IT, also known as "Pennywise The Dancing Clown" or "Bob Gray", is the title character and main antagonist of Stephen King's 1986 horror novel IT. The character is a demonic entity that preys upon the local children of Derry, Maine every twenty-seven years, through a variety of powers that include the ability to shapeshift, manipulate, and possess. It was portrayed by Tim Curry. King came up with the idea for Pennywise after asking himself what scared children "more than anything else in the world", which he felt was clowns.
Several media outlets such as The Guardian have remarked on the character, ranking it as one of the scariest clowns in film or pop culture. The character has also been cited as a possible inspiration for two separate incidents of people dressing up as creepy clowns in Northampton and Staten Island.
A monster of unknown origins, It originated before the creation of the universe itself in a dimension named the "Deadlights", and It's true form is never revealed. Because of this, the Losers' Club does not know what It actually is, giving the creature its name. The form It takes the most is that of a sadistic clown, named Pennywise. The clown form is used as a decoy when stalking a child. In It's home under the sewers, It takes the form of a monstrous pregnant female black spider. This form is determined to be the closest to It's true physical shape. Having control over what happens in Derry, many of the child murders It commits are never solved, as the adults of Derry either act as though nothing is happening or have forgotten about It.
The monster arrived on Earth in the form of an asteroid during prehistory, landing on what later would become the town of Derry, and hibernated there until humans settled and colonized the place. It awoke, fed on the settlers, and started a cycle of hibernation, in which It would sleep for almost three decades and be awake for over two years. Every time It's hibernation stage finished, events of extreme violence happened in Derry. To feed on its prey, It transforms into the shape of whatever the victim most fears to extract their fear and consume it.
In the novel, Mike Hanlon, one of those who had battled against It during the 1957–58 period, became Derry's librarian and historian, and investigated about the city's dark and violent events. By this, he learned about It's cycle:
- 1715–1716: It awoke.
- 1740–1743: It awoke and killed 300 settlers.
- 1769–1770: It awoke.
- 1850: It awoke and made a man poison his own family and then commit suicide.
- 1876–1879: It awoke and went back to hibernation when a group of dead woodcutters appeared nearby the Kendukeag river.
- 1904–1906: It awoke and caused a mass murder in a bar, then went back into hibernation after causing the deaths of 240 at the Kitchener Foundry, 200 of them being children who were searching for Easter eggs.
- 1924–1930: It awoke when a gang of mobsters were shot to death by some Derry residents, and went to sleep when some Ku Klux Klan set fire to an African-American night club.
- 1957–1958: It awoke, causing a great storm. It's murders began with George Denbrough, Bill Denbrough's younger brother. Bill, Ben Hanscom, Beverly Marsh, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kapsbrack, Mike Hanlon and Stan Uris had several encounters with It, and tried to kill the creature. They seriously hurt It and believed It was dead, making the monster hibernate until 1984.
- 1984–1985: It awoke when a group of bullies violently attacked a homosexual couple: Adrian Mellon and Don Haggarty, causing the death of Mellon, and soon after It fed on him. After a series of murders, the Losers, now as adults, returned to Derry and finally killed It. While they were doing so, the whole city of Derry was severely damaged by a huge storm, signifying It's definite death.
It is part of the disasters that occur every 30 years in the Maine town of Derry.
Unlike many horror monsters before him, Pennywise the Dancing Clown isn't against killing children; in fact, he actually prefers to kill children as they are an easier target. This is probably why he chooses the form of a clown, a figure that both entertains and terrifies many young children. It has razor sharp teeth that it can use to kill people.
As the film progresses, a group of children known as the Lucky Seven (also mockingly referred to as the "Losers' Club") forms together to kill Pennywise and end his murderous reign (after he had killed the brother of one of them) and apparently succeed after tracking him down to his lair. However, Pennywise, being a lesser aspect of a higher being, isn't going to stay dead forever and he swears revenge on the gang for his defeat before he vanishes into nothingness.
Many years later, Pennywise keeps his promise and comes after members of the gang, who are all adults in the present day, to kill them. This prompts the gang to reform and battle Pennywise again in order to kill him yet again and save themselves from his wrath. At the end of the film, the gang does manage to defeat Pennywise again, but in that final battle, he takes the form of a spider-like monster (which is revealed to be his true form) rather than the clown disguise (which he uses for most of the film). He is killed when they pull out his heart. After they kill it, they leave its corpse to rot.
