When I travel, I want to see as many places as possible. In America, I want to hit all the states, see all the monuments. Overseas, I want to plant my feet on every continent, bring back a little earth from every region. When I read books or see movies, I want the experience to be as equally complete. One trip to Elmore Leonard’s Detroit is not enough. Check the box marked City Primeval and move directly to 52 Pickup. The same goes for Stephen King‘s Maine. One haunt is not sufficient.
IT is a massive beast of a novel. Obviously, the story is not even properly contained inside two movies. As the reader roams through its pages, they bump against dozens of references to other unsavory sagas. The mind wanders, gets curious, and a little hungry. The claws of Pennywise the Clown can be felt all over Stephen King’s country. Even after Its final confrontation with The Losers, the malignant force holds sway over not just its Maine, but our Maine as well, and a myriad of other-dimensional possibilities.
Let’s take a tour. Let’s dip in and out of the King novels that contain a significant connection to the beast that feeds on fear. With IT: Chapter Two on the horizon, I attempt to avoid major spoilers, but be warned, this expedition reveals a few key elements that the most sensitive moviegoers may not want to know.
The Shining (1976)
Mike Hanlon, the kid who stayed in Derry while the rest of The Losers fled, is the son of a man saved by Overlook Hotel cook Dick Halloran. During an IT flashback sequence, we witness Halloran as a young soldier rescue Mike’s father from a catastrophic fire that consumed a Prohibition-era dance club. The blaze was sparked by a group of racists and is just one of many indications of the deep evil seething beneath the community. At the time of the fire, none of the survivors understood how Halloran was able to navigate his way through the smoke and rubble, but King’s constant readers understand that Halloran’s psychic gift comes in handy for plenty of folks…unless you’re of the cinematic Scatman Crothers variety.
The Dead Zone (1979)
Derry is not the only town in Maine with a murderous past. Just as famous, maybe even more so, is the sleepy burg of Castle Rock. It’s where Cujo went mad with rabies, Thad Beaumont battled his psychotic pseudonym in The Dark Half, and sheriff’s deputy Frank Dodd murdered dozens in The Dead Zone. Dodd’s killing spree made quite the impression on The Losers. Beverly Marsh refers to the serial killer in the pages of IT as she’s considering the monstrous effect of Pennywise on their hometown. Humanity can be awful, but sometimes there is a demon pulling the strings.
The Mist (1980)
A secret military organization known only as The Shop conducts dimensional experiments dubbed “Project Arrowhead” in the New England town of Shaymore. Their tinkering seeps into Todash Space, a limbo well-traveled in The Dark Tower books, and believed to be the Macroverse where the Pennywise entity originated. The slippery and tentacled beasts that spill forth from the limbo trap a group of customers within a local grocery mart. Inside, the humans must put aside their fears and band together against the creepy crawlies at their door. The challenge proves too difficult for most. The Shop learns little from their experiments, and reappear in Firestarter, the Golden Years miniseries, The Lawnmower Man movie adaptation, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, and The Langoliers miniseries.
The Running Man (1982)
The first reference to Derry arrives in one of King’s most off-kilter works. Not that The Running Man is any stranger in content than say IT or The Stand, but the dystopian 2025 hellscape certainly stands apart from the other commonly contemporary settings of his novels. Of course, the story was originally published under the pen name of Richard Bachman, and most of the Bachman books explore wilder and wider concepts than the usual King fare.
If all you know about The Running Man is the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, then please, read this book immediately. The American economy is in shambles. The cities are crumbling. Violence is a way of life for most, and a necessary tool for survival. Ben Richards’ daughter is gravely ill, and his wife has turned to prostitution to make ends meet. With nowhere else to turn, the family man volunteers to participate in a deadly cross-country game show known as The Running Man. The rules are simple: go anywhere and do anything to survive a 30-day pursuit conducted by savage “Hunters.” Survive and win a billion dollars.
Merely a few days into the chase, Richards carjacks a woman in Portland, Maine, and drags her to a jetport in Derry. The Hunters are waiting, but he pretends to have an explosive device strapped to his chest and weasels his way aboard a plane. To say the least, he does not find much solace in the air.
Near the end of IT, the adult bully Henry Bowers escapes from a mental asylum with the assistance of Pennywise the Clown. Kind enough to provide his servant with a ride, a split red and ivory colored 1958 Plymouth Fury pulls up to the curb with his dead pal Belch behind the steering wheel. His wheels are identical to the demonic car that plagued poor Arnie Cunningham in Christine published a few years earlier. In that novel, it was emphatically stated that Plymouth did not produce cars with that unique color scheme in ’58 making this “bad to the bone” monstrosity a one-of-a-kind custom. While sitting in the car, Arnie’s girlfriend nearly chokes to death as the dashboard lights glow like glaring green eyes. That sounds like Pennywise’s penetrating deadlights, to me. It should also be noted that The Shining‘s Dick Halloran also drove a Fury and that the red and white variety appears multiple times in 11/22/63. More on that in a minute.
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