- “You'll float, too.”
- ―It's most famous quote, a reference to causing his victims to float
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 and its 2017 film adaptation, and the archenemy of the Losers Club. The character is an entity which preys upon the children of Derry, Maine, roughly every twenty-seven years, using a variety of powers that include the ability to shapeshift, manipulate, and go unnoticed by adults.
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". He felt that the answer was clowns. King has also acknowledged on his website that he originally wanted the title character of It to be a troll like the one in the children's tale "Three Billy Goats Gruff", but who inhabited the local sewer system rather than just the area beneath one bridge. The character has been described as one of the scariest clowns in popular culture.
The character was portrayed by Tim Curry in the 1990 television adaptation and by Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 film adaptation. Skarsgård reprised his role in the sequel, It: Chapter Two, in 2019.
In the novel, It is an eternal entity. After arriving on Earth, It would sleep for approximately 27 to 30 years at a time, then awaken to wreak chaos and feed (primarily on children's fear). It is able to take many more forms than the film adaptations depict, including werewolves, bats, leeches, and sharks. It could embody any of a child's worst fears.
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). At several points in the novel, It claims its true name is "Bob 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 children come to believe It may be female (due to It's manifestation as a large female spider). In addition, upon seeing its true form Audra Denbrough says "Oh dear Jesus, It is female." Despite this, the true form of It is never truly known. The final physical form It takes is that of an enormous spider, but this is the closest the human mind can understand. It's actual form is not precisely what the children actually see. Instead, the natural form of It exists in an inter-dimensional realm referred to by It as the "deadlights". Bill Denbrough comes dangerously close to seeing the deadlights, but successfully defeats It before this happens. The deadlights are never seen, and their 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 Lovecraftiandevice). The only known people to face the deadlights and survive are Bill's wife, Audra Phillips, and Beverly, although they are rendered catatonic by the experience.
It's natural enemy is the "Turtle", another ancient dweller of King's "Macroverse" 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 The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah, as the Spider is not one of the Beam Guardians. It arrived in our world during prehistoric times 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 itself as the "superior" being, with the Turtle as someone "close to his superiority" and humans as mere "toys". It explains it prefers to kill and devour children, not by nature, but rather because children's fears are easier to interpret in a physical form and thus children are easier to fill with terror. It says this is akin to "salting 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 feels that the individual children are strong enough to defeat It, only through "the Other" working through them as a group.
Not only is It a deadly predator who enjoys devouring his prey (even and especially children), but It enjoys toying and 'bullying' his victims, terrifying them, tormenting them and harassing them before finally slaughtering them as fear 'floods the body and salts the meat', according to It. It also bullies the Loser's Club verbally, namely Bill, mocking his stutter and, on top of that, the loss of his little brother, even using that sadness to take advantage of him. It possesses a psychopathic sense of humor and loves to taunt his victims, taking glee in terrifying them and torturing them. It absolutely delights in his monstrous cruelty and evil acts, making him a cruel monster out for death and fear and not just a predator out for survival.
It also has the character of an arrogant narcissist, allying with, caring for and loving absolutely no-one and nothing but itself. He views himself as above Maturin the turtle spirit calling the later "stupid" and looking down on him for his good-hearted nature. It, like all evil godlike figures, sees humans as inferior creatures, who exist solely to be toyed with and eaten.
It is highly intelligent and is a clever and manipulative trickster, shown whilst in the form of Pennywise, when he is more than capable of acting in a warm and friendly manner to give the prey (most notably Georgie) a false sense of security. Pennywise is loud, jovial, cheerful, merry, sociable, and charming towards children, politely offering them the chance to visit his circus and eat free food. This is the closest thing to kindness in It's soul, and it is just a façade to fool his prey, so he can kill them and devour them.
Ironically, despite being a horrifying creature who preys on fear, It is a true coward at heart. When his victims have overcome their fears of him, he can be pounded into a helpless and terrified pulp. Ultimately, he is pathetic and cowardly once his victims actually face him together. It is terrified of starving and dying, as shown in his final moments when he becomes a blubbering wreck.
It's greatest weakness is that he underestimates the goodness of humanity, love and friendship, leading to his eventual demise once the Loser's Club join together and fight him together. This is when his cocky arrogance works against him. Even with his powers, the Loser's Club are still able to defeat him when they work together.
Being a shape-shifter, It's physical appearance varies; his most common forms are Pennywise the Clown and a red balloon. However, he also takes on the form of other people's greatest fears.
