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|Stephen King character|
Top: The 1990 adaptation of the character, portrayed by Tim Curry
Bottom: Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in the 2017 film
|First appearance||It (1986)|
|Created by||Stephen King|
|Portrayed by||1990 miniseries:|
Frank C. Turner
1998 television series:
2017 film and
(The Hobo / Leper)
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 27 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". He felt 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 in the 2017 film adaptation by Bill Skarsgård, who will reprise the role in It Chapter Two, which is scheduled to be released on September 6, 2019.
In the novel, It is a monster that can shapeshift and change forms. Pennywise the Clown is It's most used form. After arriving on Earth, It would sleep for approximately 27 to 30 years at a time, then awaken to wreak chaos and feed. It prefers the taste of fear. It is able to take many more forms than shown in the film adaptations, including werewolves, bats, leeches, and sharks, embodying any of a child's worst fears to break them down. It has the ability to control the minds and actions of people with weaker wills and make them indifferent to the terrible events that unfolded before their eyes.
It 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 thinks, "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 comprehend. It's true 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 Lovecraftian device). The only known people to face the deadlights and survive 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. 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." Both It's awakening and its return to hibernation mark the greatest instances of violence during its time awake. In one example, It caused the disappearance of over three hundred settlers from Derry Township in 1740-43. In 1957, It awoke during a great storm that flooded part of the city, whereupon It went on a feeding spree, starting by murdering Bill's brother, Georgie Denbrough. However, the children force It to return to an early hibernation when it is heavily wounded by Bill in the first Ritual of Chüd. 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. 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.
In the novel Dreamcatcher, when Mr. Gray tries to put a worm in Derry's water by use of the standpipe, It is no longer there due to the 1985 flood. In its place is a memorial featuring a cast-bronze of two children and a plaque underneath, dedicated to the victims of the 1985 flood and of It. The plaque has been vandalized with graffiti reading, "PENNYWISE LIVES".
Film and television
In the 1998 television series, Pennywise is portrayed by Indian actor Lilliput. Two original guises are made for the series: Old Lady (played by Sulabha Deshpande), and Child Siddharth (played by Parzaan Dastur).
In the 2017 film adaptation and its upcoming 2019 sequel It: Chapter Two, Pennywise is portrayed by Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård. Will Poulter was originally cast as Pennywise, with Curry describing the role as a "wonderful part" and wishing Poulter the best of luck. Poulter later dropped out of the production due to scheduling conflicts, as well as original director Cary Fukunaga leaving the project. On June 3, 2016, it was announced the role had been recast with Skarsgård. Spanish actor Javier Botet was cast as the hobo. Two original guises are made for the 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.
The limited series 2003 comic book The Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis II featured a version of the Pennywise character.
During the theater run of the 2017 film, parody sketches appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden and Saturday Night Live, the latter depicting Kellyanne Conway as Pennywise. The character was also parodied that year in the Erma comic strip.
In one episode of the NBC comedy series Great News, Pennywise appears as a Tinder match for the series' main character. In the Fox animated comedy series Family Guy, a cutaway shows the character of Glenn Quagmire dressed as Pennywise.
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- "Love is Dead" (S02 E09)
- "Island Adventure" (S17 E17)
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