Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Stephen King’s IT and Dreamcatcher on Screen: Hegemonic White Masculinity and Nostalgia for Underdog Boyhood

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Stephen King’s IT and Dreamcatcher on Screen: Hegemonic White Masculinity and Nostalgia for Underdog Boyhood

Article excerpt

The novels of Stephen King - as well as the films based on them - are well known for their depiction of the terror and wonder of childhood, and for his explicit sympathy with his child protagonists. According to Tony Magistrale, King's 'children-heroes', as well as childlike adults such as The Green Mile's John Coffey, 'often represent the resilient good in humankind' (49), while Stephen Sears notes the 'mythical power of childhood friendship' (186) in King's work and sees many of King's novels as 'extended mythologizations of (his own) childhood' (24). The latter may explain why King offers such positive portrayals of a certain type of child: that of the uncool and innocent underdog or loser who, like King, and in his own words, 'was always the kid who got picked last' in baseball (Allen 102). Linda Badley suggests that these portrayals are part of the author's romanticism, in which '"losers," the infirm or "challenged", minorities, and children are privileged with insights and powers' (103).

Much as there is to admire in King's allegiance with socially marginalised people, especially children, the assignment of these 'insights and powers' can be vexing, especially for non-white, female or queer readers. Although King's novels do sometimes feature girl protagonists - including Firestarters Charlie McGee and Trisha McFarland in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon - most of King's young social outsiders are white, straight, able-bodied males, characters such as Gordie LaChance ('The Body'/Stand By Me), Mark Petrie (Salem's Lot) and Bobby Garfield (Hearts in Atlantis), who stand in for the young King as smart, sensitive writers (or at least readers). These nostalgic representations of loser or underdog boyhood occur across genres: most notably in the horror novel IT (1986) and the sf narrative Dreamcatcher (2001). While both works include child protagonists from marginalised groups, they maintain a hierarchy among losers. Characters such as Ben Hanscom (IT) and Henry Devlin (Dreamcatcher), although temporarily subordinated as young, weak, nerdy, fat or poor, eventually achieve hegemonic masculine status. To a greater or lesser extent, the screen adaptations of these books carry through with this (white male) nostalgia for the redeemed loser narrative, exposing the trope of the white underdog hero, often leading to problematic representations of women, people of colour, queer people, working-class people and those with disabilities. With King's novels as context, this article will critique the ways in which the miniseries/teleplay of IT (US 1990) and the film of Dreamcatcher (Kasdan US 2003) portray and complicate two types of 'redeemed loser' narratives favoured by King: the nerdy romantic hero and the hegemonic male as sensitive middle-class intellectual. This article will also examine the relationship between these narratives and King's depiction of gender, class, race and (in Dreamcatcher) disability, and will suggest ways in which King himself seems aware of, and tries to mitigate, his use of these tropes.

Set in fictional Derry, Maine, IT and Dreamcatcher tell parallel narratives: groups of childhood friends, united by their youthful vulnerability and (to a greater or lesser extent) their outsider status, confront both supernatural and societal evil, only to face the same evil decades later. The 1990 miniseries IT captures King's nostalgia for being the odd person (usually man) out, the 'nerd' in the old-fashioned unreconstructed sense of the term,1 and is, according to Tony Magistrale, 'a superb act of compression' remaining 'incredibly faithful to its original source' (Hollywood's Stephen King 189). Although it has a very loose sf element (the main antagonist may be from outer space), IT is primarily a horror narrative. Both novel and miniseries tell the story of the 'Lucky 7' or 'Losers' Club', a group of 11-year-olds from Derry who, in 1958, almost vanquish the novel's eponymous ancient shape-shifting child-murdering monster. …

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