Powers and abilities
Being an interdimensional cosmic being, It was an extremely powerful entity. Although his true form exists outside of time and space in the Macroverse, the powers demonstrated by his earthly avatar include.
- Psychic Power: It possesses an insane level of psychic power, he can steal people's souls and entrap them within the Deadlights (It's true form). He can also create psychic hurricanes capable of destroying entire towns. When battling the Losers, It created a psychic storm that devastated downtown Derry.
- Mind Control: In addition to his immense psychic power, It is capable of controlling the mind and actions of a person. It is implied that he controls and influences the mind of every adult in Derry or perhaps even the entire nation, as they are all ignorant of the terrible murders that take place there. Another example of this is when It manipulates Henry Bowers to kill his father and later the Losers Club.
- Possession: It also has the ability to possess people, this was shown when he possessed Mr. Keene in order to get Eddie to leave Derry. It was also shown when It possessed Henry Bowers.
- Telepathy: It can read the minds of anyone he chooses to target. He often uses this to learn a victim's fears and exploit this with his shape-shifting ability. He can also implant thoughts and projections into people's minds.
- Physical Illusions: In addition to his telepathy, It can also create physical illusions, such as balloons floating against the wind, making his face appear on the moon or the smell of popcorn and rotting corpses. He can also use this to cause a person to hallucinate.
- Shape-Shifting: IT can shape-shift into any form it pleases, whether it be taking on the form of someone or taking the form of flying leeches. It often uses this power to take the form a victim fears most.
- Teleportation: It can also teleport between locations in an instant, however he has never been seen teleporting outside of the Derry City limits.
- Partial Invisibility: This was clearly stated in several cases, most notably when the adult Beverly encounters Pennywise at the place where she used to live or when the adult Ben Hanscom encounters It in the public library. This suggests that only those who actually believe or have knowledge about It's existence are able to see It although It can become fully visible to anybody when it is necessary or wishes to do so. One notable moment was when It helps Henry Bowers to escape from Juniper Hill, one of Henry's cellmates and then the guard also witness It next to Henry.
- Near-Invulnerability: It is not a true physical entity, so he cannot be killed or harmed by conventional means. The only known way to harm Pennywise is to perform the Ritual of Chud, which involves The Turtle and Gan (two multiverse beings) lending their psychic power to the person performing it. They both lent their power to the Losers numerous times when they faced It, giving them the power to harm him. Bill likened fighting Pennywise as "fighting smoke."
- Immortality: It's early avatar has existed on Earth since primordial times and has existed even longer in the Macroverse (a void outside of time and space that surrounds our own universe). The Ritual of Chud is the only known way to kill the earthly avatar. However, it is heavily implied that IT's true form still exists within the Macroverse and is eternal and can never truly be killed.
- Regeneration: It can also quickly regenerate when he is wounded. This was shown when he instantaneously healed after being shot in the face by Bill and Richie when he chased them down Neibolt Street.
- Dream Invasion: It is also implied that It can invade dreams, as he tells Eddie that he "will see him in his dreams" when taking the form of the leper at 29 Neibolt Street.
- Insanity Projection: No mortal mind can perceive It's true form, even Bill when his psychic power was insanely boosted by Gan and The Turtle. Anyone who sees It's true form is driven instantly insane or drops dead from shock.
- Chlorokineis/Flora-cide: With a touch It can instantly cause plants to die. This is shown when Eddie (young and adult) encounters It in his 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.
- Telekinesis: It can manipulate inanimate objects making them fall, float around, and behave supernaturally. This includes locking doors and electronic devices. It can also affect human bodies, as demonstrated when he sent Eddie flying against a wall merely with a glance in his direction.
- Superhuman Strength: Although It is not a physical entity, he is still capable of superhuman attributes. This was shown when It could tear the heads and limbs off children with extreme ease.
- Superhuman Speed: Bill noted that It can move at extreme speeds, claiming that he was way faster than an "express train".
The TV series It revolves around a predatory shapeshifter which has the ability to transform itself into its prey's worst fears, allowing it to exploit the phobias of its victims. It mostly takes the human form of a sadistic, wisecracking clown called Pennywise.
The protagonists are The Lucky Seven, or The Losers Club, a group of outcast kids who discover Pennywise and vow to destroy him by any means necessary. The series takes place over two different time periods, the first when the Losers first confront Pennywise as children in 1960, and the second when they return as adults in 1990 to defeat him a second time after he resurfaces.
