Discussion:
"It" (Theodore Sturgeon) Reviewed
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Dr Hermes
2004-01-22 14:35:07 UTC
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From the August 1940 issue of WEIRD TALES, this is thirty
pages of pure nightmare. Theodore Sturgeon was only twenty-two when he
came up with this vision. Already, his earliest stories showed the flair
for word choice and intense visual images that would make his work
memorable. I first happened upon "It" when I was about eleven or so, and
it darn near electrocuted me. Reading it again all these decades later,
I find the story is still genuinely frightening and unnerving.

On the most basic level, this is a tale of a monster that comes
wandering out of the woods, kills some animals and then a dog named
Kimbo and then Kimbo`s owner. In a scene that`s really hard to take, it
absolutely terrorizes a ten year old girl named Babe before finally
meeting its ironic and well deserved end. The final words have haunted
me all these years; even after the monster is destroyed, life doesn`t
just bounce back to normal. ("So the Drews had a new barn and fine new
livestock and they hired four men. But they didn`t have Alton. And they
didn`t have Kimbo. And Babe screams at night and has grown very thin.")

Aside from the unique loathesomeness of It`s physical being, Ted`s
creature presents us with one of the most convincing examples of a
nonhuman consciousness I can remember. The monster has vague curiosity
and no memories, so it`s starting from scratch. It calmly rips apart a
dog to see what`s inside and then (in a surreal bit of logic) when night
falls, It concludes that it`s dead and passively lies down in the
forest. ("Black and liquescent it lay in the blackness, not alive, not
understanding death, believing itself dead.") To me, this weird
unpredictable behavior is much creepier than a straightforward predatory
sort of critter. One meek character escapes unknowingly because the
skulking thing swings a heavy arm just as the man bends to pick up his
handkerchief, then loses interest in the guy. (This bit of relief is
just to let you catch your breath, the worst is coming.)

And of course, there is the way the thing comes to be. The
skeleton of a man long dead, lying under a mass of rotting vegetation,
somehow stirs into unlife in a process of slow spontaneous combustion.
("It walked in the woods. It was never born. It existed. Under the pine
needles the fires burn, deep and smokeless in the mold. In heat and
darkness and decay there is growth. There is life and there is growth.
It grew but it was not alive....")

What we are dealing with here is a rotting mass of stinking
matter*, somehow getting up and lumbering around and casually killing
things. If you are standing right next to it, you would have no warning
it can suddenly grab out at you. I think I understand now why this idea
has such chilling power. When you`re concentrating on something,
completely alone without even a pet in the house.... and then abruptly,
a stack of magazines or a sack of groceries loudly falls over, you jump
much more than you would if the dog suddenly started barking or your
roommate sneezed. Your mind half expects movements from living things,
but when something moves that shouldn`t, it triggers an extra strong
alarm response. That`s what we have with the monster here.

"Standing there was, not Uncle Alton, but a massive caricature of a
man: a huge thing like an irregular mud doll, clumsily made. It quivered
and parts of it glistened and parts of it were dried and crumbly. Half
the lower left part of its face was gone, giving it a lopsided look. It
had no perceptible mouth or nose, and its eyes were crooked, one higher
than the other....." Ickk and more ickk.

With this charmer, Sturgeon created a new species of monster for
horror stories. The dead body clotted with rotting vegetation has been
used several times since, resulting in four characters who still are
stalking the pages of comic books to this day, terrorizing civilians and
giving superheroes cold sweats. Alfred Bester created Solomon Grundy as
an opponent for the original Green Lantern in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS.
Although he shared It`s origin and nature, Grundy also had a strong
element of Karloff`s Frankenstein Monster. This white zombie is still
around, a bit less gruesome, showing up on the Cartoon Network`s JUSTICE
LEAGUE now airing.

At the same time, the Heap appeared in AIR FIGHTER COMICS (later
AIRBOY). Looking sort of like a haystack with legs, the Heap was
initially a rampaging blood-drinking brute but he later developed into a
sort of Nature`s Avenger under the guidance of the goddess Ceres,
wandering the world as a Greenpeace enforcer. The Heap was ressurected
in the 1970s in a sleazy black and white magazine, then came back in his
true winsome glory with a revival of AIRBOY
comics. Who knows, he may lurch up out of the undergrowth again. I know
I would like to see a trade paperback collecting his 1940s appearances.

