-up in Trailer 1, we still haven’t heard from Mike.) The adult storyline plays no part in the first of what is expected to be a two-movie series directed by Muschietti, so maybe Stan will get equal footing with the rest of the Losers. But there will still be the Bill/Ben/Bev love triangle to focus on, and they cast another genuine child star as Richie – Finn Wolfhard, star of the VERY “It”-influenced Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
And even shifted forward several decades and with all-new dialogue, the dynamics seem to have stayed the same. For those of us in the know, Stan is still marked.
Who is your favorite character in “It,” not counting Pennywise or one of It’s many forms?