Study Guide

It Memory and the Past

By Stephen King

Memory and the Past

The thing was to get through this one, to get the power back on, and then to forget it. In Derry such forgetting of tragedy and disaster was almost an art, as Bill Denbrough would come to discover in the course of time. (1.1.10)

It's not just the Losers that have a mean case of collective amnesia. The whole town of Derry likes to forget when bad stuff goes down.

Georgie had died right after the flood, one of his arms had been ripped from its socket, and Rich had blocked all of that out of his memory. But sometimes those things come back, oh yes indeedy, they come back, sometimes they come back. (3.2.46)

This is what Richie is thinking after he gets a phone call from Mike, out of the blue, after twenty-seven years. Oh, and btw: the shock of all that memory coming back makes poor ol' Richie upchuck.

He was afraid that if he frigged around with it too long, worried it too much, he would end up getting the jitters and doing something much worse. Or not doing it at all. He didn’t want that to happen. The moment she had taken to speak to him had been a striking moment for Ben. He wanted to mark it in his memory. (4.8.18)

Not all memory in It is grim. Ben, lovestruck and pining, thinks his memories of Bev are precious.

Silver flew and Stuttering Bill Denbrough flew with him; their gantry-like shadow fled behind them. They raced down Up-Mile Hill together; the playing cards roared. Bill’s feet found the pedals again and he began to pump, wanting to go even faster, wanting to reach some hypothetical speed— not of sound but of memory—and crash through the pain barrier. (5.5.12)

Poor Bill. His baby bro is dead and his parents are mute and suffering. Sometimes, the dude just needs to ride really fast on his bike so he can block out everything from sorrow to memory.

They were on a track as preordained as the memory-track which had caused him to look up when he passed under the stairway leading to the stacks. There was an echo here in Derry, a deadly echo, and all they could hope for was that the echo could be changed enough in their favor to allow them to escape with their lives. (11.1.56)

Adult Ben thinks this as he walks through one of his favorite Derry haunts: the library. And yeah: speaking of deadly echoes—Pennywise makes a surprise appearance not long after Ben has his Deep Thoughts about memory and the past.

Mr. Keene looked at me, through me. His eyes were not sharp now; they were hazy with memory, soft as the eyes of a man only become when he is remembering one of the best times of his life—the first home run he ever hit, maybe, or the first trout he ever landed that was big enough to keep, or the first time he ever lay with a willing woman. (Derry: The Third Interlude.60)

There's a lot of full-blown creeptastic stuff going down in It. There's also a lot of stealth creeptastic stuff…like when Mr. Keene recalls a massive shoot-out that becomes a disgusting bloodbath with the "soft" expression of "remembering one of the best times of his life." Pennywise has controlled his mind. Or maybe he was just always psychopathic. Which is scarier?

“We got c-cold fuh-feet.” Bill nods slowly. The memory has fallen naturally into its place, and he hears that same low but distinct click! when it happens. We’re getting closer, he thinks. (14.1.28)

The Losers sit around, remembering furiously in a collective effort to figure out just how the heck to do away with Pennywise permanently. Each memory is like a puzzle piece in a big, scary jigsaw puzzle.

But Richie barely hears him. The force of the memory sweeps through him like a tide, turning him alternately hot and cold, and he suddenly understands why these memories have come back one at a time. If he had remembered everything at once, the force would have been like a psychological shotgun blast let off an inch from his temple. It would have torn off the whole top of his head. (15.1.23)

Richie was one of the two Losers that had a vision of It arriving on earth in prehistoric times. He now remembers this: in other words, he has a memory of a vision memory. Whoa.

I guess this is what we mean when we talk about the persistence of memory, this or something like this, something you see at the right time and from the right angle, image that kicks off emotion like a jet engine. You see it so clear that all the things which happened in between are gone. If desire is what closes the circle between world and want, then the circle has closed. (20.6.5)

Here, Bill meditates on the nature of memory and nostalgia: the incredible force that memory has. There's nothing gentle about remembering: often, the past comes up and basically slaps you in the face.

They struck together with their right fists, but Bill understood it was not really their fists they were striking with at all; it was their combined force, augmented by the force of that Other; it was the force of memory and desire; above all else, it was the force of love and unforgotten childhood like one big wheel. (23.2.16)

Bill—or is it Stephen King?—waxes a lil' poetic about the nature of memory and desire once again. The past is powerful stuff, and its ability to impact the present is still pretty dang potent.

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