It is first seen when Georgie's paper sailboat goes down a storm drain in October 1988; he peers inside looking for it, when Pennywise suddenly appears holding the sailboat, and encourages him to take it. Georgie declines, saying that he shouldn't take anything from strangers. It quickly introduces himself as Pennywise. As Georgie reaches to collect the sailboat, It bites his arm off; Georgie crawls away, crying and screaming in pain, but Pennywise reaches out from the storm drain, grabs Georgie by the ankle, and drags him into the sewers, to his death.
In the summer of 1989, Georgie's brother, Bill is still haunted by his disappearance. Bill discovers his brother's corpse presumably washed up in a swampy wasteland called the Barrens and recruits his friends, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak, and Stan Uris, to help him investigate, though he doesn't believe Georgie is really dead like his parents do.
As Mike Hanlon is delivering meat to the butcher shop, Pennywise haunts him with numerous burnt arms, then he glimpses his shadow through the window hanging from a sheep. It then attacks Stan at the church by taking the form of a woman in a creepy painting, then lures Ben Hanscom to the basement of the library, then takes the form of a headless boy from the Ironworks explosion. While Ben is trying to escape from Henry Bowers and his cronies, Patrick Hockstetter follows him to the Barrens, and searches for him in the sewers, where Pennywise corners and kills him.
A couple days later, It attacks Eddie in the form of a virulent, infectious leper. Then, that night, Pennywise traumatizes Beverly Marsh by spraying her with blood from her bathroom sink, and poses as Georgie to lure Bill to the basement of his house, where he tries to devour Bill like he did Georgie. The next day, Mike glimpses Pennywise feasting on a kid’s arm as he’s being tortured by Henry, Belch Huggins and Victor Criss. As the kids are pinpointing the locations of It’s past assaults on Derry, Sharon Denbrough suddenly takes on the form of It. Without warning, Pennywise emerges from the screen in a gigantic form and tries to attack Beverly, disappearing when Ben reopens the garage door.
During their incursion in the Well House, Pennywise separates Bill, Eddie, and Richie, nearly getting the latter two. It then taunts Bill about Georgie, then attempts to eat him and Richie, though Beverly saves them by stabbing the clown, causing him to slash Ben’s stomach in retaliation, then flees into the well in the basement.
A few weeks later, in August, Pennywise coaxes Henry into killing his father, then kidnaps Beverly after she seemingly murders her father, who sexually abused her, with a toilet tank lid. As the others make their way to Pennywise's underground hideout, an unconscious Beverly awakens before being ambushed by Pennywise, who grabs her and exposes her to his deadlights, causing her to go into a catatonic trance and levitate. After a confrontation with a maniacal Henry Bowers, whom Mike pushes to his presumed death in the well, Stan is attacked by the creepy woman in the painting, and Bill glimpses “Georgie”. Chasing after him, he locates the hideout, where he discovers Beverly, before being distracted by “Georgie” again. The others follow Bill's trail, and Ben revives Beverly with a kiss.
They then catch up with Bill, who is talking to "Georgie"; he eventually realizes it's a hoax, and shoots "Georgie", revealing him to be Pennywise, who offers to spare the others if they hand Bill over to him. They refuse, and a fight ensues, with Pennywise taking on various terrifying forms. The battle ends with Pennywise crumbling and falling into a well. In September, as summer comes to a close, Bill, Beverly, Eddie, Stan, Mike, Richie, and Ben make a vow to return to Derry as adults and destroy Pennywise for good if he ever returns.
27 years later, in 2016, the members of the Losers Club have moved away to different cities in different states, but still keep in touch with each other. After Adrian Mellon and his boyfriend Don Hagarty are attacked by a group of homophobic youngsters, Adrian gets thrown off a bridge into the river below. As he calls out for help, he catches a glimpse of Pennywise on the shore, extending his hand to help him ashore; Don runs down to the riverbank on the other side of the bridge, and ends up watching in horror as It takes a giant bite out of Adrian and eats his heart. Mike Hanlon, the only member of the club to stay in Derry, hears about the event on a police scanner and goes to the scene where he discovers Pennywise is back.
Remembering their childhood vows, he informs Bill and the others and summons them back to Derry; due to being away from Derry for over two decades, the events of the summer of 1989 have become somewhat nebulous to most of them. Though they are troubled by the news, they agree to return. However, Stan, too afraid to deal with Pennywise again, kills himself out of the belief that he'll be a hindrance to them and they'll fare better against It without him.
