Fictional librarian profile: Mike Hanlon from It (Stephen King)

Mike Hanlon is a character from Stephen King’s IT, which takes place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. Mike has spent most of his life in Derry. One summer, when he was a child, there were a number of murders. It was the summer that he became part of a group of seven friends–the “Losers Club”–who discovered a terrible monster was behind the murders. Mike’s father owned many old photos of the town and was interested in the history of it, and this piqued Mike’s interest.

As an adult, Mike is Derry’s librarian. He is the only member of the Losers who has stayed in Derry, and this means that he never forgot the events of that summer thirty years ago. (Some magic is at work that puts a sort of fog on the memories of those who leave, as well as adults, generally.)  Mike spends many years researching the real history of Derry and writes it down in a volume that is eventually locked in the library vault. The rest of the town is complicit with Pennywise in the killings; there seems to be a kind of spell on the town and they would rather look the other way than help. Mike, however, sees the truth and doesn’t succumb to the spell. He writes down all of the atrocities, and he tries to tell the police, but they don’t want to see the truth. When he started looking into the history of Derry, he asked one of the former librarians which history was the best one and is told that none of them is any good, but is put on the trail of some books and folklorists. He figures out the real history of Derry isn’t in the books, isn’t in anything public, but is found more in the journals of residents. Mike is the one who figures out that It has a thirty-year cycle, and that Derry has a higher incidence of violence than other towns its size by large numbers. When the killings begin again, thirty years after the Losers wounded It, Mike is the one who summons his friends back to Derry for a final confrontation.

Mike is both the seeker and keeper of information in this novel, which is the essence of what a librarian does. He tries, as an adult, to share that information with the police and help them to see what is happening, but they are under the spell that makes the town and its people complacent and won’t listen. This is an issue the King explores in many of his novels. Here, the librarian can only point folks to information; he can’t affect what they do with it. That’s certainly true for real librarians; we can help people find information, but we can’t make conclusions for them.

Library as Place in IT

Even before Mike becomes the town librarian, the library was an important place in the novel in some ways. For Ben Hanscomb, it is a place of safety from the rest of the town, especially Henry Bowers and his gang of thugs. He loves the atmosphere of the library and imagining the lives of the people in all of the books. The glass corridor between the adult library and the children’s library later inspires him (when he is an adult architect) to construct a building much like it. It is in the library where Ben writes the poem to Beverly. In one of his first run-ins with Bowers, it is the thought of his lost books that infuriate him to the point that he fights back against Bowers. It is one of the only places in town where Ben feels happy, and his library card was one of his most important possessions. When Ben goes back to the library to meet the rest of his friends, he has some nostalgia and gets a library card, but also has a run-in with Pennywise.

As the book moves close to the confrontation between the Losers Club and Pennywise, the kids do more and more research in the library, looking both into the history of the town and into various bits of folklore and legends from around the world. When the Losers Club returns to Derry as adults, they again meet in the library to talk about their plan to kill It.

Random musing about the made-for-TV film from the 1990s

Did anyone else notice connections to The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in here? The BtVS connection is easy: Seth Green plays the young Richie Tozier. Funny thing is that Richie is afraid of werewolves and Green goes on to play the werewolf Oz in BtVS. William B. Davis (Cigarette Smoking Man) plays the high school principal in IT. Also here is Megan Leitch (Samanta Mulder) who works in the Derry Library. I love connections like this. I also find it amusing that IT is connected up to The X-Files since Pennywise turns out to be a space alien of some kind (yeah, that was one of the places the story went off the rails for me; I was actually glad the movie didn’t go there).