It (character)

Last updated on 16 November 2017

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 an entity 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.

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.[1] 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",[2] but who inhabited the local sewer system rather than just the area beneath one bridge.[2] 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[3] and by Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 film adaptation, who will reprise the role in the film’s 2019 sequel It: Chapter Two.

Stephen King character
Bill Skarsgard%27s pennywise.png
Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in the 2017 film
First appearance It (1986)
Created by Stephen King
Portrayed by 1990 miniseries:
Tim Curry (Pennywise)
Florence Paterson (Mrs. Kersh)
2017 film adaptation:
Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise)
Tatum Lee (Judith)
Javier Botet (The Leper)
Carter Musselman (Headless Boy)
Aliases Pennywise the Dancing Clown
Bob Gray
The Leper
The Giant Spider
The Deadlights
The Teen Werewolf



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 "James Kinnon", 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 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 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.

Film and television

It (character).jpg
The 1990 adaptation of the character portrayed by Tim Curry

In the 1990 miniseries, Pennywise is portrayed by English actor Tim Curry, whose performance was praised by critics.

In the 2017 film adaptation and its upcoming 2019 sequel, Pennywise is portrayed by Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård.[4] 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).[5]

Unofficial media

A September episode of The Late Late Show with James Corden featured an appearance of "It" / Pennywise, similar to that of the Bill Skarsgård's portrayal of the character, in a skit entitled "The IT Department", portrayed by James Corden. Tim, having computer problems calls for the "I.T. Department", accidentally calling "It" / Pennywise. Per Tim's instructions, and feeling guilty for disturbing Tim, Pennywise attempts to fix his computer, scaring him on multiple occasions and covering him with blood from his balloon. Tim then calls the real I.T. Department, who turns out to be Freddy Krueger, who fixes the problem by destroying Tim's computer. Krueger then invites Pennywise to lunch.

The October 11, 2017 Erma comic strip, named "Down to Clown", featured an appearance of "It" / Pennywise, similar to that of the Bill Skarsgård's portrayal of the character. Erma is passing a storm drain, playing in the rain Pennywise calls out to her from within the drain and asks her whether she would like a balloon; however, Erma suddenly vanishes from Pennywise's sight. Erma shows up behind Pennywise, and as it attempts to escape the storm drain, repeatedly calling out "No!", she drags it to an unknown fate with her prehensile hair. Later, Erma greets her friend Georgie, while he's wearing a yellow raincoat, in passing, as she holds a red balloon.[6]

An October episode of Saturday Night Live revolves around a yellow coat-wearing Anderson Cooper (Alex Moffat) having an unexpected run-in with Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon) hiding in a storm drain, presented as an amalgamation of Pennywise and Conway named "Kellywise", similar to that of Bill Skarsgård's portrayal. After trying to scare Cooper with fears of both Donald Trump getting reelected and himself getting fat and finally disguising herself as Hillary Rodham Clinton to present her book What Happened, Kellywise tricks Cooper into sticking his arm down the storm drain, against the warnings of a nearby police officer Keenan Thompson who informs Cooper that Kellywise pulls unsuspecting victims into the drain every day, including Rachel Maddow (Cecily Strong); Kellywise then bites Cooper's arm off and drags him into the sewer. Cooper then wakes up at his desk before an interview with the real Kellyanne Conway; after seeing a red balloon, he hallucinates seeing her dance before she lunges out to attack him.[7]

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.[8][9][10] 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)."[11] 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".[12] Critics such as Mark Dery have drawn connections between the character of Pennywise and serial killer John Wayne Gacy,[13][14][15] who would dress up at community children's parties as "Pogo the Clown";[15][14] Dery has stated that the character "[embodied] our primal fears in a sociopathic Ronald McDonald who oozes honeyed guile".[16] On his website, however, King makes no mention of Gacy in discussing his inspiration.[2]

The American punk rock band Pennywise took its name from the character.[17]

2016 clown sightings

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.[1][19] 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".[20][21] 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.[22] 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.[23][24] 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.[25][26][27][28][29] 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.[30][31][32]

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).[33] Greenville police chief Ken Miller claimed to reporters that investigators are unsure as to whether the sightings have any connection with Zombie's 31,[34] whether it was one or more people looking for "kicks", or something more sinister.[35]

A spokesperson for New Line Cinema (distributor of the 2017 film adaptation) released a statement claiming that "New Line is absolutely not involved in the rash of clown sightings."[36]


