THE “It!” Story
“It!” is an influential horror short story by Theodore Sturgeon, first published in Unknown August 1940. The story deals with a plant monster that is ultimately revealed to have formed around a human skeleton, specifically that of Roger Kirk, in a swamp. P. Schuyler Miller described “It!” as “probably the most unforgettable story ever published in Unknown. “ –WIKIPEDIA
Theodore Sturgeon’s “It!” story was an “unforgettable” story, as was his most well-known novel, “More Than Human,” though today he’s probably more often recognized by readers of classic science fiction anthologies. One of the poignant facts about his “It! is that it may be the first story set in the new American suburbs. There were tensions between the threatened rural life–the old swamplands with their bogeyman–and the burgeoning American dreamscape.
Sturgeon, who originally wanted to be a New Yorker writer, is credited as the inventor of the something “weird” happens in suburbia genre. The idea of the wild, natural or supernatural, unleashed amid manicured lawns and copycat houses has been well-mined in fiction and film; perhaps popularized best in Steven Spielberg movies.
In a revealing interview, Spielberg once said he owed the suburban world of his films to Theodore Sturgeon. That his movies would not exist, if he hadn’t read Sturgeon’s stories. You have only to read “It!” and view ET to get the connection. While not a huge Spielberg fan, I respect the unusual generosity of giving credit to a predecessor.
In the U.S., unlike Europe, successful artists rarely give recognition to those whose works they borrowed or built upon. Everyone here is a genius, whose work attests to a one of-a-kind talent. Artists from older countries give homage to those, whose shoulders they “stand-upon,” proud to be part of a tradition. Here, people think it detracts from their fame.
A couple of examples:
Movies, like “Being There,” “Forrest Gump,” “Zelig,” all borrow from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. The idea of a divine fool, who becomes a blank slate for all to project on and functions as a critique of a whole society, is central to The Idiot. In Being There, the “idiot” hero meets a Prince Mishkin, the same name as the title character of the novel. Gump and Zelig also drop hints pointing to the original conceit.
A novel on high school reading lists is Doctorow’s Ragtime, celebrated for the technique of mixing real people with fictional ones, and to present scenes visually, through the cinematic eye, as the novel travels through time. Yet John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy was first, from his broad historical canvas, mixing real people with fictional, and his chapter, “The Camera Eye,”which pioneered filmic perspective. Dos Passos’ take on the beginning of Wall Street, not to mention the public relations field, is an eye-opener in 2014. Our culture is much poorer for the fact that Doctorow guarded his fame and Dos Passos, as easy to read as a mini-series, has fallen off the high school map.
Some people may have discovered Sturgeon from the oblique references to Kilgore Trout, a brilliant janitor in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. Colleagues in science fiction, Vonnegut was amused by the fish allusion, and may have wanted to “out” his modest friend, who had worked as a janitor. It’s one of those not really mythic stories about genius in low places, like Einstein’s gig as a night watchman..Vonnegut’s Trout was probably a form of homage, though he may not have called it such.
I once encountered Vonnegut in Iowa City. He was getting off a plane and I was waiting to get on one. I was reading Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-up,” when I sensed someone trying to get my attention. I looked up, surprised. I had never met Vonnegut. He smiled, pointed to the cover, and gave me a big thumb’s up. He mimed he loved Fitzgerald, I mimed back same. This was a guy enthusiastic about great writers.
Another true story. I did publicity for Blue Jay Books, then a small publisher of classic science fiction/fantasy–in hard-cover with acid free pages! I worked briefly with Theodore Sturgeon toward the end of his life. This was a writer, who never made much money but loved the work and having readers. Among the more humble of writers, he was all about the process and the miraculous. Sturgeon also suffered years of writer’s block.
My point with all this? Writers may need to imitate those they admire. And the truth is that genius usually stands on someone else’s shoulders. Most writers, like Mr. Sturgeon, play the long game. They write and hope their work makes some splash. They also hope to continue, despite obscurity. Recognizing progenitors benefits everyone—especially readers.
I am happy this Halloween to publish my own “It!” story. IT STARTED IN THE PRIMEVAL OOZE OF MY FATHER’S ANCIENT PC.
Thanks for reading.