Spoiler Tag: Although this is for the purpose of educating on Pennywise the Clown and his creation, some small spoilers for the new It film may be included
27 years after Tim Curry frightened an entire generation into a severe case of coulrophobia, Andre Muschietti’s It remake of the classic miniseries of the same name brings the character of Pennywise back to theaters. Based on the 1986 critically acclaimed Stephen King novel It follows a group of teens in Derry, Maine in 1989 known as the Loser Club. They hunt down and battle an immortal creature who takes the form of a killer clown that goes by Pennywise. For centuries Pennywise has been kidnapping and eating the town’s children before hibernating for another 27-30 years. In order to defeat Pennywise/It and save the town, the children discover that they must learn to conquer or at the very least overcome their deepest fears.
Where does Pennywise come from?
In the book Pennywise hails from a void that contains and surrounds the universe known as the Macroverse or as the Dark Tower Saga later revealed it to be The Todash Darkness or the Todash Space. The Todash Space is a dark void filled with extremely ancient and eldritch creatures, some older than the universe itself. This void plays an overarching part in much of King’s works and its an extremely prominent part of the Dark Tower Saga. The creatures of the Todash Space are able to escape into different dimensions when the barriers between universes are worn thin.
What is Pennywise?
Pennywise is an immortal and nameless shapeshifting creature from the Todash Space. The creature known as IT or Pennywise the Clown has the primary supernatural ability of transforming into someones worst fears and nightmares, essentially making him a transdimensional boggart. Millions and millions of years old, Pennywise, like many other creatures from the Todash Space, through unknown events found himself on Earth. After coming to Earth Pennywise hibernated underground beneath what would later become Derry, Maine. The creature hibernated waiting for the rise of humanity almost as if he knew for certain that humanity and civilization would one day come to inhabit the area. When people began to settle and inhabit the are atop his resting place and build the future city of Derry, Pennywise awoke. Pennywise awoke in 1715 and from that moment on adopted a pattern of awaking every 27 years to devour the children of Derry, Maine. Whenever the creature would awake from its slumber it was always marked by a horrific act of violence and or murder. There are two ways to defeat Pennywise: one is by committing an act of violence or causing a death more gruesome than the act that awoke it, or through the Ritual of Chüd. The Ritual of Chüd is a psychic battle of wills in which the two participants battle with their wit and imagination. In the first Ritual of Chüd, Pennywise is seemingly defeated by the Losers Club, however this is revealed to be untrue. It isn’t until the children are adults and return to Derry they face Pennywise again in the 2nd Battle of Chüd. The creature known as IT or Pennywise finds itself to be vastly superior to other creatures, believing that humans are simply toys.
The children of the Losers Club gave Pennywise the name IT because the creature had no set gender or identity outside of what it projected. While the character is referred to as a male mostly in the books that is in part due to IT mostly taking the male form of Pennywise the Clown. However at one point in the story the children believed that Pennywise might actually be a woman due to the creature taking the form of a giant female spider. It turns out this wasn’t the creature’s true form simply the closest thing that the human mind could conjure in order to comprehend it. Pennywise’s true form exists within a spiritual realm which IT refers to as the Deadlights. The Deadlights is described as “writhing orange lights” that have the power to instantly drive any living thing that looks at them mad.
Why a Clown?
The shapeshifting creature came to adopt the form of the fun-loving circus clown Pennywise in order to catch its favorite meal, children. In the book Pennywise is quoted telling the children of the Losers Club “I am eternal child! I am the eater of worlds! And of Children! And you are next!”. The creature known as It also chose the form of Pennywise because of the fear that clowns can also inspire in children. It’s very important to Pennywise to terrify its victims before devouring them. In the book Pennywise compares scarring the children before he eats them to “salting the meat,” meaning the fear makes the children taste better to him. Pennywise’s creator Stephen King is quoted as saying, “But then I thought to myself, ‘There out to be one binding, horrible, nasty, gross, creature kind of thing that you don’t want to see, [and] it makes you scream just to see it.’ So I thought to myself, ‘What scares children more than anything else in the world?’ And the answer was ‘clowns’”. IT states that it prefers to kill and devour children because their fears are easier to manipulate and give form to. A 2008 study from the University of Sheffield estimates that the majority of children are at the very least made uncomfortable by clowns.
It is unknown exactly where out culture’s fear of clowns stems from, but one thing is certain Stephen King’s It certainly can be traced back to the source of many people’s Coulrophobia. Tim Curry’s iconic portrayal of the demonic clown from another dimension has become a staple of pop culture. No matter where you look within pop culture our fear and fascination with evil clowns can be seen whether its documentaries on John Wayne Gacy or the different live action iterations of the Clown Prince of Crime himself the Joker. Pennywise the Clown has become famous for being the source of an entire generation of peoples fear of clowns. It certainly doesn’t seem like society’s fascination with and fear of clowns is going anywhere anytime soon and that characters like Pennywise, Twisty the Clown, and the Joker fully intend to stick around for as long as we will have them. Dont forget to head to your local theater this weekend and catch Bill Skarsgård portraying the latest incarnation of Pennywise in Andre Muschietti’s It remake. Check out the Trailer for It below: