Books

The Death of Georgie Denbrough

Stephen King on beginning It by killing off a 6-year-old.

A red balloon floats up from a sewer grate.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by helt2/iStock/Getty Image Plus.

This interview is part of a series about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Dan Kois: Opening It with Georgie’s death does more than just shock readers. It makes the whole book about grief, in a lot of ways. That whole 1957–58 section takes place in the immediate aftermath of a main character losing his 6-year-old brother. The focus on grief seemed new for your horror stories at the time. What made you interested in that subject when you were writing the book?

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Stephen King: For me, grief is the hardest thing to write about. I needed to do it in It because Georgie’s death would motivate his brother, Bill, strongly to come back to battle Pennywise, and I knew that Pennywise could use that against him. What worked best for me was how the parents’ grief marginalized Bill, made him a shadow in the house. Writing that felt powerful to me, because it felt true.

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As someone who’s written a lot of death scenes, do you think there’s a universal rule for making them memorable or dramatically effective? What makes a death scene work?

Death scenes work if the reader cares about the character who’s dying. Good fiction taps into real emotions. We get to feel things like death, horror, and loss, but in a “no-fault” way. At least I think so. Lots of years doing this, and I’m still only guessing.

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Do you recall how you came up with the “when you’re down here, you’ll float too” line that’s so memorable, and all the “floating” stuff from that scene?

The thing about “we all float down here” was really just an accident. It didn’t feel important to me then, and I had no idea it would become a catchphrase. The balloons float; Georgie, you’ll float, too. It sounded sinister to me, so I wrote it. And I like the word: float. You’ll float too, Dan. Because we all float down here.

Read more about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time, including Stephen King’s own picks for the greatest.

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