Stephen King’s IT: What The Controversial Sewer Scene Really Means

Summary

  • The controversial sewer scene in Stephen King’s novel IT, involving Beverly and the Losers Club, has not been adapted into any TV or film adaptations for understandable reasons.
  • The sewer scene had a symbolic meaning in the book, representing the bond between childhood and adulthood and the unity of the Losers Club. It was meant to show their growth and escape from the tunnels.
  • Stephen King himself has acknowledged the controversy surrounding the sewer scene and has stated that it wouldn’t be appropriate in today’s climate. However, he also defends its thematic relevance within the story.


A controversial IT Beverly scene from Stephen King’s novel hasn’t been adapted to TV or film (for good reason), but the IT sewer scene has a symbolic meaning that gets lost in the controversy. In 1986, Stephen King terrorized readers with the novel IT, which introduced an otherworldly monster that triggered a wave of coulrophobia (fear of clowns). IT is now a classic novel in the horror genre, which has expanded thanks to its different adaptations, most recently the films directed by Andy Muschietti. However, the IT book gained notoriety not only for its quality, but also for the now-infamous sewer scene.

The novel can be divided into two parts: the first set in 1957-1958, following the Losers as kids, and the second set in 1984-1985, following the group as adults. In the end, the adult Losers Club members can defeat Pennywise once and for all by challenging IT in the sewers, with Bill locating and destroying the creature’s heart. However, there was a controversial IT scene no film adaptations have included. Stephen King’s IT also has the Losers battle the malevolent Pennywise in the sewers of Derry 27 years earlier, and the novel’s most controversial moment, by far, was the book’s IT Beverly sewer scene.

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Why The Sewer Scene In IT Is So Controversial

Stephen King’s Original Novel Included Sexual Acts Between Children

The Losers Club looks up in the sewers in IT

Once in the sewers, Bill Denbrough performed the “Ritual of Chüd” through which he met Maturin (best known as “the turtle”), creator of the universe and the antithesis of IT, who explained to Bill that the only way IT could be defeated was through a battle of wills. Bill then entered IT’s mind and saw its true form, known as the “deadlights,” and managed to defeat it, albeit only temporarily. This would lead to one of the biggest Stephen King book controversies: after the Losers become lost in the sewers trying to make their way back to the surface in IT, Beverly decides to have sexual intercourse with all the boys from the Losers Club.

She decides to do this as it allows them to remember the way back so they can make it home. Essentially, her logic was that by taking this step they’d lose their innocence and become adults (and thus not the prey Pennywise wanted), and in the process, he’d lose his influence over them too. Despite the narrative reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that Beverley and the Losers Club are eleven years old. Stephen King’s IT sewer scene was the result of a creative decision that ended up being extremely controversial, and still looms over the book decades later.

What The IT Sewer Scene Really Means

The Beverly Sewer Scene Just Included For Shock Value

The controversial sewer scene in the original IT wasn’t random: in the book, Beverly realized that they were not going to find the exit without being unified, as they had been before weakening and defeating Pennywise, and the only way she could find to rebuild that bond between them was by having sex with each of her friends. Of course, such a scene involving underage characters was extremely controversial and has been left out of all adaptations, but it has a meaning that goes beyond the act itself.

In 2013, Stephen King (through his office manager Marsha DeFillipo) shared on the message board of his official site what the controversial scene in the sewers represents, and begins by explaining that, at the time, he wasn’t thinking of the sexual aspect of it. Instead, he wrote it as the connecting link between childhood and adulthood, as the Losers Club knew they had to be together again, and described it as “another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library.” King added that he’s aware that, with time, there has been more sensitivity and attention to issues like the underage sex depicted in IT‘s sewer scene.

With the infamy of the sex content, it’s understandable that IT‘s controversial sewer scene was left out of the 1990 miniseries and Muschietti’s film, as it would be an extremely difficult scene to adapt for many (obvious) reasons. One of the screenwriters of IT, Gary Dauberman, told EW that the IT sex scene is one that “everybody kind of brings up” and that’s “such a shame” as other important things are happening in the story. He added that, while they understood the scene’s intentions, they “tried to accomplish what the intent was in a different way.

Whether the scene captures Stephen King’s intent is up to every reader, but it’s important to know that the IT sewer scene, as controversial as it understandably remains, is not there just to add shock value in Beverly Marsh’s character arc. It did have a function when Stephen King wrote it, and the fact that it’s not been removed in editorial at any point in the decades of republishes and re-releases IT has received over the decades proves this.