  1. ^ a b Radford, Benjamin (2016). Bad Clowns. UNM Press. pp. 29, 36, 67–69, 99–103. ISBN 9780826356673. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b c " - IT Inspiration".
  3. ^ Paquette, Jenifer (2012). Respecting The Stand: A Critical Analysis of Stephen King's Apocalyptic Novel. McFarland. pp. 162–163. ISBN 0786470011. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  4. ^ Kroll, Justin (June 2, 2016). "'It' Reboot Taps 'Hemlock Grove' Star Bill Skarsgard to Play Pennywise the Clown". Variety. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  5. ^ Squires, John (September 10, 2017). "Muschietti Talks Paintings that Inspired Nightmarish New 'IT' Creature". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  6. ^ Erma - Down To Clown
  7. ^ Kellywise - SNL
  8. ^ Glenza, Jessica (2014-10-29). "The 10 most terrifying clowns". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-05-01.
  9. ^ "10 Most Terrifying Clowns in Horror Movies". Screen Rant. 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2016-05-01.
  10. ^ "The Scariest Clowns in Pop Culture". Nerdist. 2015-10-22. Retrieved 2016-05-01.
  11. ^ Gilbert, Sophie. "25 Years of Pennywise the Clown". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-05-01.
  12. ^ Brottman, Mikita (2004). Funny Peculiar: Gershon Legman and the Psychopathology of Humor. Routledge. p. 1. ISBN 0881634042. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  13. ^ Skal, David J (2001). The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. Macmillan. p. 363. ISBN 9780571199969. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  14. ^ a b "It".
  15. ^ a b "11 Creepy Facts About Stephen King's 'It'".
  16. ^ Dery, Mark (1999). The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink. Grove Press. p. 70. ISBN 9780802136701. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  17. ^ Frasier, David K. (2005). Suicide in the Entertainment Industry. McFarland. p. 314. ISBN 9780786423330. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  18. ^ Burnham, Emily (September 8, 2016). "Stephen King weighs in on those creepy Carolina clown sightings". Bangor Daily News. Archived from the original on October 23, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  19. ^ Stableford, Dylan (March 25, 2014). "Pennywise, the clown foolish?". Yahoo. Retrieved 2016-05-01.
  20. ^ "At least 9 'clown' arrests so far in Alabama: What charges do they face?".
  21. ^ Chan, Melissa. "Everything You Need to Know About the 'Clown Attack' Craze". Time.
  22. ^ Flood, Alison (6 October 2016). "Stephen King tells US to 'cool the clown hysteria' after wave of sightings". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  23. ^ Teague, Matthew (October 8, 2016). "Clown sightings: the day the craze began". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 18, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  24. ^ Flood, Alison (October 6, 2016). "Stephen King tells US to 'cool the clown hysteria' after wave of sightings". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 15, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  25. ^ CNNwire (September 2, 2016). "Creepy clown sightings reported in more communities in South Carolina". WJW. Archived from the original on November 4, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  26. ^ Rogers, Katie (August 30, 2016). "Creepy Clown Sightings in South Carolina Cause a Frenzy". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 3, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  27. ^ Reuters (September 3, 2016). "Clown sightings spook South Carolina, perplex police". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on September 21, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  28. ^ Harris, Chris (September 2, 2016). "South Carolina Police Chief to Creepy Clowns: 'The Clowning Around Needs to Stop'". People. Archived from the original on October 23, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  29. ^ Zuppello, Suzanne (September 29, 2016). "'Killer Clowns': Inside the Terrifying Hoax Sweeping America". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 21, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  30. ^ Khomami, Nadia (October 10, 2016). "Creepy clown sightings spread to Britain". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 18, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  31. ^ BBC Editors (October 7, 2016). "Clown sightings: Australia police 'won't tolerate' antics". BBC. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  32. ^ BBC Editors (October 20, 2016). "Creepy clowns: Professionals condemn scary sightings craze". BBC. Archived from the original on October 22, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  33. ^ Guarino, Ben (September 7, 2016). "Clown sightings have spread to North Carolina. Now police are concerned about creepy copycats". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 5, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  34. ^ Lee, Anna (September 1, 2016). "Police chief says clowns 'terrorizing public' will be arrested". The Greenville News. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  35. ^ Reuters (September 4, 2016). "South Carolina clown sightings could be part of film marketing stunt". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 23, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  36. ^ Gardner, Chris (September 29, 2016). "Stephen King's 'It' Movie Producer Denies Creepy Clown Sightings Are Marketing Stunt". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 22, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.

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