Everyone has something they’re afraid of. As time goes on some people will face and overcome their fears, while others choose to avoid them altogether. Stephen King’s 1986 novel IT revolves around the fears created in a person’s childhood, and follows the characters and their trauma into adulthood. The horror story gave us the infamous clown-disguised monster, Pennywise, and unleashed a new fear of clowns on vulnerable readers around the world. While IT is arguably one of the scariest stories ever, did you know that it was inspired by the fairytale THREE BILLY-GOATS GRUFF?
THREE BILLY-GOATS GRUFF is a Norwegian fairytale about a family of goats trying to cross a bridge prowled by a troll. Anytime someone attempts to cross the bridge, the troll will eat them. In the story, the smallest goat—Billy—challenges the troll and knocks him off the bridge. Good overcame evil and the bridge became safe for all to cross.
In 1978, King came upon his own wooden bridge like the one in the fairy tale. It all began when his family car broke down on the way home from lunch in Boulder, Colorado, where he was living at the time. Two days later when the car was ready to be picked up, King decided to walk the three miles to the repair shop.
The repair shop was located on an industrial road surrounded by gas stations and fast-food places. But, on the way there the roads were deserted and narrow. As the daylight began hiding behind the clouds, King had an eerie feeling come over him. He was alone, and completely vulnerable to anyone—or anything—that lurked in the shadows.
As he continued his journey, the author came to a wooden bridge. He walked across it and as he listened to the hollow sound of his cowboy boots hitting the wooden panels below, he got an idea. He remembered the tale of THREE BILLY-GOATS GRUFF, and imagined a troll greeting him at the end of the bridge.
While he didn’t meet a troll that day, he developed the idea for a new novel: he wanted to write a story about a troll under a bridge.
Two years passed and the idea for a troll story stayed with him. He reformed his idea and decided that the story didn’t have to be about an actual bridge; the bridge in his story would be symbolic for a point of passing. He imagined the bridge in his hometown of Bangor, Maine, and determined the bridge would be the city. The troll was a creature that lurked beneath it.
Underneath the city were sewers. So, instead of a troll living under a bridge, the troll would be under the sewers in his story.
Another year had passed before he finalized his horror novel. Continuing to think about the symbolic bridge, King remembered a part in a local library that separated the adult and children’s sections. He imagined himself—and other children—as they took the journey down the corridor into adulthood.
IT became a story about children and their journey into adulthood. Their town represented the bridge that they had to cross, and Pennywise was the troll they had to face for their happy ending. The book was eventually written in 1981. Ten years later it was made into a miniseries, and now it’s being remade over 35 years later.
The story of the monster lurking under a bridge—or in this case, within a hometown—is timeless. Hometowns will always have secrets, lives will always experience trauma, and Pennywise will always be real.