It, also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown or Bob Gray, is the title character of Stephen King's 1986 horror novel It. The character is a creature that preys upon the local 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", which he felt 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.
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 depicts, 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 "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 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, It's true form 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. Its actual form is not precisely what the children actually see. 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. 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 person to face the deadlights and survive is Bill's wife Audra Phillips, although she is 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 himself 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 "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 feels that the individual children are strong enough to defeat It, only through "the Other" working through them as a group.
In the novel, It begins terrorizing a group of children in Derry, Maine, taking the form of a demonic clown called Pennywise. It intends to devour all of them one by one, but the children finally stand up to it and drive it back into its hiding place. It reappears 27 years later to confront the now-grown children, who face It in a final battle that results in It revealing It's true form: a giant, monstrous spider. In the novel's climax, the group finally confronts their fears and destroy It.
In the 2017 film adaptation, 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 Leper. 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).
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.
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.