Study Guide

Ben Hanscom in It

By Stephen King

Ben Hanscom

Library Loner

Back in the bad old days of '58, Ben Hanscom is a punchline (for a really mean, late-1950s kind of joke). He's a tubby kid who loves the library and has no friends. He has a stressed single mother who works overtime to make ends meet, and so ends up showering her kid in calories. All of that adds up to Ben being the subject of some pretty fearsome bullying. The meanest kid in school, Henry Bowers, even carves his first initial into the flesh of Ben's tummy because Ben doesn't let him cheat off his test.

Ben's childhood years are also defined by his yearning: he has a pretty severe case of puppy love when it comes to Beverly. He spends a whole lot of energy just staring at her…although he's never a creep about it.

Check it out:

She went quickly down the steps and Ben saw everything with his lover’s eye: the bright tartan of her skirt, the bounce of her red hair against the back of her sweater, her milky complexion, a small healing cut across the back of one calf, and (for some reason this last caused another wave of feeling to sweep him so powerfully he had to grope for the railing again; the feeling was huge, inarticulate, mercifully brief; perhaps a sexual pre-signal, meaningless to his body, where the endocrine glands still slept almost without dreaming, yet as bright as summer heat-lightning) a bright golden ankle bracelet she wore just above her right loafer, winking back the sun in brilliant little flashes. (4.3.12)

Poor Ben yearns for Beverly almost constantly, and even sends her a haiku written on the back of a postcard. Unfortunately for him, she prefers Bill who, as we discussed in his character analysis, is pretty dang near perfect.

Ben's a brain: he has an intellect that allows him to design sturdy dams and dug-out shelters without consulting engineering manuals. It's easy to see how Mr. Hanscom goes from mistreated chubby kid to being considered the world's best young architect.

The Mouth That Eats Itself

Ben's childhood phobia isn't all that character-revealing—dude just sees a nasty-looking mummy because he'd recently seen the movie The Mummy. (No, not the campy Brendan Frasier flick. Remember: this goes down in 1958.)

But later, when adult Ben sees It hanging out in the Derry Library (so, basically Ben Hanscom's Happy Place), he encounters a nasty, vampiric Pennywise with literal razor blades for teeth. And this is what happens:

Its mouth dropped open, revealing a mouthful of Gillette Blue-Blades that had been set in the gums at angles; it was like looking into a deadly mirror-maze where a single misstep could get you cut in half.

“KEEE-RUNCH!” it screamed, and its jaws snapped closed. Blood gouted from its mouth in a redblack flood. Chunks of its severed lips fell to the glowing white silk of its formal shirt and slid down its front, leaving snail-trails of blood behind. (11.1.87)

The symbolism of this act of self-cannibalization seems to spring pretty much from the memory the now-slim Ben has of being bullied for being overweight. He was the subject of fairly hellish abuse, and his self-esteem was shot. The excess eating that Ben did ended up eroding—or eating away—his feelings of self-worth, and his happiness. And the memories still haunt him. He mentions the pain of having been "a fat kid" pretty often, even as a skinny adult. No wonder Pennywise jumps on this.

Ben Gets The Girl

We have to say: Ben's happily-ever-after may be the most fairy tale-esque of all. A huge part of this comes from the fact that he ends up with Beverly, his childhood dream crush.

Ben's role in It, both as a child and as an adult, is to play it straight and dole out information. It's not a very seductive role—he's neither the hero nor the jaunty sidekick. In fact, let's put it this way: if It were Star Wars, Ben might be C-3P0, translating and worrying. If It were James Bond, Ben might be Q, handing out gadgets.

But Ben more than overcomes this workaday character role with the fact that a) he ends up with his lady-love and b) he's massively successful and rich. This is a guy who literally took day trips from London to middle-of-nowhere Nebraska just to go to his favorite bar. He might have the role of Q, but he certainly jet sets like Bond.

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