I’ve read Stephen King’s It twice. First without any kids of my own, just a young MA student at Auburn. I read snatches on the front stoop of my townhouse, sitting in a blue camper chair. I remember the hot Alabama sun overhead as I made my way through the layered conclusion where King moves the reader from the seven kids battling It in 1958 and then as adults in 1985. Second with kids of my own, two here and one on the way. I read snatches on the back porch, watching the leaves change and then fall. I re-read the layered conclusion sitting in my garage with the rain falling outside and the cold wind walking down the road.
I came back to It because of the kids, mine and the characters. I don’t re-read fiction—no real reason, I just don’t. But I came back to It. I remembered the seven young kids as central to the narrative. I could remember bits and pieces of the 1000 plus page book—Georgie’s gruesome death, the odd werewolf popping out of the toilet, the Spider in the sewers, Bill riding his bicycle at the end—but what I remembered most was that it was a story about kids and the power of a kid’s faith, imagination, love, passion, freedom.
With two kids running around my house, with another kid preparing to join his/her brother and sister, my mind is often on kids. And when I re-read It, I looked for passages like this one found on page 855-856 in my edition; the final paragraph before the final section of the book.
“And now, now that we no longer believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Hansel and Gretel, or the troll under the bridge, It is ready for us. Come back, It says. Come on back, let’s finish our business in Derry. Bring your jacks and your marbles and your yo-yos! We’ll play! Come on back and we’ll see if you remember the simplest things of all: how it is be children, secure in belief and thus afraid of the dark”
I came across this line the day my son pleaded (every so adamantly) for Amy and I to buy him some jacks at Hobby Lobby. We bought them. He played with them for a day. Fast forward three days and I am picking up jacks scattered around the house, under the sofa, in the shower, in the pantry.
I brought my self to the pages of It. The words King crafted worked because they resonated with my prior experiences. Readers—and writers—bring a lifeworld of experiences to bear on the words on the page. I have the opportunity to work with upwards of 60 writers each semester at the University of North Georgia and one thing try so hard to remember and act upon is that I am working with writers who bring these lifeworld of experiences to bear on the words they craft in our class.
Writing researchers are currently thinking hard about the role prior knowledge plays in how writers develop as writers. Yet, I wonder how prior knowledge impacts our reading practices. How does what we know, what we have experienced, impact how we approach the words on the page?
As I finished It for the second time, I promised myself to return to the book again at a different milestone in my life: the kids grown and out on their own. How might I react to the narrative of the seven brave middle-schoolers and their epic battle with the shape shifting entity in the sewers? Differently, I am sure. And that is the power of writing and story.
And my son and the jacks? The ones I picked up, I carried into his room after he had fallen asleep. I dropped them into the bag with the other jacks, pulled his blanket tight against his chest, and left his room. Of course, I made sure his night light was on. He is oh so secure in his belief, as King wrote: he believes in his parents, his sister, his grandparents; he believes in love and loving.
But he is oh so afraid of the dark.