“It”: Everything You Need to Know About Stephen King’s Killer Clown Story

Pennywise is one of modern horror’s greatest monsters
He’s the original killer clown from outer space and the most infamous villain in Stephen King’s bibliography, which is saying something. (All apologies, Randall Flagg.)  Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the form most frequently taken by a malevolent entity that’s been haunting the entire town of Derry, Maine for centuries; it’s lurked beneath the land since it hurtled through the cosmos and crash-landed on Earth from another dimension millennia ago. This shape-shifter can transform into its victims’ worst nightmares, feeding on both their fear and their flesh. Its preferred target: little kids, whose vivid imaginations give it an extensive menu of terrors to choose from. This also explains the monster’s default mode: What kid doesn’t love clowns? (At least before It more or less singlehandedly ruined their image, that is.)

But in addition to being one mean, multifaceted predator, Pennywise has exerted a malign influence on the entire town. He himself – or It Itself – only emerges from hibernation once every 27 years or so for a feeding frenzy that lasts roughly a year to 18 months. But Its presence in the sewers beneath Derry radiates an evil that makes the small town the murder capital of New England … and generates a sort of willful amnesia among the population. Such forgetfulness keeps folks from reflecting on their sleepy burg’s history of atrocities, disasters and mass murders. It also prevents people from connecting the dots when the creature resurfaces and kids start going missing en masse.

Overall, Pennywise combines a killer look and set of powers with one of King’s strongest concepts: a fairy-tale troll that hides out not under a bridge, but an entire city – a ghost that haunts not just one house, but all of them. As our foremost chronicler of small-town American evil, King has a royally good time with the idea.

I wrote a primer on It — the book, the miniseries, the movie, Pennywise, Tim Curry, That Scene, you name it — just in time for the release of the new blockbuster film adaptation for Rolling Stone.

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