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|Stephen King character|
|First appearance||It (1986)|
|Created by||Stephen King|
|Portrayed by||1990 miniseries:|
Frank C. Turner
2017 film and
(The Hobo / Leper / The Witch)
Jackson Robert Scott
It is the title character 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 twenty-seven years, using a variety of powers that include the ability to shapeshift, manipulate, and go unnoticed by adults. During the course of the story, It primarily appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
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 2017 film adaptation and in It Chapter Two, which was released on September 6, 2019, by Bill Skarsgård.
In the novel, It is a shapeshifting monster who usually assumes 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" (a concept similar to the later established "Todash Darkness" of the Dark Tower novels). It ended up on prehistoric Earth during an asteroid impact and made its home under the land that Derry would be built on, preying on indigenous tribes before confiding its feedings within the town. It would sleep for approximately 27 to 30 years at a time, using its time awake to wreak chaos and feed on human fear by assuming what its prey fear the most. It has a preference for children since their fears are easier to interpret in a physical form, gradually breaking them akin to "salting the meat" before killing them. It can manipulate people with weaker wills, making them indifferent to the horrific events that unfold or serve as unknowing accomplices.
At several points in the novel, It claims its true name is "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, but the Losers come to believe It may be female with the human mind safely comprehending It's true form to that of a monstrous giant spider. But 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 directly stares into them (a common Lovecraftian device). The only known people to survive the ordeal are Bill's wife Audra Phillips and Beverly Marsh, although they are rendered 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. 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" (possibly Gan, who is said to have created the various universes where King's novels take place). 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.
Throughout the novel It, some events are depicted from Pennywise's point of view, describing itself as the "superior" being with the Turtle as an equal and humans as mere "toys". Its hibernation begins and ends with a horrifical event of sorts, like the mysterious disappearance of the Derry Township's three hundred 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 brother Georgie Denbrough the first in a line of killings before the Losers Club force the monster into an early hibernation when Bill used the Ritual of Chüd to heavily wound It. Continually surprised by the Losers' victory, It briefly questioned his superiority while seeing they were only lucky as the Turtle is working through them as the group and could easily picked them off individually. It is finally destroyed in the second Ritual of Chüd, and an enormous storm damages the downtown part of Derry to symbolize It's death.
There's a tangential appearance of Pennywise in King's 2011 novel 11/22/63, where time-traveling Jake meets a couple of the children from It and asks them about a recent murder in their town. Apparently the murder "wasn't the clown." It also appears to the protagonist, Jake Epping in the old ironworks where it taunts Jake about "the rabbit-hole," Referring to the time portal.
Film and television
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 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 legacy
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 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". 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". On his website, however, King makes no mention of Gacy in discussing his inspiration.
2016 clown sightings
—Writer Stephen King's reaction to the recurring clown scare phenomenon.
The character has also been cited as a possible inspiration for two separate incidents of people dressing up as creepy clowns in Northampton, England and Staten Island, New York. In 2016, several reports of random appearances by "evil clowns" were reported by the media, including seven people in Alabama charged with "clown-related activity". Several newspaper reports cited the character of Pennywise as an influence for the outbreak, which led to King commenting that people should lower hysteria caused by the sightings and not take his work seriously. The first reported sighting of people dressed as evil clowns was in Greenville, South Carolina, where a small boy spoke to his mother of a pair of clowns that had attempted to lure him away. After such an incident, a number of clowns have since been spotted in various American states including Florida, New York, Wisconsin and Kentucky, and subsequently in other Western countries, from August 2016. By October 2016, in the wake of hundreds of "clown sightings" across the United States and Canada, the phenomenon had spread from North America to Europe, Australasia and Latin America.
Some explanations for the 2016 clown sightings phenomenon hypothesize that at least some of the sightings are part of a viral marketing campaign, possibly for the Rob Zombie film 31 (2016). Greenville police chief Ken Miller claimed to reporters that investigators are unsure as to whether the sightings have any connection with Zombie's 31, whether it was one or more people looking for "kicks", or something more sinister.
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