The film lacks many elements of It that the novel includes. In the novel, It is an eternal entity that is almost as old as time itself. It is the natural enemy of The Turtle, who both exist in the Macroverse.
After arriving to Earth, It would sleep for approximently 28 to 30 years at a time, then awaken to wreak chaos and feed (primarily on the fear of children). It is able to take many more forms than the film depicts, including werewolves, bats, leeches, and even Jaws. Anything a child is afraid of, It could become.
Also in the novel, It is only able to be stopped when Bill performs the Ritual of Chüd.
It apparently originated in a void containing and surrounding the Universe, a place referred to in the novel as the "Macroverse" (a concept similar to the later established "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 christened "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 possibly be female (due to It's manifestation as a large female spider). Despite this, It's true form is never truly comprehended. It's final physical body is that of an enormous spider; this is, however, the closest the human mind can get to approximating its actual form. It's natural form exists in a realm beyond the physical, which It calls the "deadlights". Bill Denbrough comes dangerously close to seeing the deadlights, but successfully defeats It before this happens. As such, the deadlights are never seen, and It's true form outside the physical realm is never revealed, only described as writhing, destroying orange lights. Coming face to face with the deadlights drives any living being instantly insane (a common H. P. Lovecraft device). The only known person to face the deadlights and survive is Bill's wife Audra Phillips.
It's natural enemy is the "Turtle", another ancient Macroverse dweller who, eons ago, created our Universe and possibly others. The Turtle shows up again in King's series The Dark Tower. The book suggests that It, along with the Turtle, are themselves creations of a separate, omnipotent creator referred to as "The Other". The Turtle and It are eternal enemies (creation versus 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 arrived in our world in a massive, cataclysmic event similar to an asteroid impact, in the place that would, in time, become Derry, Maine.
Throughout the novel It, some events are described through It's point of view, through which It describes himself as the "superior" being, with the Turtle as someone "close to his superiority" and humans as mere "toys". It describes that it prefers to kill and devour children, not by nature, rather because children's fears are easier to interpret in a physical form and thus children are easier to fill with terror, which It says is akin to marinating the meat. It is continually surprised by the children's victories over It and near the end, it begins to question if It is not as superior as It had once thought. However, It never believes that the individual children are strong enough to defeat It, only through "the Other" working through them as a group.
Powers and abilities
- It can immediately transform itself to any kind of being, taking the frightful image directly from the victim's mind, regardless of the size or nature. It takes the form of a giant plastic statue, several small life entities — flying leeches — or several human-sized entities, when Eddie is confronted by the cadavers of Greta Bowie, Patrick Hockstetter, and Belch Huggins at the baseball court. Between shape-shifting, It is an orange amorphous goo, which is somewhat close to It's true form.
- Partial invisibility
- This is clearly stated in several cases, notably when Beverly encounters Pennywise at the place where she used to live or when Ben encounters It in the public library, suggesting that only those can see It, who actually believe, or have knowledge about It's existence, although It can become fully visible to anybody, when it is necessary. One notable moment is when It helps Henry Bowers to escape from Juniper Hill, one of Henry's roommates and then the guard also witness It next to Henry.
- It can create many different illusions, which are actually real. These illusions include balloons floating against the wind, moving photographs, blood gushes and streams, small but shocking entities, such as a cricket, a mutant fly, teeth, and eyeball, which were hidden in the fortune cookies at the Losers' reunion, different noises and music (including human speech), and various smells '(popcorn, cotton candy, rotting). The partial invisibility ability fully applies to all of these illusions, as only the chosen victims can actually see and sense these. After a period of time, or when the witness actually sees through the illusion, these will cease to exist. It is imperative, however, to see through the illusion perfectly.
- Quick regeneration
- While It is clearly not invulnerable, and in fact, can be wounded and damaged in smaller-bigger degrees, It can almost spontaneously regenerate. This ability of It appears to be untrustworthy, as seen at the young Mike Hanlon's encounter with the giant bird. After Mike hits the bird's eye and its feet with broken tiles, It quickly decides to retreat. On the other hand, when Bill and Richie encounter It in its werewolf form at 29 Neibolt Street, It can almost instantly regenerate itself after Bill's headshot with the Walther PPK, and chase the boys for a somewhat long period. It is unclear how It utilizes its quick regeneration abilities, but it might be a necessarily-corporeal ability. Opinions differ about whether or not It could be killed merely with heavy firepower and weapons, or at least It's physical form.
