I had another scary movie post all lined up and ready to go this week, analyzing the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, but then I got a “creepy clown hoax” email from my workplace. (For real! It was urging us NOT to wear clown costumes this year, for safety reasons). That’s when I decided to address the “scary clown phenomenon” on this blog, because there IS a connection to reel librarians.
That connection is the 1990 TV miniseries, Stephen King’s It. Every article I have read about the scary clown phenomenon that is sweeping the country right now mentions Stephen King’s 1986 novel and its title character, Pennywise the Clown. For the record, I have always found clowns scary, and I’m not the only one. Read this Time.com article, “The Surprising History Behind the Scary Clown Phenomenon,” and this more in-depth article from Smithsonian.com, “The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary.” Stephen King himself has weighed in on the clown craze and hysteria!
I haven’t read King’s original source novel, but I have seen the TV miniseries a few times. I won’t go into an exhaustive analysis of the miniseries right now in this post — there’s not time enough for me to do that — but I will point out that one of the main characters, Mike Hanlon (played by Marlon Taylor as a youth and by Tim Reid as an adult), grows up to be the town librarian. Although other characters get more screen time, Mike essentially serves as the catalyst for the entire second half of the plot, as HE is the one who contacts his friends to return to Derry, Maine, and fight “It” once more. Since Mike is the only one of the seven lead characters to stay behind, he becomes the “institutional memory” for the havoc Pennywise wreaked on the town. Also, being a librarian and archivist, he has resources to help his friend research and confront the evil plaguing their town.
Mike is a classic Liberated Librarian character, as I point out in my “The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)” post from 2012. He may start out weak, a member of the self-proclaimed “Losers Club” — and his friends continue to sarcastically refer to him as “the answer man” — but he does find personal release from the town’s nightmarish history. I included the character of Mike Hanlon in my “Heroes/heroines” list on my “Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films & thrillers” post from 2013. He is a hero who unites everyone to fight against evil. (Also, in King’s 1994 novel, Insomnia, that is also set in Derry, we learn that Mike continued to work as a librarian, yay!)
Next week, I’ll be back with MORE creepy clowns in my film analysis post of The Wicker Man. (There’s a harlequin clown character central to the May Day celebrations.) Stay tuned!
- Chan, Melissa. “Even Stephen King Has Had Enough of Your Clown Fears.” Time, 4 Oct. 2016.
- It, aka Stephen King’s It (TV miniseries). Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace. Perf. John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Tim Curry. Warner Bros., 1990.
- McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. “The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary.” Smithsonian.com, 31 July 2013.
- Waxman, Olivia B. “The Surprising History Behind the Scary Clown Phenomenon.” Time, 6 Oct. 2016.