Greetings, all! This entry in the ongoing It postmortem is going to be a little shorter than usual, for a few reasons. Chief among these is that I (largely) saved the flattest characters for last in this three-part chapter on the Losers’ Club; not that this means I dislike these last few guys (as I said before, Richie ranks with Bev and Mike as my favorite character in the book), just that there’s less to pick at in their characters. Secondary reasons include the dread god Midterms and some fiction writing that’s been taking up a good deal of my time. Your regularly scheduled two entries per week will hopefully return after this weekend with an analysis of The Descent and another chapter in the It series. Until then, the final Losers!
Richie Tozier: the trashmouth
Richie Tozier fits comfortably into one of King’s tried and true character archetypes, the Wise Guy. One thing that often gets overlooked in discussions of King’s literary merits is his sense of humor, which tends to be best displayed in this kind of character—Richie, Eddie Dean from the Dark Tower series, to an extent Larry Underwood from The Stand, etc. Eddie is without doubt the most complex of the lot, and probably the best—spending time with a man for six books will inevitably reveal more about him than one book will, even if that book is a 1,000-page behemoth. Richie is a close second, however, as far as sheer likability is concerned.
He’s not a particularly complex character, Richie. There’s more to him than just comic relief—his compulsive trashmouth is a defense mechanism against fear rather than a duty shoved upon him by his author—but he’s never explored to the same extent that most of his companions are. Only Stan receives fewer viewpoint chapters (namely: almost none). And so, while Richie gets more text devoted to him than either Mike or Eddie, we don’t get nearly as deep a glimpse into his psyche. That said, he is rather funny, walking an uneasy line between humor and obnoxiousness that he never quite runs afoul of. His adult wit is genuine, and his attempts at jokes as a child, while wince-inducing, are precisely what’s needed to keep the book’s tension from building too high, releasing steam at regular intervals. It’s horribly unfortunate that the 1990s television adaptation wasn’t pitched as a serious feature film series with more prestige attached, because the Robin Williams of that time period would have been an almost eerily perfect casting choice, what with the two’s shared interest for manic Voices.
Upon re-reading, Richie’s introduction in “Six Phone Calls” is one of the most effective of the lot. The creeping dread that almost overpowers him in this section, so much at odds with his almost hysterically manic personality, is near-tangible, especially coming off of Stan’s suicide—this is true even on a first read, but 1,000 further pages of acquaintance with the Trashmouth provide a wealth of context that emphasizes his horrible fear even further. Lesser instances of terror that strike him throughout the novel have a similar effect.
His sheer absurdity also wields, with all the finesse of a spiked mace, a powerful emotional force. As hokey a device as his being able to drive an eldritch abomination back with an Irish Cop impersonation is, in the moment the reader buys it completely and joyfully. It’s a memorable if on-the-nose microcosm of one of the novel’s chief themes, that of laughter driving out fear, and if King expressed it more subtly elsewhere he never did it as powerfully.
Ben Hanscom: the haystack
In terms of memorability, Ben is perhaps the biggest victim of the Losers’ Club’s transition to adulthood. There’s not much at all to say about his grown-up self; like all of his compatriots, his introduction in “Six Phone Calls” is soaked in dread, but once this passage passes, we’re left with a man who isn’t easily describable because there’s simply not much to describe. Like Bill, he’s not unpleasant, but neither is he interesting—he does his part and fights the good fight, and if we’re happy for him and Bev at the end it’s largely due to our memories of his childhood self.
That child is broadly drawn—he and Eddie are two sides of the same coin, one rendered horribly unhealthy due to a smothering mother and one rendered horribly paranoid due to the same. He’s a sweet kid, though, earnest and brave and gentle. His attraction to Beverly is the most openly sexual of any of the Losers’, but written as King writes him Ben could never act on that attraction in an unsavory manner. He’s not a “nice guy” who wears that label solely to seduce Beverly Marsh; she matters to him as a person and as a friend, and if he’d die for her, well, he’d die for any of his companions. This doesn’t remedy the troublesome aspects of every single one of Beverly’s male friends bearing a sexual attraction for her, but Ben’s is at least balanced by his loyalty and friendship. And as is shown several times throughout the text—especially in their decision to leave Derry together at the book’s conclusion—the attraction, in this particular case, is mutual.
Stanley Uris: the one who got away
Stan Uris is never given the chance to tell his own story. Not a single viewpoint chapter is entirely devoted to him, an artistic choice that is foreshadowed when his introduction, the first of the “Six Phone Calls”, is seen through the eyes of his wife.
The choice to write his suicide in this manner was the necessary one. There is the practical note that if we view Stan’s death from his perspective, there’s no way to capture the image of his exsanguinated body floating in bathwater, a massive IT scrawled in blood on the side of the tub. More important, it is essential that his thought process leading up to the act remain obscured. The questions that his death prompts—what could have made him do this? What could fill a grown man with that much fear? What in God’s name is this It?—are far more haunting and disturbing when they lack even the opportunity for answers, when the reader experiences them as Stan’s wife does. Her mounting dread as she summons the courage to open the bathroom door and see what’s happened sits in the pit of one’s stomach far more than her husband’s, relatively devoid of context at this point, ever could.
One of our brief flits into Stan’s head is also one of the most important thematic passages in the entire novel, and is as elegant an example as any of a compact definition of supernatural horror. It deserves to be quoted at length, and will be, but not here—it’s too relevant to a future chapter on the cosmogony (and indeed theology) of It to be placed at the end of this section. Suffice to say that, if Eddie takes the most adult actions of the group in his hospital conversation with his mother, Stan has the most adult worldview of them all, even if he cannot formulate it verbally. It’s what proves to be his undoing, in the end. The other Losers struggle to return to their childhood belief in the power of magic—Stan never really had it at all.
(to be continued)