And of course. in the 1970s DC came out with Swamp Thing and Marvel
dug up Man-Thing. (Marvel also did a one-shot adaptation of Sturgeon`s
tale. I give Roy Thomas credit for always honoring the sources of comic
book themes.) These guys are pretty well known, especially considering
Swamp Thing has had two feature films, a TV series and those famous
issues written by Alan Moore.

Oh, wait. There was also a cheapo horror flick called SLITHIS, about
a pile of murderous mud (seriously) which seems to bear a close
resemblance to the monsters we`re considering here. A film maker looking
for something a bit different from the glamorous vampires and serial
killers so overused lately would do well to buy the rights to Sturgeon`s
story.

__________________
*Ted Sturgeon`s famous and much quoted law that ninety per cent of
everything is crap seems to be literally true with this creature. It
actually IS ninety per cent crap.

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Dr Hermes
2004-01-22 15:07:24 UTC
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Wait! Hold it! Everyone knows "It" appeared in UNKNOWN, not WEIRD
TALES! What could I have been thinking? Sorry about that.

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Stiletto Blade
2004-01-22 18:43:51 UTC
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Great review, Doc. This sounds like a killer story. Is it available anywhere
now; an omnibus maybe? I GOTTA read this one.

== Stiletto Blade ==
www.stilettoblade.com
www.sextonblake.co.uk
Post by Dr Hermes
Wait! Hold it! Everyone knows "It" appeared in UNKNOWN, not WEIRD
TALES! What could I have been thinking? Sorry about that.
http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
JJM1954
2004-01-22 19:21:42 UTC
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Post by Stiletto Blade
Great review, Doc. This sounds like a killer story. Is it available anywhere
now; an omnibus maybe? I GOTTA read this one.
There's a current project afoot to reprint allof Sturgeon's short fiction.
Seven or eight volumes have already appeared. "It," along with many, man other
great stories (for example, "Bianca's Hands") can be found in the first vcolume
THE ULTIMATE EGOIST.
Dr Hermes
2004-01-22 22:22:34 UTC
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"It" has been reprinted a number of times. I have it in a 1965 anthology
titled THE DARK SIDE, which also includes such treats as Ray Bradbury`s
"The Black Ferris" and Fritz Leiber`s haunting "The Man Who Never Grew
Young" (one of the best things Leiber ever wrote, and that takes in a
lot of territory).

Say, Blade, I wanted to ask you something. On your website, what does "&
diams" mean? Is this some phrase or abbreviation not known on my side of
the big water?

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Stiletto Blade
2004-01-23 06:56:33 UTC
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Post by Dr Hermes
Say, Blade, I wanted to ask you something. On your website, what does "&
diams" mean? Is this some phrase or abbreviation not known on my side of
the big water?
Er... where does it say '& diams'? I suspect that this might be a bit of
html code your browser isn't picking up. What web browser do you use? If
this is what's happening, I'll have to fiddle about with the page(s) so you
(and others) can see it the way it's meant to be.

== Stiletto Blade ==
www.stilettoblade.com
www.sextonblake.co.uk
Dr Hermes
2004-01-23 09:07:11 UTC
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Hmm... it probably is my pitiful little 8-track type browser not
picking up the full code then. If no one else sees it, then it`s no
problem. I just thought it was some abbreviation like "Etc."

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
joy beeson
2004-01-24 03:20:44 UTC
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I put "♦" into one of my html files, & Mozilla reads
it as a little black diamond-shaped bullet.

These abbreviations always make sense -- " ", for
example, makes a "Non-Breaking SPace". "Diam" obviously
stands for "DIAMond" -- but what can the "s" mean? Is there
a word for bullets or dingbats that starts with "s"?

And was there a semi-colon after "&diams"?

Joy Beeson
--
http://home.earthlink.net/~joybeeson/ -- needlework
http://home.earthlink.net/~beeson_n3f/ -- Writers' Exchange
joy beeson at earthlink dot net
Dr Hermes
2004-01-24 04:20:12 UTC
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That`s enlightening. Folks with browsers moe sophisticated than my
Bronze Age internet device probably see the name of the character and a
diamond shaped bullet which they click on to go to that review.

