It (character)

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(Redirected from Pennywise the Dancing Clown)

Stephen King character
Top: A clown with red hair and white make-up presenting a seductive smile. Bottom: A clown with orange hair holds a red balloon and presents a sinister smile.
Top: Tim Curry as Pennywise in the 1990 miniseries
Bottom: Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in the 2017 movie
First appearanceIt (1986)
Created byStephen King
Portrayed by1990 miniseries:
Tim Curry

2017 film and 2019 sequel:
Bill Skarsgård
In-universe information
AliasIt (sometimes spelled "IT")
Pennywise The Dancing Clown
Robert Gray (also Bob Gray)
Primary locationDerry, Maine

It is the titular main antagonist in Stephen King's 1986 horror novel It. The character is an ancient, shape-shifting, trans-dimensional evil entity who preys upon the children (and sometimes adults) of Derry, Maine, roughly every 27 years, using a variety of powers that include the ability to shapeshift, manipulate reality, and go unnoticed by adults. During the course of the story, It primarily appears in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. "The Losers Club" becomes aware of Pennywise's presence after it kills Bill's little brother, Georgie.

King stated in a 2013 interview that he came up with the idea for Pennywise after asking himself what children feared "more than anything else in the world", and feeling that the answer was clowns.[1] King thought of a troll like the one in the children's tale "Three Billy Goats Gruff",[2] though he imagined it living in a sewer system rather than under a bridge.

The character was portrayed in its Pennywise form by Tim Curry in the 1990 television adaptation[3] and by Bill Skarsgård in the 2017 film adaptation and its 2019 sequel It Chapter Two.[4]



In the novel, It is a shapeshifting monster who usually takes 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". It arrived on Earth during an asteroid impact and made its home under the land upon which Derry would later be constructed, initially preying on North American tribes. It slept for millions of years, then, when humans appeared in the area, It awoke and began a feeding cycle lasting about a year, feeding on people's fears and frequently assuming the shape of whatever its prey feared the most. After feeding, It would resume hibernation for approximately 30 years before reappearing. It has a preference for children since their fears are easier to interpret and adults are more difficult to frighten while It is in physical form. It can manipulate weak-willed people, making them indifferent to the horrific events that unfold, or even serve as accomplices.

In the novel, It claims that its true name is Robert "Bob" Gray, but decided to be named “It”. Throughout the book, It is generally referred to as male, usually appearing as Pennywise. The Losers come to believe It may be female after seeing it in the form of a monstrous giant spider that lays eggs. However, 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 sees them directly. The only person to survive the ordeal is Bill's wife Audra Phillips, although she is rendered temporarily catatonic by the experience.

Its 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 by vomiting them out as the result of a stomachache. The Turtle appears again in King's The Dark Tower series. One of the novels in the series, Wizard and Glass, 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).

Throughout the novel It, some events are depicted from Pennywise's point of view, describing itself as a "superior" being, with the Turtle as an equal and humans as mere "toys". It's hibernation begins and ends with horrific events, like the mysterious disappearance of Derry Township's 300 settlers in 1740–43 or the town's later ironworks explosion. It awoke during a great storm that flooded part of the city in 1957, with Bill's younger brother Georgie the first in a line of killings before the Losers Club fight the monster, a confrontation culminating in Bill using the Ritual of Chüd to severely wound It and force It into hibernation. Continually surprised by the Losers' victory, It briefly questions its superiority before claiming that they were only lucky, as the Turtle is working through them. It is finally destroyed 27 years later in the second Ritual of Chüd, and an enormous storm damages the downtown part of Derry to symbolize It's death.

Pennywise makes a tangential appearance in King's 2011 novel 11/22/63, in which protagonist Jake Epping meets a couple of the children from It, asks them about a recent murder in their town, and learns that the murderer apparently "wasn't the clown." It also appears to Jake in the old ironworks, where it taunts Jake about "the rabbit hole," referring to the time portal in which Jake moves from one time to another.

Film and television[edit]

In the 1990 miniseries, Pennywise is portrayed by English actor Tim Curry.

In the 2017 film adaptation, It and its 2019 sequel It Chapter Two, Pennywise is portrayed by Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård.[5] English actor Will Poulter was originally cast as Pennywise, with Curry describing the role as a "wonderful part" and wishing Poulter the best of luck, but the latter dropped out of the production due to scheduling conflicts and first film's original director Cary Fukunaga leaving the project.