- Telepathic perception
- It can read people's mind in its close vicinity, this is the ability It exploits mostly, when taking a form, but in several cases, It can clearly read the Losers' thoughts, and use them to its own advantage.
- Telepathic communication
- It can communicate telepathically, as seen in the scene of the library with the adult Ben Hanscom, or the Juniper Hill scene with Henry Bowers.
- Mind control
- It has the power of controlling several people's minds, even simultaneously. This also suggests that It has the ability to erase certain things from people's memory or knowledge. At the two confrontations between the Losers and It, Bill discovers this, and warns his friends that "Derry is It" and that "anyplace they go, they won't see, they won't hear, they won't know". It massively affects the minds of the inhabitants of Derry, making them indifferent to the tragic events that are taking place. People with weak will seem to succumb to It's mind control ability very often. This ability presumably has no effect on people outside Derry's boundaries.
- It can teleport itself across limited distances by disappearing without a trace, and re-appearing somewhere else a little bit later. Although a very useful and effective ability, It doesn't seem to exploit this too often.
- Pollution inducement
- With a touch, It can instantly cause plants to die. That is seen when Eddie (young and adult) encounters It in its leper form. It must be distinguished from the illusions mentioned earlier, as this effect persists long after It's appearance, although it does not serve any practical purposes.
- It can manipulate lifeless objects to fall, float around, and behave supernaturally. This includes locking doors, and electronic devices.
- Weather manipulation
- It may have effect on the weather in Derry's region. On more than one occasion, when the Losers face It, the weather changes into a thunderstorm. Most notably at the final confrontation, which actually devastates Derry's downtown region.
- Activation and deactivation
- The power to make the television in Audra Phillips (Audra Denbrough's) hotel room switch itself on, showing an image of Pennywise holding the severed head of her film director, Freddie Firestone.
- Acrobatic expertise
- It also appears to be an expert at gymnastics because after It's head is cracked open revealing the "deadlights" before being killed It escapes by somersaulting over the losers and disappears down the drain.
It has many powers, one of these being able to shape shift to scare the children of Derry. It has changed into a number of things including:
- Pennywise the Dancing Clown
- It's favorite form and main disguise. Mainly used when hunting children. Carries balloons often.
- George "Georgie" Denborough
- When Bill examines his brother's photo album and later in the sewers to accuse Bill of causing his death.
- Curtis Willett
- Real life "witness" of supposed "killer clown" in a Portland Maine suburb.
- Dorsey Corcoran's re-animated corpse and the Creature from the Black Lagoon
- When pursuing Eddie Corcoran.
- The voice of Betty Ripsom, one of It's victims
- Overheard by Betty's parents through a drain to tease them.
- A giant bird
- Inspired both by a crow that attacked Mike Hanlon as a baby and also Rodan, a giant pteranodon featured in a Japanese horror film from 1957, when pursuing Mike Hanlon (oddly, It also appears as a giant bird to Will Hanlon, Mike's father, thus making him one of the few adults who can see It).
- The Werewolf
- When It encounters Richie and Bill, wearing a Derry High School blazer inspired by I Was a Teenage Werewolf.
- The Leper/Diseased Homeless Man
- When Eddie first encounters It under the porch of the house on Neibolt Street.
- The Mummy
- Ben Hanscom recalls seeing a mummy (from the 1932 film, "The Mummy") in Pennywise's outfit walking along the frozen canal towards him. It carries balloons that float against the wind. In the movie, Stan sees this form in the house on Neibolt Street.
- The Crawling Eye
- When encountering the Losers under the city.
- Alvin Marsh
- Beverly's abusive father, as she is terrified of him.
- A swarm of winged leeches
- When attacking Patrick Hockstetter.
- A swarm of piranhas
- When Eddie is frightened of crossing the stream.
- Several disgusting items hidden in fortune cookies
- Including an eyeball, a bird fetus, a cockroach, and a set of teeth.
- The Shark
- Seen by a boy named Tommy Vicananza in the Derry canal in 1985.
- Seen by Ben in the Derry library in 1985. It does not look like any of the traditional variations of Dracula, but rather looks Kurt Barlow from King's own "Salem's Lot": very old and with razor blades for teeth. He asks Ben: "What did Stan see before he committed suicide?" The vampire then chomps down on his own mouth and causes his lips to split open and bleed on the floor.