I do see "&diams", but then I also see the lines of text slightly
overlapping each other on Blade`s page. It`s nothing he did wrong, just
my device failing to read it properly.

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Stiletto Blade
2004-01-24 10:13:21 UTC
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The diamonds aren't linked to anything... they're just there to separate the
names of all the characters (which ARE links)... a bit like the asterixes
here:

James Bond * Doctor Syn * The Saint * Kioga

Obviously, I need to add some code so the page can adapt itself to older
browsers. Doc, what's the name of the browser you use?

== Stiletto Blade ==
www.stilettoblade.com
www.sextonblake.co.uk
Post by Dr Hermes
That`s enlightening. Folks with browsers moe sophisticated than my
Bronze Age internet device probably see the name of the character and a
diamond shaped bullet which they click on to go to that review.
I do see "&diams", but then I also see the lines of text slightly
overlapping each other on Blade`s page. It`s nothing he did wrong, just
my device failing to read it properly.
http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Dr Hermes
2004-01-24 21:58:15 UTC
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Hi, Blade. Please don`t change anything. I use an internet receiver (not
even a real computer) that just gives me Web access and e-mail and a
pagebuilder. These MSN units are a declining breed, so it would not be
worth it for you to change your site for a few of us. (I`m so medieval,
I would be happy scratching with a quill on parchment while the candle
flickered, but that`s not practical anymore.)

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge

Charles Cunningham
2004-01-23 14:55:20 UTC
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Post by Dr Hermes
Wait! Hold it! Everyone knows "It" appeared in UNKNOWN, not WEIRD
TALES! What could I have been thinking? Sorry about that.
http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Hi Doc,
Many thanks for the review--as with you, I read this story at an
early age (in the Derleth anthology WHO KNOCKS?) and it made a lasting
impression. Sturgeon didn't write that many "pure" horror stories, but
this was an all-time classic.
By the way, Derleth seems to be taking a beating in the newsgroups
these days, but there's no denying he put together some GREAT horror
anthologies. Besides WK?, I would say SLEEP NO MORE, THE NIGHT SIDE,
and THE SLEEPING AND THE DEAD are classics that belong on every horror
fan's shelf. Reading copies are not hard to find.
a***@bellsouth.net
2004-01-23 00:39:03 UTC
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I vaguely remember a Mad Magazine story about a garbage heap that came
to life and wandered out of the swamp. Anybody else?
rick
Dr Hermes
2004-01-23 01:19:25 UTC
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Oh, yes! As I recall, it had typically great Will Elder artwork
packed with tiny gags in the corners (called "eyeball kicks"), and
started as a take off on radio`s INNER SANCTUM. To tell his gruesome
tale, the host dusted off an old copy of an EC horror comic. I think
this was published around 1952, from those first twenty or so issues
where MAD was a full color comic book before settling down into a black
& white magazine. This was where the Heap come in one night in a zoot
suit.

If you ask me, those early issues of MAD have got to be among the
best comics ever produced with a lineup of talent that has never been
matched. Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Wally Wood....man! In
my back room are the two huge hardcover reprints with Kurtzman`s
comments between stories. Great stuff.

Actually, I remember reading this in one of the MAD paperbacks long
before I happened on the Sturgeon story itself. As a little kid with
bottomless curiousity, I naturally could only understand a tiny fraction
of the topical references in those stories but the creativity and manic
energy hit me like a rock between the eyes.

http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/ForbiddenKnowledge
Terry McCombs
2004-01-24 00:31:12 UTC
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"There was also a cheapo horror flick called SLITHIS, about a pile of
murderous mud (seriously) which seems to bear a close resemblance to the
monsters we`re considering here. A film maker looking for something a
bit different from the glamorous vampires and serial killers so overused
lately would do well to buy the rights to Sturgeon`s story."

I think one of the 70's horror anthology TV series (Night Gallery?) that
made a stab at doing an adaptation of It.

It's been a long time, but as I vaguely recall they did not do a very
good job of It.

It's been something like 30 years, and I VERY much hope I am
misremembering this, but I seem to recall they took the violence out and
tried to `charm' it up!

Terry
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