Posted on June 26, 2021

Memories Worth Keeping: Adaptational Changes in IT: Chapter 2

Guest Post

Stephen King’s IT – and, later, the Andy Muschietti adaptations – have been vital to my journey as a horror fan and an aspiring fantasy/horror writer, and as an important way to think about change. I read IT during the summer of 2018, after moving from the home I had lived in for 12 years. While I approached the novel thinking I had hit the jackpot of horror, I found myself more moved by the strong bond that the Losers’ Club formed as adolescents, which made the disintegration of these friendships in adulthood all the more tragic. In many ways, IT shares more DNA with Stand By Me (a non-horror adaptation, based on King’s short story “The Body”) than some of his other horror novels. Both works are coming-of-age stories that see seemingly unshakeable friendships tested by fears and anxieties – some are explicitly horror-related, such as Pennywise, but others are more existential: how long will we remain friends? Adulthood, in these stories, seems to be more of a source of horror – or, at least, anxiety – than any monster or bully, and yet when it comes, it happens gradually. Adulthood’s arrival is not heralded by ominous music or a jumpscare, it just… happens, and childhood friendships that seemed strong don’t always last.

Stand by Me (1986)

There were many deviations from the original source material in IT: Chapter 2, one of the most striking being that the surviving members of the Losers’ Club get to keep their memories of Derry and of each other after defeating Pennywise. The original novel ended with Mike’s final diary entries, where he expresses his anxieties about his fading memories of Derry and the uncertainty of starting a new life unconnected to Derry. The final lines of his final entry: “I loved you guys, you know. I loved you so much.” There is an epilogue following this, in which Bill reminisces about childhood, mortality, and friendship: “He almost remembers his childhood, and the friends with whom he shared it.” In contrast, Chapter 2 ends not just with Bill remembering his childhood friends, but the film ends on a scene featuring the younger cast declaring their pride in being “Losers” and riding bikes together.

IT: Chapter 2 (2019)

That leads me to a question I’ve been thinking about since I first watched Chapter 2: Why change the ending? The obvious answer is rooted in catharsis. The film’s ending, where everyone remembers everything, certainly feels better – it’s still a bittersweet ending due to the deaths of Stan and Eddie, and because everyone goes their separate ways – but ending on a Spielbergian scene of kids on bikes is pure nostalgia fuel. It also reaffirms the main idea of both the novel and the two films about the importance of finding strength in friendships. As Bill said in Chapter 1, “if we stick together, all of us, we’ll win.” One of the most powerful aspects of King’s works is the idea of a Great Good coming to fight a Great Evil. In the case of IT, the bond between the Losers is enough to defeat an extraterrestrial demon. With the Great Evil vanquished, it feels right to end on a moment in which the Losers are not afraid but joyful, having fun together during a special childhood summer that comes around only once in a lifetime.

Where this happier ending may fall short in comparison to the novel’s ending is that some of the emotional weight that comes with King’s original ending is lost. At the end of Chapter 2, Bill and Mike discuss the fact that they’ve kept all of their memories. Bill suggests that perhaps it’s because Pennywise no longer has a hold over them or Derry. The other idea Bill suggests is that maybe it was because they “have more they want to remember.” This feels unfair to the Losers of the book, especially thinking about Mike’s final diary entries. The Losers of the book desperately want to remember, but they can’t. Some aspects of life are out of their control, including what they can and can’t remember about Derry. King’s decision to not end on a note of satisfying closure is pointedly unsettling. The status quo that Derry – or Pennywise’s control over Derry – created is now at an end. It makes sense that the relationships forged in Derry would end, too. The metaphor for coming of age and, as a result, leaving behind childhood friendships, is obvious.

The way Chapter 2 deals with ideas of memory is by having each surviving member of the Losers’ Club go on an individual journey to collect a token which captures an important aspect of their adolescence. They go back into the past, so to speak, which is symbolized with flashbacks to the Losers’ younger selves. The idea of confronting the past and coming out stronger – from Bill making peace with the fact that his brother is truly gone, to Ben and Beverly finding each other at their loneliest, to Richie realizing and accepting his feelings for Eddie – is a core theme of the film. Having one of the final scenes of the film be of Richie recarving the initials R+E into a bridge shows that he will not forget the memory of his best friend (and love interest). The Losers don’t just want to retain their memories, they need to, especially for a character like Richie. It would be cruel and tasteless to have Richie forget his memories of Eddie, invalidating his character arc. To have all of the work and character growth that strengthened all the Losers undone by the end of the film would be unsatisfying – not least because the expectations of directing a much anticipated sequel, where audiences have a need for closure, are different from writing a stand-alone epic horror novel.

At the end of the day, both endings are bittersweet, and there are sacrifices on both ends. In the novel, the adult Losers get to live without their horrific memories of Derry and Pennywise, but at great cost. In the film, the Losers get to keep their memories – the pleasant childhood memories as well as the terrifying and tragic ones, which will no doubt continue to affect and shape them. Bill’s analysis of the situation – that they have memories that are worth remembering, and memories that they want to remember – takes the agency away from Derry/Pennywise, which were responsible for taking away their memories when they first moved away – and gives it back to them. It is their final victory as a group, and that is the most important sign that Pennywise is well and truly defeated.

Hayley Dietrich recently graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in English. Graduating inspired this write-up; one of her favorite college memories is watching IT: Chapter 2 with two close friends in theaters when it came out in September 2019. Hayley will be attending the University of South Florida in the fall to work towards an MFA in fiction writing. She has written for Horror Homeroom before, on heroic nihilism in Cube and horror noir in Candyman. And for more of her writing about small towns and killer clowns, check out her article on Clown in a Cornfield.

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