- A statue of Paul Bunyan
- Attacking Richie Tozier in 1958. In 1985, Richie sees that this statue is replaced by a giant Pennywise.
- Tony Tracker
- Manager of a trucking depot in Derry during the Losers' childhood. Eddie Kaspbrak sees It in this form when he visits an old baseball diamond near the depot in 1985.
- Frankenstein's Monster
- It is perceived in this form by Henry's cronies, Victor Criss and Belch Huggins.
- A Doberman Pinscher
- When It appears to Henry Bowers in 1985 at Juniper Hills Mental Institution, It turns into an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m) dog of this breed because it is the only animal that the guard on duty fears.
- A gas station attendant
- Who turns into Pennywise and hypnotizes Audra after she pulls over to ask for directions in the movie.
- The decomposing corpse of Patrick Hockstetter
- To Eddie briefly in the sewers as a child before It becomes the eye. Seen by Eddie again at Tracker Brothers in 1985.
- The Moon
- While giving It's orders to It's puppet, Henry Bowers.
- Victor Criss
- While convincing Henry Bowers to help It.
- The head of Stan Uris, full of feathers
- Inside Mike's fridge. Also appears again as a jack-in-the-box when Henry fights Mike in the library. Mike sees Stan's head again as Henry sees Victor's head.
- The Witch from Hansel and Gretel
- Beverly Marsh visits her old home to find a woman named Mrs. Kersh living there. Mrs. Kersh then transforms into the witch, showing that she is actually It.
- Decomposing corpses of children
- Perceived by Stan Uris as he enters the Standpipe and remembers the tale of the kids who drowned in the water tower's reservoir.
- Reginald "Belch" Huggins
- It takes this form when It gives Henry Bowers a ride to the Derry Town House (to murder the remaining Losers' Club members) in 1985. It picks Henry up in a 1958 Plymouth Fury, a direct reference to King's novel Christine.
- Beverly "Bev" Marsh
- Seduces Ben in this form due to Ben's crush on Beverly.
- The Deadlights
- When Henry Bowers and the Losers encounter It. This is its form in the Macroverse. People will see this form of It if they look too long in the Spider's eyes.
- The Giant Spider
- It's true and closest physical representation on Earth.
- Laurie Anne Winterbarger
- In the very beginning of the film, It murders a little girl.
- George Elmer "Georgie" Denbrough
- In the opening of the book and film, Georgie is murdered after It appearing as Pennywise rips his arm off and murders him.
- Patrick Hockstetter
- After Henry threatens to tell about Patrick's secret about the fact he had been trapping small vulnerable animals in a refrigerator and leaving them to die by suffocation Patrick leaves to dispose of the corpses but is attacked by It in the form of several winged leeches which make large holes in his body and he falls unconscious. When he wakes up It has begun feeding on him.
- Victor "Vic" Criss
- When Henry, Victor and Belch are looking for the losers It attacks them in the form of Frankenstein's Monster. In this form It decapitates him. In the movie, he is killed by It in the form of the "deadlights".
- Reginald "Belch" Huggins
- A few minutes after It kills Victor It goes after Belch. Despite Belch's strength It overpowers him and rips half his face off. In the film when Victor is killed by It, It bursts through a sewer pipe and sucks Belch through the pipe. Eating noises are heard soon after his body disappears.
- Edward "Eddie" Corcoran
- Whilst sitting on a bench, Dorsey, his abusive father, grabs Eddie by the ankle and chases after him. Afterwards It changes into the Gill-man (the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and tears his head from his carotid artery.
- Stanley "Stan" Uris
- Even though his death has nothing to do with It his blood is used to write "IT" on the wall.
- Mr. Forgarty
- When helping Henry escape from Juniper Hill, Fogarty discovers that Henry has escaped, but is killed when It turns into his worst fear, a Doberman Pinscher, and mauls him to death.
- Thomas "Tom" Rogan
- When he leaves for Derry to kill Beverly and Bill, Pennywise hypnotizes him to capture Audra Phillips and bring her to It's lair beneath the city. Upon seeing It's true form he drops dead in shock and is eaten.
- Edward "Eddie" Kaspbrak
- During the final fight between It and the losers, remembering that his inhaler stunned It the first time he and It met, Eddie tries to stun It's giant spider form with his inhaler but to no avail. Instead It picks him up, lifts him high off the ground, bites his arm off and after It is killed Eddie bleeds to death. In the film It mortally wounds him in a less gory way.
