It is the title character and the main antagonist in Stephen King's 1986 horror novel It. The character is an ancient cosmic evil which preys upon the children of Derry, Maine, roughly every 27 years, using a variety of powers that include the ability to shapeshift, manipulate reality, and go unnoticed by adults. During the course of the story, It primarily appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
|Stephen King character|
|First appearance||It (1986)|
|Last appearance||It Chapter Two (2019)|
|Created by||Stephen King|
|Portrayed by||1990 miniseries:|
Frank C. Turner
1998 television series:
2017 film and 2019 sequel:
(Hobo / Leper /
Jackson Robert Scott
|Full name||Unknown (possibly nameless)|
|Alias||It (sometimes spelled "IT")|
The Dancing Clown
Robert Gray (also Bob Gray)
The Giant Spider
Weak Old Woman
M.F Stupid Mummy
Eater of Worlds
Eater of Children
The Derry Disease
|Occupation||Cosmic spirit of consumption|
|Origin||Stephen King's IT|
King stated in a 2013 interview that he came up with the idea for Pennywise after asking himself what scared children "more than anything else in the world", and feeling that the answer was clowns. King thought of a troll like the one in the children's tale "Three Billy Goats Gruff", who inhabited a sewer system.
The character was portrayed in its Pennywise form by Tim Curry in the 1990 television adaptation, in the 1998 television adaptation by Lilliput, and by Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 film adaptation and its 2019 sequel It Chapter Two.
In the novel, It is a shapeshifting monster who usually takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, originating in a void containing and surrounding the Universe—a place referred to in the novel as the "Macroverse". It arrived on Earth during an asteroid impact and made its home under the land that Derry would be built on, initially preying on indigenous tribes. It would sleep for millions of years, then, when humans appeared in Derry, would fall into a 27-year slumber and wake for about a year in order to feed on human fear, often assuming the shape of what its prey fear the most. It has a preference for children since their fears are easier to interpret and adults are harder to scare, in a physical form. It can manipulate people with weaker wills, making them indifferent to the horrific events that unfold or even serve as accomplices.
In the novel, It claims that its true name is Robert "Bob" Gray, and is named "It" by the Losers Club. Throughout the book, It is generally referred to as male due to usually appearing as Pennywise. The Losers come to believe It may be female (because it lays eggs), and perceiving It's true form as a monstrous giant spider. However, It's true appearance is briefly observed by Bill Denbrough via the Ritual of Chüd as a mass of swirling destructive orange lights known as "deadlights", which inflict insanity or death on any living being that sees them directly. The only person to survive the ordeal is Bill's wife Audra Phillips, although she is rendered temporarily catatonic by the experience.
It's natural enemy is the "Space Turtle" or "Maturin", another ancient dweller of King's "Macroverse" who, eons ago, created the known universe and possibly others by vomiting them out as the result of a stomachache. The Turtle appears again in King's series The Dark Tower. Wizard and Glass, one of the novels in the series, suggests that It, along with the Turtle, are themselves creations of a separate, omnipotent creator referred to as "the Other" (possibly Gan, who is said to have created the various universes where King's novels take place).
Throughout the novel It, some events are depicted from Pennywise's point of view, describing itself as a "superior" being, with the Turtle as an equal and humans as mere "toys". It's hibernation begins and ends with horrific events, like the mysterious disappearance of the Derry Township's 300 settlers in 1740-43 or the ironworks explosion. It awoke during a great storm that flooded part of the city in 1957, with Bill's younger brother Georgie the first in a line of killings before the Losers Club fight the monster, a confrontation culminating in Bill using the Ritual of Chüd to severely wound It and force It into hibernation. Continually surprised by the Losers' victory, It briefly questions its superiority before claiming that they were only lucky, as the Turtle is working through them. It is finally destroyed 27 years later in the second Ritual of Chüd, and an enormous storm damages the downtown part of Derry to symbolize It's death.
Pennywise makes a tangential appearance in King's 2011 novel 11/22/63, in which protagonist Jake Epping meets a couple of the children from It, asks them about a recent murder in their town, and learns that the murderer apparently "wasn't the clown." It also appears to Jake in the old ironworks, where it taunts Jake about "the rabbit-hole," referring to the time portal in which Jake moves from one time to another.
Film and televisionEdit
In the 2017 film adaptation and its 2019 sequel It Chapter Two, Pennywise is portrayed by Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård. The second movie slightly deviates from the book in It's final form being a drider-version of Pennywise and is motivated by revenge on the Losers Club. Will Poulter was originally cast as Pennywise, with Curry describing the role as a "wonderful part" and wishing Poulter the best of luck, but dropped out of the production due to scheduling conflicts and first film's original director Cary Fukunaga leaving the project. Spanish actor Javier Botet was cast as the Hobo leper in both movies and the monstrous form of Ms. Kersh in the second film. Two original guises were made for the first film: the Headless Boy, a burnt victim of the Kitchener Ironworks incident (played by Carter Musselman), and the Amedeo Modigliani–based painting Judith (played by Tatum Lee).
Reception and legacyEdit
Several media outlets such as The Guardian have spoken of the character, ranking it as one of the scariest clowns in film or pop culture. The Atlantic said of the character; "the scariest thing about Pennywise, though, is how he preys on children's deepest fears, manifesting the monsters they're most petrified by (something J. K. Rowling would later emulate with boggarts)." British scholar Mikita Brottman has also said of the miniseries version of Pennywise; "one of the most frightening of evil clowns to appear on the small screen" and that it "reflects every social and familial horror known to contemporary America". Author Darren Shan cited Pennywise as an inspiration behind the character Mr. Dowling in his 12.5 book serial Zom-B. Critics such as Mark Dery have drawn connections between the character of Pennywise and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who would dress up at community children's parties as "Pogo the Clown"; Dery has stated that the character "[embodied] our primal fears in a sociopathic Ronald McDonald who oozes honeyed guile". King, however makes no mention of Gacy in discussing his inspiration for It.
Association with 2016 clown sightingsEdit
—Writer Stephen King's reaction to the recurring clown scare phenomenon.
In 2016, appearances of "evil clowns" were reported by the media, including nine people in Alabama charged with "clown-related activity". Several newspaper articles suggested that the character of Pennywise was an influence, which led to King commenting that people should react less hysterically to the sightings and not take his work seriously.
The first reported sighting of people dressed as evil clowns in Greenville, South Carolina was by a small boy spoke to his mother of a pair of clowns that had attempted to lure him away. Additional creepy clown sightings were reported in other parts of South Carolina.
Evil clowns were reported in several other U.S. states including North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming Later the same year, "clown sightings" were reported in Great Britain, Australia, and Latin America.
One hypothesis for the wave of 2016 clown sightings was a viral marketing campaign, possibly for the Rob Zombie film 31 (2016). A spokesperson for New Line Cinema (distributor of the 2017 film adaptation of It) released a statement claiming that "New Line is absolutely not involved in the rash of clown sightings."
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