Warning: Spoilers ahead for IT Chapter Two.
IT Chapter Two confirms Pennywise the Dancing Clown's origins, and here's a complete breakdown of the mythology of the creature known as IT. First introduced in the pages of Stephen King's It novel in 1986, the blood-thirsty clown, Pennywise, has become one of the most recognizable and terrifying faces in horror. He was first popularized on-screen with the It miniseries that debuted in 1990, starring Tim Curry as the titular creature.
More recently, though, Warner Bros. has brought Pennywise and his story to the big screen. Bill Skarsgård took over as Pennywise for 2017's IT, which was a mostly faithful adaptation of King's book. However, the first film only focused on the Losers' Club battle with Pennywise when they were kids and did not alternate perspectives with their adult versions like the novel. The adult storyline was saved for IT Chapter Two, with flashbacks incorporated to keep the young cast that audiences came to love involved more. The human characters are undoubtedly the focus of both movies, but Pennywise is the throughline that brings the stories that are 27 years apart together.
The two IT movies offered over five hours of story, but the overall mythology that is in play can be a bit confusing to get a grasp on or is just glossed over altogether. If you've never read King's novel or didn't bother rewatching the first IT ahead of seeing the sequel, then these details can be even more challenging to piece together. With that in mind, here's the entire mythology of the IT franchise explained - from Pennywise's origins and powers to his role in the wider Stephen King book universe.
In the IT franchise, the origins of IT are still a bit vague, but the sequel helped nail down some specifics. The being known as IT crash-landed on Earth millions of years ago but isn't immediately awakened. IT instead remains dormant in the location that would eventually become the Well House in Derry, Maine. Prior to the small town forming above his resting spot though, IT did begin to emerge to feed on humanity. While it is unknown exactly when this started, the being's initial encounter with Native Americans who settled on the land first kickstarted the 27-year cycle of IT resurfacing.
This origin is largely consistent with what King presented in his books but doesn't go all-in on IT's cosmic ties. The novels detail that IT is an intergalactic being that initially existed in a void that contains the entire universe, which is referred to as the Macroverse in King's novels. This universe is only created after a cosmic turtle called The Turtle/Maturin - who is IT's "brother" and mortal enemy - vomited it out, which led to IT landing deep within Earth. He first emerges in the 1700s and returns every 27-30 years to feast.
IT's primary abilities are that of shape-shifting to become whatever someone fears the most, but the Deadlights are also an essential aspect of what the being can do. The movies primarily explored how the three circling Deadlights in Pennywise's throat could blind his victims and make them lose consciousness. This was demonstrated by how he took control of Beverly in IT Chapter One. But, the Deadlights have a deeper connection to IT. The Deadlights are the true form of the being and are even its life essence. Some references have even been made to Deadlights being the name of the dimension that the IT species - called Glamours - originated from.
Where The Pennywise Form Comes From
IT's appearance changing abilities were put on full display in both IT movies, but Pennywise the Dancing Clown is still the creature's main look. You may be wondering why this is the case, and the answer is quite simple. King has stated that IT takes this form because "clowns scare children more than anything else in the world." The new movies largely adopt this same principle, with Richie Tozier even saying in the first film that clowns are what he fears most. However, the films also imply that there may be more to the story than what King originally intended.
Both IT films contain teases that an actual version of Pennywise the clown did exist. Ben Hanscom sees a picture of Pennywise in a library book as a child, which would either need to be someone drawing Pennywise, a sign of someone at one point looking like him, or an illusion by the creature. As an adult, Beverly Marsh sees what appears to be an origin for Pennywise, with the white paint being applied and creature clawing its face to create the red lines. It is possible that the being possessed an actual human clown for some time to take on this form. But it is also plausible that IT saw the natural fear that a clown gives children during one of his visits to the surface and decides that a similar look will now be the usual appearance.
Eater Of Worlds: What IT Really Wants
IT is also the self-proclaimed "Eater of Worlds," which reveals what the being really wants to achieve. He feasts on the fear of humanity, but his actual goal is much larger than eating a handful of people every couple of decades. It is believed that IT's real desire is to consume all life on a planet, leaving it barren when the creature moves on. The being doesn't have to just eat humans, too, but it is the preferred sustenance of IT, especially when they are fearful as the terror provides extra flavor. Although none of this is explored in the movies, IT was likely consuming entire worlds before arriving on Earth millions of years ago. IT was stopped short of destroying all of Earth's life, but there is an implication that the creature has devoured worlds before.
The Native Americans' Attempts To Defeat IT
When IT did begin attacking Earth though, the Native Americans who lived in the location that would one day become Derry were the first to experience this hunger. But, this also meant that they were the ones first to try and defeat the being. It is unknown how many times they had to experience IT's feasting, but it appears that they did cross paths with the monster on several occasions. The Native Americans began to learn more about IT and began piecing together how it could be defeated. They were never successful in stopping IT but did develop a ritual that would lock away IT's life force.
The Ritual To Defeat IT (& Its Dark Secret)
Thanks to some remaining members of this Native American group that still live near Derry, Mike Hanlon was able to visit them and learn of this ritual. Once he gathers the rest of the Losers' Club, he slowly reveals what the Ritual of Chüd is and how it can defeat Pennywise. To start, each member of the Losers' Club needed a token of some kind representing the time in their lives when they first went up against Pennywise. Bill uses the paper boat he made for Georgie, Beverly uses the poem written by Ben, Richie uses a coin from Derry's old arcade, Eddie uses his inhaler, Ben uses a page from his yearbook that Beverly signed, Mike uses a bloody rock from their fight with Bowers' gang, and they collectively use a shower cap to represent Stanley.
With these tokens in hand, the Losers' Club descends into Pennywise's home and original crash site below the Well House. Once they get to the center of the site, Mike puts an ancient, engraved vessel on the ground and instructs each member to put their token inside. As the group stands in a circle around the container, the items are burned to draw out IT's true form, the Deadlights. The Losers' Club then begins to chant "turn light into dark" so that the Deadlights will enter the vessel. Once inside the container, the Losers' Club attempts to put a lid on it, but a giant red balloon emerges instead, with Pennywise popping out and ridiculing them for failing.
The reason why they could not properly defeat IT is that there is a dark secret to the ritual. Mike studied the ritual for years and the carvings on the container, but there was one part of it that he did not share or want to happen. The fourth and final side of the vessel showed that the last group to try and perform this ritual were all murdered by Pennywise. Mike scratched this side of the container out so no one would learn of it. Instead of the ritual working, the Losers' Club had to find another way to defeat Pennywise by the time IT Chapter Two ends.
IT's Role In The Wider Stephen King Universe
IT is most prominently featured in King's novel with the same name, but the being does have a role to play in the author's larger universe. The most significant connection comes through IT's Deadlights form, which has been harnessed in King's novels as a source of power. The Crimson King from The Dark Tower series once controlled the Deadlights, thought to be a type of magic. In Insomnia, the Crimson King uses the Deadlights in Derry to move to another level of the Dark Tower.
Additionally, some believe that IT is also referenced at another point in The Dark Tower series, specifically the sixth and final book: Song of Susannah. The book makes mention of six greater demon elementals, who serve as enemies to the Guardians of The Beam. There are six Beams in the King universe, with each Beam receiving two Guardians and one demon. Since a spider (one of IT's forms) is not one of the known Guardians, it is then believed that IT is one of the six demons. Considering the connection that King has made between IT and The Turtle (who is a Guardian of The Beam), this belief makes sense in the larger mythology.