There’s something undeniably beautiful about roots. From precious daffodils that pop up along the grassy banks by the side of the road, to the tarmac breaking, pavement cracking knuckles that emerge two, three, even four feet away from the tree that they sustain. If you were to think about the heaviest organism on Earth, the blue whale might pop to mind. Maybe an African elephant. You might try and be clever and say something like, “well if you took all the algae in the ocean…” but the title for the worlds heaviest organism goes to a forest in Colorado. A forest called Pando. Pando is not a forest per se, but instead each tree is a shoot of a single seed that grew in the ground and each tree is fed via the same network of roots. If one tree is malnourished, the rest send it the nutrients it needs to survive, somewhat like a natural version of the European Union though with far more offshoots. Each are connected to the other, Pando is one living, breathing, sunlight gulping being – exactly like Derry, Maine.
The Atmosphere of Derry Maine
Before there was Derry, before there were humans at all, there was a seed that fell to Earth from the sky. That seed was something inconceivable, something evil. Millions of years later, Derry sprouted from this seed, each building a tree, each person a ray of sunlight feeding the metal roots that a dark creature was lurking in below. King writes that Derry has a murder rate “six times the national average” and the reason for that is the monster that travels throughout Derry through its sewers – Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Through Pennywise, Derry becomes a character in Stephen King’s IT like any member of the Loser’s Club. It breathes, it feels, it suffocates, and it calls out to those who leave it to return. Pennywise may haunt Derry, but Derry traps and dazes everyone who lives inside it just as insidiously.
Pennywise feasts on the people that Derry ensnares. While Pennywise emerges to feast from its hibernation every twenty-seven to twenty-eight years, Derry keeps a ready stock of cattle ready to be tortured and devoured. Derry is Pennywise’s Venus fly trap through a subliminal fog of hatred, stoicism, and violence that keep the adults of Derry in a fug of television, shopping, and ‘minding their own business.’ Nowhere is this seen better than in the film when Henry Bowers is about carve his name in Ben Hanscom’s stomach. A car drives by with two adults inside that gawk at the boys with the same fascination you would rubberneck an accident on the motorway. As they drive by, in their rear-view mirror a red balloon emerges, symbolising Pennywise’s involvement in their abandonment of their adult responsibility to intervene. Derry and Pennywise form a symbiotic relationship with one another in which Derry too can feed off the people it traps within its limits.
One of the most striking aspects of Derry, however, is how the apathy of its citizens are used allegorically for King’s own fascination with the American population’s lethargy towards many of the themes King espouses in IT. Each era of the novel, when the Loser’s club are children and then again when they return as adults, begin with a confluence of irrational hate, and extreme violence. Racism and homophobia, especially in the 80’s when the novel was written over four years, were equally – if not more – entrenched than they are in today’s politics, especially in rural areas such as Derry. Pennywise, in this instance, doesn’t manufacture this intolerance, but exacerbates it like a child with a magnifying glass amplifying the sunlight to burn a pile of leaves, an ant, a fly with its wings torn off. Derry, in this instance, becomes more than a fictional town west of Bangor, but a symbol for all American rural communities. The transference of Pennywise’s ability to so easily manipulate a population not unlike any other in America, is fascinatingly terrifying.
At its heart, Derry is the feeding ground of Pennywise – of It – a small town whose only claim to fame is a murder rate six times that of the national average. But, when we step back from the atrocities that litter its history like discarded cups and burger wrappers along the motorway, we see that Derry is a playground for evil, a crucible of pent up American conservative anxieties crashing into the modern world of the Loser’s Club (and any children’s) imagination towards a better, more inclusive future. There is a reason that Pennywise likes to devour children, it finds it easier to scare them, to turn their not-yet-dulled intense imaginations against them and scar them with their deepest fears. And that may explain the adult’s indifference to the loss of their children, there’s less threat to the stability of their world, the world that they built to suit themselves. Nothing scares the status quo more than a child with an unbridled imagination.
Art by Kassiopeya
Last Updated on February 23, 2022.