SPOILERS: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ IT AND DO NOT WISH IT SPOILT, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS POST!
There is one scene from Stephen King’s most famous book IT (I reviewed yesterday) that appears to be the major talking point of the book even now decades later. The scene has divided audiences between those who say that it was unnecessary and those who feel it was the most necessary part of the story at the time.
I am, of course, referring to the scene in which Beverly (as a 13 year old girl) has sex with all six of the boys – one after the other. Naturally, I was shocked. It seems you can get away with things in books that films would never permit, although in the early 1980s when this was written we were a lot less uncomfortable with such things.
I am not surprised that I do not remember this scene from the TV series, because it never happened. It was never going to happen, at least to the child characters.
It makes for uncomfortable reading and at first I questioned why it was even in there. When I read it for the second time recently, I felt exactly the same way. Even Beverly’s logic for offering herself to the boys seems flawed, and at the time, King did not really give a clear explanation for why Beverly thought it was a good idea and the only way to get them all out of the sewers that was IT’s lair.
Reading comments all over the net though, there is a surprising number of people defending the scene in terms of what it comes to represent as a broader plot point of the story’s theme. User Sophie on GoodReads sums up the defence perfectly:
I don’t have an issue with the scene or ending on a bunch of levels. For one, although the kids are technically having sex, it didn’t read as eroticized for me. For another, Bev is reclaiming something in that scene…her sense of self and power. Something her father was trying to take away, and something that she loses later on in her abusive marriage. So it didn’t feel out of nowhere to me at all, but an element of Bev she repressed, a time when she moved from child to adult, on her own terms. A time when she had power she forgot.
The other reality is that kids do have sexual thoughts, feelings, and even actions. That’s not wrong or bad when expressed with other kids. In the context of the story, they’ve all just experienced a kind of cosmic terror: the “sex” is a very human act, intimate, with love. So I wouldn’t categorize it as a “gang bang” or otherwise diminish it, nor does it make King a “perv”. Writing about something doesn’t mean you, personally, would do it. And writing about kids having a sexual experience doesn’t mean a grown up finds kids sexually appealing. It’s a little dangerous to act like writers must want to do everything they write about…Pennywise killed a lot of kids in that book…I don’t think anyone thinks King is a wannabe child murderer.
Sophie is right. There is nothing erotic about this scene nor is it presented in an erotic way. Even in the 1970s, to do so it would have made the scene indefensible. The boys are each terrified of what is about to happen. Only one of them appears to orgasm. They are neither physically nor emotionally ready to do what they do with Beverly.
For Beverley’s part, she has spent her life being abused. Her father – though not sexually abusive – hits her. During her childhood, she is subject to unwarranted and unwanted sexual attention from Henry Bowers, the local bully who has spent years making “The Loser’s Club” a living hell. This pattern is repeated in her later marriage. This was her first act of freely-given and received love. She loved the boys, though with the exception of one not in a romantic way, as she realised they were the only ones who had treated her with kindness, love and respect. This was her way of giving that back to them.
IT as a Representation of Childhood Fears
There is a reason why IT kills children and not adults. This is explained in the book. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say that it is about childhood fears that we discard as we become adults and replace them with more rational fears. After beating IT for the second time in their childhood and sending it prematurely into hiding, they get lost in the sewers. This confusion is part of the feeling lost as a child. This is when Beverly feels that a symbolic act of passing into adulthood is required – and she has sex with all six boys.
Sex is terrifying when we are children, no matter how much we feel we can’t wait to do it, and no matter how much we might brag about doing “it” all the time. When it comes to it, that first time is a bag of uncontrolled nerves. We finally feel like adults afterwards. For “The Loser’s Club” that passing from childhood to adulthood was about feeling grown up and letting go of fears. This scene is perfectly complemented during the storm in which the glass tunnel between the two libraries (children and adults) is destroyed.
Asked many years later, King had this to say about the sex scene:
I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children–we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.
I think this is a debate that will never go away. I was willing to challenge my initial discomfort and here we have several very good explanations. Does anyone else have thoughts on this scene?