- Alvin Marsh
- While in It's hibernating, It attacks Alvin Marsh in his nightmare and kills him, eats him alive and erases Marsh from existence.
Despite It seeing itself as the superior being and actually stating that its brain embraces the whole continent, It is far from being all-mighty. Though It does seem to have significant power above Derry and over its denizens, It displays several weaknesses, which the Losers exploit and eventually overcome.
For instance, It clearly underestimates and scorns all the human beings, including the Losers. It is notable in many cases that It leaves an open escape way for the victims and lets them run away. This is seen when the young Ben Hanscom encounters the mummy and when Eddie sees the leper under the porch of 29 Neibolt Street. Because of this, It constantly makes mistakes and does illogical things. When Henry Bowers and his sidekicks chase the Losers into the sewer tunnel system, It attacks Henry's gang instead and turns on the Losers only after killing Henry's two friends. It is also mentioned in the novel that It killed a child named Frederick Cowan by emerging from the toilet, and yet, It was unable to finish off the Losers one by one using this same method only because It doesn't believe that it needed to do such things to kill them.
It is a psychically sensitive entity, so courage and heart can overcome It, even in its most diabolical appearances. Once the Losers are together, their strong will and the love for each other successfully overpower It and its fiendish machinations. Their strong faith in their various methods of fighting It eventually leads them to victory. The Losers' assault on 29 Neibolt Street make It quickly retreat after being hit by a silver slug (because of the Losers' common sense solution of using silver against supernatural entities).
The novel also states that when It transforms into a shape, It must surrender to the laws of that shape. This clearly means that It is not invulnerable, and its physical forms can bleed and can be significantly damaged and perhaps even destroyed.
It goes to hibernation for 26–27 years between the cycles. During that time, It may be extremely vulnerable to surprise attacks. However, despite having been defeated for good, it has been heavily implied in other books ("such as Dreamcatcher and "Hearts in Atlantis") that It may be still alive. It's natural enemy, "The Turtle" is mentioned in the Dark Tower series and the character Father Callahan even manages to defend himself from a large group of demons using a cross and the Turtle image, in spite of the latter having "died" during this novel. So, it can be speculated that only It's physical form was destroyed.
- It (novel and film)
- The Tommyknockers
- 11/22/63 (mentioned)
In King's other works
In King's later novel The Tommyknockers, a secondary character, while in Derry, sees a clown under a storm drain. It's not clear if it's just a hallucination or if it's actually Pennywise.
In King's 2001 novel Dreamcatcher Mr. Gray shares his name with It's alias, Robert Gray. When he arrives in Derry, he reads a phrase that pays homage to the victims of the 1985 storm, the names of the seven Losers' Club members, and the phrase "Pennywise lives". This may be a signal that It wasn't actually killed.
In King's 11/22/63, the novel's protagonist, Jake, when going back to Derry in 1958, encounters Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier, two of the seven children who confront It.
In the 1990 television miniseries, Pennywise the Clown is portrayed by actor Tim Curry. Here, It's true form is revealed to be the Deadlights, but It's origin is never mentioned. The miniseries also omits the Turtle and the fact that It is a pregnant female when it shape-shifts into the Spider.
Tim Curry has been widely praised for his portrayal of Pennywise, although he never acknowledged the character until he was interviewed by Moviefone in 2015 (the year of the miniseries' 25th anniversary). He described the role of Pennywise as a "wonderful part" and wished Will Poulter, who was then selected to play Pennywise in the 2017 big-screen reboot, the best of luck. Poulter later dropped out of the production. On June 3, 2016, it was announced that the role had been recast to Bill Skarsgard.
Reception and legacy
The Atlantic commented on the character, writing that "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 commented on Pennywise, stating that it was "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".
Critics such as Mark Dery have drawn between the character of Pennywise and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and Dery has stated that the character "embodied our primal fears in a sociopathic Ronald McDonald who oozes honeyed guile".
The American punk rock band "Pennywise" took its name from the character.
In other media
- In the 1990 television miniseries, It is portrayed by actor Tim Curry. Here, It's true form is revealed to be the Deadlights, but Its origin is never mentioned. The miniseries also omits the Turtle, and the fact that when It shapeshifts into the Spider It's a pregnant female.
- It appears in pony form in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comic The Return of Queen Chrysalis, in one of the doors in Queen Chrysalis's castle. Fluttershy opens his door and he appears, saying, "Hello, Georgie!".