Everything about director Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's IT is monstrous, including its record-setting opening weekend box office take of $117-million. Audiences flocked to theaters to be terrified by IT's namesake monster, also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), the malevolent shape-shifting entity that haunts the small town of Derry, Maine. While the group of children dubbed the Losers Club took on the monster in the film and ultimately were able to send it back to its slumber, they were unable to learn a great deal about the nature and origins of "IT." Pennywise the Clown largely remains a mystery to the Losers and likewise to many in the audience who are not versed in King's seminal novel and experienced IT for the first time this weekend.
With this in mind, we will delve into the history and nature of Pennywise the Dancing Clown as depicted in the works of Stephen King to explain just what exactly IT is and why IT terrorizes the children of the town of Derry.
THE ORIGINS OF IT
The creature called IT is obviously not a clown at all. IT is an ancient evil being that is perhaps billions of years old, as old as the universe itself. IT comes from the void that contains our entire universe called the Macroverse (this is also referred to as the Todash Darkness in Stephen King's Dark Tower novels). IT's home dimension is a realm called the Deadlights; in the novel, Billy (played by Jaeden Lieberher in the 2017 film) glimpsed IT's true form in the Deadlights for a moment and he described it as an endless, crawling, hairy creature made of orange light. Though IT likes to manifest itself as a male clown named Pennywise, in the novel IT also takes the form of an enormous female spider. IT's natural enemy is another being from the Macroverse called The Turtle. The Turtle also appears in The Dark Tower series as Maturin, one of the Guardians of the Beam. IT describes itself as "the superior being" compared to the Turtle.
IT arrived on Earth in a cataclysmic event millions of years ago, landing in the section of North America where the town of Derry, Maine, would eventually be built. IT slumbered beneath the Earth for millions of years, awaiting the arrival of Mankind. When the town of Derry was built in 1715, IT awoke and began a cycle of feeding on the fears of the people of Derry and then resuming hibernation for cycles of 27 to 30 years. IT would prey on the children of Derry because children's fears are easier to harvest and then manipulate into physical form. IT takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown because King believes "clowns scare children more than anything else in the world." In the novel, however, Pennywise's real name is Bob Gray. IT also influences the adults of Derry to passively ignore it and not interfere with IT's attacks on Derry's children.
As Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) discovered when he researched Derry's history in the library, IT has been a part of the terror and death in Derry for centuries. IT was responsible for the explosion at the Kitchener Iron Works that killed 108 people, including 88 children. IT can also be awakened by an act of violence; the novel begins with a boy named Dorcey Corcoran is beaten to death by his stepfather Richard Macklin in 1957, which sparks II from its slumber. Because IT manipulates the minds of the people of Derry, they don't dwell on the tragedies that occur. Therefore, despite the number of children who go missing, as we see in the film, adults just passively post new Missing photos over the old ones and continue on as if nothing is wrong.