A Look at Theodore Sturgeon’s “It”

Theodore Sturgeon
First published in Unknown, August 1940

After posting the birthday tribute on Theodore Sturgeon yesterday, I downloaded a copy of his Selected Stories (after paying for it, of course).  I thought I’ve got all of them in paper and wasn’t sure which one I wanted to get an electronic copy of.  So I went with the selected stories.  Some of my favorites are missing, such as “Shottle Bop”, but this volume contains some good stuff.

Like the horror classic “It”, which even though it seems to end on an upbeat note, has one of the most chilling last lines you’ll find anywhere.

The story concerns a family working a struggling farm.  Cory Drew, his wife and daughter Babe, plus his ne’er-do-well Brother Alton.  Alton would rather hunt with his dog Kimbo than work the farm.  This causes some friction between the brothers.

The story opens with Kimbo wandering into the woods and encountering a man-shaped thing that had formed from the decaying corpse of a man some years ago.  This is the titular “It”.  The creature isn’t nice.  It also is curious.  Unfortunately for Kimbo, it’s curiosity involves ways to kill and destroy things.  This was probably the most difficult part of the story for me.  Sturgeon doesn’t shy away from the painful death Kimbo suffers, but to his credit (and probably due to editorial restrictions) he doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the details.

I’m not going to tell you much more than that.  If you want details you can read the story for yourself.  It’s one of Sturgeon’s best known and most widely reprinted.  I would have sworn I first read it in Not Without Sorcery, but after looking it up on ISFDB, I probably read it in Famous Monster Tales, which I read a year or two before Not Without Sorcery.  (I know this because we moved about six months after I checked out FMT from the public library.  I bought NWS in paperback in the town we’d moved to.)  While I have no direct memory of having read “It” in FMT, that may be because I’ve read it a number of times over the years.  Some of the stories I’ve only read once in FMT are the ones I have the clearest memory of where and when I read them.  I’ll be looking at Famous Monster Tales in more depth later this year.

But I digress.  “It” is a most effective horror story.  Sturgeon changes the viewpoint character frequently, which heightens the tension.  He also does an excellent job of making the characters come fully to life, and he does it through dialogue and how they act.  One of Sturgeon’s strengths is his ability to create complex and sympathetic characters.  That strength is on full display here.

People more knowledgeable than me can comment on the influence this story had on DC Comic’s Swamp Thing, especially the initial iteration of the character.  There are some obvious comparisons.  But there are also some key differences.

I discovered Sturgeon in the 7th grade, and for the rest of my public school education, I read his short stories voraciously.  They were easy to come by in those days, as most of his collections were still in print.  He was alive, but he wasn’t writing much by this time in his life.  Sturgeon suffered from a number of pretty serious bouts of writer’s block throughout his career.  His most productive years were the earlier ones.  At least those are the stories I like the best among his work.

If you’ve not read him, do yourself a favor and check him out.  You’ll be glad you did.  It’s been a while since I read any of his work.  I’m going to fit more of his stories in this year, even if it’s only one or two.

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