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What Stephen King Has Said About The IT Sewer Orgy

The Author Finds The Fascination With The Beverly Sewer Scene Perplexing

Stephen King and the kids from It

The Stephen King IT sewer orgy scene is obviously very controversial, and as previously mentioned, Stephen King has addressed it. There’s absolutely no way that the scene could’ve made it into the movie, nor should anyone want it to be there, as the film already contains graphic scenes of child abuse and mutilation. As mentioned, the author took to his own message board in 2013 to further discuss the scene, and likened it to a passageway from childhood into adulthood.

After all, the IT book and the movies both deal with issues of childhood and adulthood, and a good deal of the themes have to do with growing up. He also explained that the scene was meant to show the Losers Club growing closer and banding together, and that it was a necessary act for them to escape the tunnels. However, he also went on to say that the scene hasn’t aged well. Here’s what horror novelist Stephen King had to say in full:

I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children–we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.

Whether one could blame the passage of time being the culprit behind IT‘s sewer orgy scene’s notoriety is questionable, but at least the author acknowledged that it wouldn’t fly in this day and age. While the sewer scene in IT is meant to have substantial thematic relevance, it still stands out against the rest of the book as something that might not have warranted inclusion. While it isn’t gratuitous or particularly graphic in nature, the infamous sewer orgy scene in IT will always be remembered as one of Stephen King’s most controversial writings, comparable to the Trash Can Man’s pistol sodomy in The Stand.

That being said, author King finds it fascinating just how much controversy the scene has attracted. In 2017 (via Vulture), he remarked on the response to that particular moment “it’s fascinating to me that there has been so much comment about that single sex scene and so little about the multiple child murders. That must mean something, but I’m not sure what.”

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Other Stephen King Novel Moments Too Gross For The Movie Adaptations

The IT Sewer Scene Isn’t The Only Stephen King Moment Too Shocking For Screens

Annie Wilkes with a knife in Misery

Movies based on Stephen King’s books are generally known for being creepy and disturbing — but many are far tamer than the source material. As nightmarish as movies like IT, Misery, and The Shining can get, they don’t hold a candle to Stephen King’s written works when it comes to providing absolute nightmare fuel. The IT sewer scene cut from every screen adaptation of IT is the most infamous example, but it’s far from the only time screenwriters noped out of staying 100% faithful to Stephen King’s original text.

In 1993, George Romero adapted The Dark Half, a lesser-known King novel he wrote under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. While George Romero is no stranger to the visceral, finding his own acclaim directing movies like Night of the Living Dead, even he felt King’s depiction of cop Edding getting brutally castrated in The Dark Half was too much for the big screen.

The already harrowing and underrated Misery adaptation is, in fact, a watered-down presentation of King’s vision. Kathy Bates terrified audiences as Annie Wilkes, with many unable to look at a mallet the same way ever again. If director Rob Reiner had opted to adapt and include the detailed passage where Annie drives over a state trooper with a lawnmower, 1991 would probably have been known as The Summer of Untrimmed Grass.

Stephen King is one of the most acclaimed horror authors of all time. This is in no small part because he doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of sex or violence, and often merges the two. However, as his critics have always begrudgingly admitted, it’s intense but not gratuitous. Stephen King writes stories with a purpose and doesn’t shock without reason. Every castrated cop or lawn covered in state trooper entrails either drives the plot forward or is a skillful metaphor for a thematic concept.

Movies are different than books though, and different rules apply. The IT Sewer Scene works in a book because readers are privy to the character’s inner thoughts and drives, which gives clear context for it being symbolically tied to the loss of innocence. Including it in the movie adaptations of IT wouldn’t only be inappropriate because it would require the heavy sexualization of children and the real-life child actors who have to play them (a hard pass for limitless reasons). Without the insight only deliverable in the written format, the IT sewer scene couldn’t be effective as anything other than a shock for shock’s sake.

It

It Chapter One is a supernatural horror film based on the book by Stephen King where several children, including the younger brother of one of the film’s protagonists, have gone missing. A group of kids called “The Loser’s Club” decide to investigate the cause and hopefully save the others. However, they realize they may be in over their head when they discover their foe is an evil clown known as Pennywise, a being that preys on fear and has been the rumored cause of murders in the town of Derry for centuries. 

Release Date
September 8, 2017

Director
Andres Muschietti

Rating
R

Writers
Chase Palmer , Gary Dauberman , Cary Fukunaga

Budget
35m

Studio(s)
Warner Bros. Pictures , Sony

Distributor(s)
Warner Bros. Pictures , Lionsgate , 20th Century , Sony

Franchise(s)
IT