As the Losers Club reunites, they slowly regain their memories, and It begins to torment them again. Mike has also met with a Native American tribe who witnessed It's arrival on Earth and told him about the Ritual of Chüd, a way of killing It for good. All they need are items from their past. Beverly also reveals that when she was entranced by It's deadlights as a child, she envisioned their deaths if they back down, because of It's influence over them. This motivates them to finish what they started twenty-seven years ago. Pennywise also releases Henry Bowers, who had been confined in a mental hospital for murdering his father and somehow survived the fall into the well, to try and eliminate the Losers again. At a baseball game, he kills a young girl named Victoria after luring her under the bleachers and manipulating her by saying he can get rid of a birthmark on her face.
As the Losers search for the items they seek, they are each stalked and tormented by It: Beverly visits her old apartment, which is now inhabited by a friendly old woman named Mrs. Kersh, who she has tea with before she takes the form of a monstrous old hag; Richie goes by the park where he recalls being attacked by It in the form of a gigantic lumberjack statue, then is taunted by the entity; Ben goes to the school, where he recalls It attacking him after taking on a demonic form of Beverly; and Eddie goes to the pharmacy, where he recalls witnessing his mother get tortured by It as the Leper, then is attacked by the Leper, but he manages to stand up and fight him off, making him feel small and powerless, effectively making him realize It’s true weakness. Bill, meanwhile, goes to the storm drain where Georgie died and is almost pulled in by It, but manages to break free. He then meets a young boy named Dean, who lives at his old house, and reveals he has been hearing children's voices coming out of the shower drain, Bill urges Dean to leave Derry for his own good. At their hotel, Pennywise threatens Bill using Dean’s skateboard, with the words “You won’t be there for him either.” written on it, making Bill realize Pennywise has targeted Dean. Bill hurries to a carnival to save him, to no avail, as Dean is devoured. Feeling guilty for the deaths of Georgie and Dean, Bill decides to deal with It on his own and goes to the Well House. The others find out his intentions and meet him there to remind him that they’re in it together.
The group is separated and attacked by It, who takes on a corpse-like form of Stan’s head with spider legs, and cuts Ben’s stomach in the mirror. Luckily, Beverly stops him by breaking the mirror. They journey back down to the cistern, where they triumphed over Pennywise as kids, discovering another tunnel leading to the meteor that brought It to Earth, where they perform the Ritual of Chüd, which seems to work for a few seconds, but the Deadlights escape from the sealing jar as Pennywise takes on a giant spider-like monstrosity, forcing Mike to reveal that It killed the tribe that originally performed the ritual, attacking Eddie, Mike, and Richie, and putting Ben, Beverly, and Bill in frightening predicaments: Ben is trapped in the Losers’ clubhouse and getting buried in dirt, Beverly is locked in a bathroom stall as it fills up with blood and being terrorized by Gretta, Mr. Keene, Henry, and her father, and Bill witnesses his younger self telling Georgie that he lied about being sick that day, escaping when Bill gets over his guilt about Georgie’s death, and Ben reveals to Beverly that he wrote the poetic love letter, and she escapes from the stall and rescues him.
While Pennywise is still attacking Mike, Richie reenters the cave and mocks It while throwing rocks at the monster; Pennywise responds by paralyzing Richie with the Deadlights; Eddie arrives and observes this and throws a rebar, which Beverly told him kills monsters if he believes it does, at Pennywise, releasing Richie from the Deadlights. Pennywise impales Eddie through the chest in retaliation and throws him into the cave. With his last breath, Eddie reveals how he made Pennywise small earlier, making the group realize they can do that by exploiting It requiring a physical form. They proceed to mock him, calling him numerous names and just a clown, not the terrifying “eater of worlds” he says he is, causing him to back away into the center of the meteor where the group corners him, as he is ultimately reduced to a helpless infant form. Mike pulls Pennywise’s heart out, and he, Ben, Beverly, Bill, and Richie crush it. With It’s heart destroyed, the Deadlights shrink and vanish, and Pennywise crumbles and shrivels up into nothingness; soon after, the cave and the Well House begin to collapse.
It’s defeat causes the incisions on the group’s hands to vanish, and surprisingly stops them from forgetting again.
- IT (alongside Randall Flagg) is regarded as the most evil and popular of Stephen King's villains, and an immense icon in horror. In 2006, Wizard Magazine ranked IT the 15th greatest villain of all time.
- Ironically, Bill Skarsgård was born in the same year as the original film adaptation (by Tommy Lee Wallace) of IT: 1990. The amount of years It hibernates is about 27 years. 27 years after the release of the miniseries (and Skarsgård's birth) the new movie will be released, in which Skarsgård will play Pennywise.
- Its favorite form, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, was designed after Bozo, Clarabell, and Ronald McDonald.