PENNYWISE (IT CLOWN)
“Float…They all float, and when you’re down here with me, fat boy, you’ll float too!”
―IT taunting Ben
It (sometimes capitalized as IT), more commonly known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, is the titular main antagonist of the novel, its 1990 TV adaptation and the 2017 film adaptation. It was portrayed to be a shape-shifting entity millions (possibly billions) of years old, and with no exact gender or solid identity; thus why it is called “IT”.
It was a mysterious, malevolent being from an unknown realm/dimension outside the regions of space. When It came to planet Earth to feed, its favorite disguise was that of a colorful and wisecracking circus clown named “Pennywise”. It could also morph into any other being or thing it pleases, generally based on its target’s loved ones or friends to lure them into different traps, or It appears to them as their worst fears and nightmares.
It preferred to attract children instead of grownups, so it could capture and kill to devour them. It was capable of killing every kind of human but mostly preferred to prey upon human children because they were easier to manipulate and scare. According to the creature, frightened flesh tastes better.
IT Is a shape-shifter, yet despite this, the proxy form is a vast, spider-like deity, and if injured, hungry, or resting, IT will always naturally revert back to that form, as it appears to have to exert some energy into shape-shifting into other forms. The other forms are a poor-looking man suffering from untreated syphilis, though Eddie assumed the man had leprosy, also a hideous woman from a painting, a mummy, a wolfman, a headless ghost of a dead child. To scare Mike Hanlon, IT appeared as a giant predatory bird living in the Derry Ironworks, and to scare Beverly, IT was a pile of blood and her own hair, busting out of a sink, symbolizing both her fears; her period, and her hair being cut short, linked to her father. However, the most iconic form, and favorite form, was Pennywise the dancing clown. In the novel Pennywise wore old-fashioned silver clothing akin to clowns like Ronald McDonald and Bozo, with red pompoms. In the 1990 movie, Pennywise’s makeup resembled that of Ronald McDonald, and the hair was based on that of Bozo the clown, the attire in the 1990 miniseries Pennywise was more akin to a bright and colorful clown but still had the design elements of the novel version. In the 2017 movie, Pennywise had similar markings to a cheetah, with 2 red lines streaming down Its eyes and into Its mouth, and two red spikes above each of Its eyes. Its nose wasn’t fake, but simply painted red, and Its hair was ginger, not red. It also looked quite younger. Its forehead was oddly oversized, and Its teeth were buckteeth, It often had a sneer and often had golden, catlike eyes. However, when It spoke to Georgie and, presumably, other children, Its eyes would face in opposite directions, change to a soft blue, Its pupils would grow enlarged, and Its expression would change to a more playful and cheeky grin, causing It to appear more fun, and cute looking. In the novel IT is able to simultaneously appear in different forms at once. For example when Bill and Richie go to confront IT in the house on Neibolt Street, Richie sees IT as a werewolf from the move “I was a Teenage Werewolf” whilst Bill sees IT as Pennywise, instantly realising that “this is the clown that killed Georgie”.
Among the most pitiless and unreasonable characters in all of fiction, It is a bully at its’ core. This deadly and diabolical predator primarily hunts for food but is not above toying with its desired prey, harassing and tormenting its victims before finally dispatching them, as fear salts the meat, according to It. It also appears to have a form of narcissism, viewing itself as above the turtle spirit, and seeing humans as inferior creatures, who exist solely to be toyed with and eaten. While a primarily feral-minded and instinct-driven predator, It can also carry a clever ruse and as the clown, is more than capable of acting in a cordial, warm, and friendly manner all as a method to give the prey a false sense of security. In the clown form, It is loud, jovial, cheerful, merry, sociable, and charming towards children, politely offering them the chance to visit his circus and eat free food. However, this is all a clever pretense, to disarm his prey. His act as a clown is not exactly perfect, as his raging appetite was difficult to conceal. As he met Georgie in the novel and 2017 adaptation, his yellow eyes turned a softer shade of blue mid conversation, purely to ease Georgie’s mind. And in both the miniseries and movie, Pennywise was constantly drooling and gawping at Georgie, making him feel a little uneasy. As well as being bright and colorful, Pennywise also acted like a sadistic bully, cruelly taunting, harassing, and stalking the lucky seven, rather than simply killing them quickly. This taunting and playfully cruel behavior was ultimately what led to Pennywise’s downfall. Despite this, Pennywise is smart, psychologically adept, and a great judge of character as he assesses his victims carefully, knowing well what buttons to push. However, despite being fearsome, he wasn’t exactly fearless himself, as he would often flee and retreat when the tables were turned against him. He also wasn’t above begging for mercy, grovelling, and even bargaining when he was overpowered, such as towards the end of the book, when the losers overpower It, and defeat It, but not before begging, and barganing, all in a bid for self-preservation.
A Nameless Evil
“Tell your friends I am the last of a dying race.” – It to Beverly Marsh, probably not honestly.