The modern incarnation of Pennywise, introduced in the 2017 adaptation, appears as a background character in the family friendly live-action/animated film Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is also distributed by Warner Bros.[6]

Reception and legacy[edit]

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.[7][8][9] 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)."[10] British scholar Mikita Brottman has also said of the miniseries version 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".[11] Author Darren Shan cited Pennywise as an inspiration behind the character Mr. Dowling in his 12.5 book serial Zom-B.[12]

The American punk rock band Pennywise took its name from the character.[13]

Association with 2016 clown sightings[edit]

"I suspect it's a kind of low-level hysteria, like Slender Man, or the so-called Bunny Man, who purportedly lurked in Fairfax County, Virginia, wearing a white hood with long ears and attacking people with a hatchet or an axe. The clown furor will pass, as these things do, but it will come back, because under the right circumstances, clowns really can be terrifying."

—Writer Stephen King's reaction to the recurring clown scare phenomenon.[14]

The character was suggested as a possible inspiration for two incidents of people dressing up as clowns in Northampton, England and Staten Island, New York, US, both during 2014.[1][15]

In 2016, appearances of "evil clowns" were reported by the media, including nine people in Alabama, US charged with "clown-related activity".[16] Several newspaper articles suggested that the character of Pennywise was an influence, which led to King commenting that people should react less hysterically to the sightings and not take his work seriously.[17]

The first reported sighting of people dressed as evil clowns in Greenville, South Carolina, US was by a small boy spoke to his mother of a pair of clowns that had attempted to lure him away.[18] Additional creepy clown sightings were reported in other parts of South Carolina.[19]

Evil clowns were reported in several other U.S. states including North Carolina,[20] Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming[21] Later the same year, "clown sightings" were reported in Great Britain, Australia, and Latin America.[22][23][24]

One hypothesis for the wave of 2016 clown sightings was a viral marketing campaign,[25] possibly for the Rob Zombie film 31 (2016).[26] A spokesperson for New Line Cinema (distributor of the 2017 film adaptation of It) released a statement claiming that "New Line is absolutely not involved in the rash of clown sightings."[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Radford, Benjamin (2016). Bad Clowns. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 29, 36, 67–69, 99–103. ISBN 978-0-8263-5667-3. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  2. ^ King, Stephen. "IT Inspiration". Archived from the original on May 14, 2019. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  3. ^ Paquette, Jenifer (2012). Respecting The Stand: A Critical Analysis of Stephen King's Apocalyptic Novel. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-7864-7001-3. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  4. ^ "IT: CHAPTER 2 Announces Its Release Date". Nerdist. September 26, 2017. Archived from the original on July 4, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  5. ^ Kroll, Justin (June 2, 2016). "'It' Reboot Taps 'Hemlock Grove' Star Bill Skarsgard to Play Pennywise the Clown". Variety. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  6. ^ Gelmini, David (March 11, 2020). "Pennywise Will Appear In Space Jam 2". Dread Central. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  7. ^ Glenza, Jessica (October 29, 2014). "The 10 most terrifying clowns". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  8. ^ "10 Most Terrifying Clowns in Horror Movies". Screen Rant. September 23, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Scariest Clowns in Pop Culture". Nerdist. October 22, 2015. Archived from the original on June 2, 2016. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  10. ^ Gilbert, Sophie (November 18, 2015). "25 Years of Pennywise the Clown". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  11. ^ Brottman, Mikita (2004). Funny Peculiar: Gershon Legman and the Psychopathology of Humor. London, England: Routledge. p. 1. ISBN 0-88163-404-2. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  12. ^ Shan, Darren (October 29, 2019). "Mr Dowling wants to dance with YOU!". Archived from the original on January 12, 2020. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  13. ^ Frasier, David K. (2005). Suicide in the Entertainment Industry. McFarland. p. 314. ISBN 978-0-7864-2333-0. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Stableford, Dylan (March 25, 2014). "Pennywise, the clown foolish?". Yahoo!. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  16. ^ Faulk, Kent (September 24, 2016). "At least 9 'clown' arrests so far in Alabama: What charges do they face?".
  17. ^ Flood, Alison (October 6, 2016). "Stephen King tells US to 'cool the clown hysteria' after wave of sightings". The Guardian. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  24. ^ 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. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  25. ^ "South Carolina clown sightings could be part of film marketing stunt". The Guardian. Reuters. September 4, 2016. Archived from the original on October 23, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  26. ^ Lee, Anna (September 1, 2016). "Police chief says clowns 'terrorizing public' will be arrested". The Greenville News. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  27. ^ 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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