A story my mother often tells involves a porcelain clown and its subsequent demise at the hands of her favorite son. As legend would have it—yes, legend—my two-year-old self decided the clown was an affront to humanity, and smashed it with a baseball before it could infect the world with its evil. It’s not a particularly interesting story, but it comes up whenever conversation turns to clown phobia, which many people admittedly have. I suppose the story serves as a confirmation for those who are afraid of clowns. It’s a parable that verifies—yes, indeed—clowns are inherently evil, even a two-year-old child can see that.
A not-so-interesting fact never mentioned in the story’s retelling is that while my two-year-old self was shattering that porcelain clown in 1982, Stephen King was holed up in Bangor, Maine, writing his horror classic “It.” For those who don’t know, “It” is a story about children fighting against an evil entity that has taken the form of a clown.
The more I think about that coincidence the creepier it gets. It’s not an earth-shattering coincidence the likes of which would make someone believe in the supernatural and immediately tremble in fear. The fear is subtle; it gnaws at you. It causes that moment of discomfort in the recesses of your brain, and then you begin doubting reality.
It’s an unspectacular coincidence, my mind says. Something like it probably happened to tons of kids at that time. It’s a stupid thought...
But it IS sort of weird…
And then, of course, the overactive imagination takes over. What if King was literally writing at the moment I stopped and turned to look at the porcelain clown? What if it was a particularly grisly scene where a child was being attacked by the big baddie of King’s novel, Pennywise the Clown? What if I stared at the porcelain clown in my bedroom and heard the clack-clack of a distant typewriter just as a chill ran the length of my back? Maybe I grabbed the baseball at that moment for comfort; never letting my eyes leave the motionless porcelain clown, intuition telling me something was wrong. Maybe at that exact second Stephen King was typing the description of Pennywise the Clown reaching toward young Ben Hanscom, while in my bedroom I saw—or thought I saw—the eyes of my porcelain clown move ever so slightly in my direction. Maybe a voice echoed in my head asking me if I wanted a balloon. Maybe it told me I could float. Maybe at that moment the red painted smile of the porcelain clown opened slowly to reveal a row of jagged rotting teeth, and terrified, I threw the baseball as hard as I could, wishing for it all to end.
Maybe our imaginations can run away with us sometimes.
I recently read Stephen King’s “It,” after wanting to see the new movie, but procrastinating long enough that it had left my local theater. Reading the book seemed a good substitute. I won’t review the book here, as it seems a foolish thing to do more than thirty years after the release of said book. Especially when the book is already considered a classic of its genre. My opinion seems rather inconsequential. I will say this, however: “It” haunts me.
I sit and think about why the book haunts me, and it is not just the story, its themes, and concepts I can’t shake. I’m haunted by the real life inception of the book. I’m haunted by the possibilities of what was going on in Stephen King’s head when he wrote “It.”
It would take a lot more writing than a simple blog post to really dive into this topic—and frankly, I don’t really want to dive into it—but boiled down to its essence is this: Stephen King wrote a horror book about terrible things happening to a group of eleven-year-old kids (six boys; one girl), and he began writing this book just a few months after his own daughter had turned eleven. Again, his daughter turned eleven, and King spent the next four years writing about terrible things happening to children of her age. He wrote things violent, he wrote things emotional, and he even wrote things sexual.
Now, I understand that as writers we very often take inspiration from our own lives to create stories. That is not a new concept by any means. I used my own experience with adopting a rescue dog to fuel the story of “The Dean Machine.” To a large degree, I get it. But I just can’t get past the idea of having an eleven-year-old-daughter and then writing “It.”
I suppose if I really think about it, it’s only natural to be afraid that certain things might happen to your daughter. You want to protect her from life and its pitfalls. Your mind might go to some dark places when thinking of the things you want to protect her from, and as a writer you might use your own fears to fuel your work.
But in “It,” the thing that terrifies, and abuses the little girl the most isn’t the clown, or even the outside world. The bad guy in her life is her father. It’s as if Stephen King’s greatest fear for his daughter, was what he might do to her. I can’t shake the feeling that Stephen King wrote “It” to scare himself. Like the book is his own personal worst nightmare.
I don’t know. I’m probably over thinking all of this. But I guess that’s what I find haunting. The idea that maybe our imaginations can run away with us sometimes.
Dylan Lee Peters is the author of the fantasy adventure series "Everflame," the sci-fi fantasy "The Dean Machine," and most recently the epic fantasy series "The Hands of Ruin."