It apparently originated from an undiscovered void containing and surrounding the entire Universe, a place referred to in the novel as the “Macroverse” (a concept later established as the Todash Darkness of The Dark Tower Novels). It’s real name (if, indeed, It has one) is unknown—although, at several points in the novel, It claims its true name to be Robert Gray—and is named “It” by the group of children who later confront it. Throughout the book It is generally referred to as male; however, late in the book, the protagonists come to believe that It may be female (due to Its manifestation as a monstrous female spider). This is, however, not It’s true form, it is simply the closest the human mind can come to approximating it. Indeed, the Turtle later refers to It as his “brother.” It’s natural form exists in a realm beyond the physical, which It calls the “deadlights” (described as writhing, destructive orange lights). Coming face to face with the deadlights drives any living being instantly insane. Bill comes dangerously close to seeing the deadlights; after looking into It’s eyes, he saw the shape behind the shape for a brief moment. He described the sight as an endless, crawling hairy creature made of orange light. But he and Richie successfully defeated It before the deadlights can impact Bill. The only known people to face the deadlights, survive, and regain their sanity are Audra Philips and Beverly Marsh. It’s natural enemy is “The Turtle,” another ancient Macroverse-dweller who, eons ago, created our Universe and possibly others. The Turtle appears in King’s series The Dark Tower as Maturin, one of the Guardians of the Beam. The series suggests that It, along with the Turtle, are themselves creations of a separate, omnipotent creator referred to as “the Other” (who may be the entity Gan). The Turtle and It are eternal enemies in a battle of creation against consumption. It may, in fact, be either a Twinner of or the actual one of the six greater demon elementals mentioned by Mia in Song of Susannah, as the Spider is not one of the Beam Guardians. It’s physical form arrived in our world in a massive cataclysmic event similar to an asteroid impact, in the place that would much later become Derry, Maine.
Throughout the novel It, some events are described through It’s point of view. It describes itself as the “superior” being, with the Turtle as someone “close to its superiority” and humans as mere “toys.” It states that it prefers to kill and devour children, not by nature, but rather because children’s fears are easier to manipulate and then interpret into a physical form. Thus children are easier to fill with terror, which It says is akin to salting the meat. It’s physical form consumes their bodies while It’s spiritual component consumes their fear.
It is continually surprised by the Losers’ victories over it and near the end, It begins to question if it is not as superior as it had once thought. However, It doesn’t believe that the individual children are strong enough to defeat it. Only with “the Other” working through them as a group does It believe they can harm it.
“You have no power. This is the power; feel the power, brat, and then speak again of how you come to kill the Eternal! ” – It to Bill Denbrough in the Macroverse.
For millions of years, It dwelt underground, awaiting the arrival of mankind which It somehow knew would occur. Once people came and settled over the resting place where It dwelled and Derry would be eventually built, It adopted a pattern of hibernating and waking approximately every 27 to 30 years to kill prey and feast on the flesh of innocent children. Whenever It awakens it is always marked by a great and brutal act of violence such as murder or suicide, as the creature was naturally drawn to suffering and tragedy. The one and only way It can be stopped and the killing spree will end, is by another act of violence or tragic death as brutal or as significant as the first act. Then It will be forced back into a long hibernation.
1715 – 1716: It painfully awoke.
1740 – 1743: It awoke and started a three-year reign of terror that culminated with the disappearance of over 300 settlers from Derry Township, much like the Roanoke Island mystery.
1769 – 1770: It awoke again.
1851: It awoke when a man named John Markson poisoned his own family, then committed suicide by eating a white-nightshade mushroom causing him an excruciating death.
1876 – 1879: It awoke, then went back into hibernation after murdering a group of lumberjacks who were later found near the Kenduskeag.
1904 – 1906: It awoke another time when a lumberjack named Claude Heroux murdered a dozen of men in a bar with just one axe. Heroux was promptly pursued by a mob of townsfolk and hanged to death. It returned to hibernation when the Kitchener Ironworks exploded, killing 108 people, 88 of whom were children engaged in an Easter egg hunt.
1929 – 1930: It awoke when a large group of Derry citizens gunned down a small group of gangsters known as the Bradley Gang. It returned to hibernation when the Maine Legion of White Decency, a Northern counterpart to the Ku Klux Klan, burned down an African-American army nightclub known as “The Black Spot” and had appeared as a Bird having Balloons on its wings.
1957 – 1958: It awoke when Dorsey Corcoran was beaten to death by his stepfather, Richard Macklin; Its first known victim at the time was Georgie Denbrough during one of the floods that hit Derry every few years. It then met its match when the Losers’ Club forced It to return to an early hibernation when wounded by the young Bill Denbrough (Georgie’s older brother) in the first Ritual of Chüd.
1984 – 1985: It awoke when three young homophobic bullies beat up a young homosexual couple, Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty, throwing Mellon off a bridge, and eating Mellon while Don was caring for him (echoing real-life events in Maine). It was finally defeated and died in the second Ritual of Chüd by the adult Bill, Richie, Beverly, Eddie, and Ben, though this triggered the collapse of the water tower and flooding of the whole entire town.
In the intervening periods between each pair of violent bookending events, a series of child murders occur in Derry which is never solved. The book’s surface explanation as to why these murders are never reported on the national news is that location matters to a news story—a series of murders, no matter how gruesome, don’t get reported if they happen in a small town. However, the book’s implied reason for why the atrocities go unnoticed is far more sinister: It won’t let them be noticed in the larger world.
In the 1990 adaptation, the events occur slightly later, with the flashbacks occurring in 1960 so the current day events would be in the year of release. The 2017 film relocates the Losers’ Club events to 1989, so presumably, the sequel is set in 2016, 27 years after the original’s events.