It - Why Pennywise is the Ultimate Monster
by Stephen King
Published in 1986
So I am a huge scaredy-pants and I tried to stay as far away from It as I possibly could growing up because I remember seeing a few scenes of the movie as a kid which scared me so bad I wanted to pee my pants. However, my mom really loves Stephen King and kept encouraging me to read the book and my husband really wanted to watch the 2017 remake of the movie, so I decided to give It a try and face my fears… for better or for worse. The story, It, begins in the small town of Derry, Maine… the place that can never seem to get a break whenever Stephen King is writing.
1957 - It is during a heavy rain when Bill’s younger brother, the 6 year old George, decides to chase his paper boat through the “rivers” of pouring rain outside until his paper boat falls into a gutter. Inside is Pennywise the clown who ends up ripping off George’s arm and killing him. The town is horrified at the death, but doesn’t seem to notice the suspicious murder as the cause of death and people slowly forget about this. Later in the summer,after being terrorized by the town bully, Henry Bowers, the “Loser’s Club” is established which has Bill, Ben, Eddie, Richie, Stan, Mike and Beverly. They all begin realizing that they have seen Pennywise the clown, who doesn’t just appear as a clown and can actually shape shift into whatever your greatest fear is.
The kids refer to Pennywise as “It” since it doesn’t seem to conform to any one form. They also discover the link to Pennywise and several children deaths in the history of the town, with the pattern being that it appears every 27 years and then has one huge catastrophic event killing multiple children before going away again. No adults seem to notice that this is occuring, as if they are in some kind of haze. After a few more close encounters, they learn that whenever Pennywise takes on a new form, such as a werewolf, it takes on whatever weaknesses of that form is, like silver bullets. After killing his father, Henry Bowers is completely unhinged as he chases the Losers Club into the sewers with the intention of making them his next victims. While in the sewers, the readers get some more insight into the history of “It”. We learn that Pennywise is immortal and has existed in a void between our universe and others. We also learn that it feeds on children because their fears are more simple than adults. There is also another “eternal being” that exists, and Pennywise fears that the children might be working with that being to defeat It.
Henry and his gang of bullies continue chasing the Losers Club until they run into Pennywise which manifests itself as Frankenstein’s monster and kills Henry’s group, leaving him the only survivor as he is washed away by the sewer’s and later found by the town as he is held responsible for the murders. As the Losers Club make it into the pits of Pennywise’s lair, Bill discovers the “Ritual of Chüd” where he battles Pennywise in his mind and finds “The Turtle”, who is like the god of the universe since he created the universe by puking it into existence after having a tummy ache. Bill defeats Pennywise and sends it back to it’s slumbers as the kids must now figure out how to escape the sewers. After escaping, they all swear a blood oath that if Pennywise returned back to the town, so will they to put an end once and for all.
1984 - The town of Derry begins seeing a slew of child murders occurring once again, when Mike, the only of the original Losers Club members to still be residing in Derry, calls up the gang to remind them of their blood oath to defeat Pennywise. Most of the crew barely have a recollection of their encounters with Pennywise, now into their 30’s but decide to head back to Derry, except for Stan who slits his wrist due to his fear of facing Pennywise once again. After meeting for lunch, Mike suggests everyone split up and walk around town in order to jog up any old memories when they all face different terrifying manifestations of Pennywise. Henry breaks out of the asylum he’s been in since being convicted of the murders 27 years prior with the intention of killing the Losers Club once and for all, with some guidance from Pennywise. Henry is killed in a fight where he breaks Eddie’s arm and severely injures Mike, who is sent to the hospital where he is attacked by a nurse under the influence of Pennywise.
The remaining of the Losers Club once again descends into the sewers for a final showdown with Pennywise. This time, Bill and Richie both perform the “Ritual of Chüd”, when they learn that The Turtle is now dead. Eddie tries to bring Bill and Richie out of the ritual when Pennywise rips off his arm and kills him. As Pennywise, which is now a giant spider, runs away to tend to its own wounds, the Losers Club discovers that it is female and has laid eggs. Ben stays back to destroy the eggs while Bill and Richie run after Pennywise and Bill fights his way inside It and destroys the heart from the inside. As they escape the sewers, the entire town of Derry begins crumbling and falling apart. They all leave and return to their lives and begin forgetting this whole ordeal once they leave Derry, Maine.
Final Rating: 9/10
As terrifying as this novel was, I truly did enjoy it so much more than I expected. I am not a huge fan of horror, probably because it makes me want to crap my pants, but this book was so creative and perfectly encapsulates what defines horror. What gives Stephen King the freedom to be creative is that “It” Pennywise isn’t just any one kind of monster. It can be any monster, any form, any manifestation that makes up your worst fear. How Pennywise will turn into my student debt, I am not sure, but I am already terrified. I also love that in the book, these fears are specifically tailored to the times. They aren’t afraid of the monsters in Bird Box or Jeepers Creepers, they are terrified of Dracula and Jaws and Frankenstein which were all popular horror movies of their time. It’s these small details that make Stephen King novels a work of art.
At first, Stephen King kept making it seem like adults couldn’t see or understand Pennywise and even when it was obvious throughout history that something was targeting and murdering children, it was seen as an insignificant detail. I didn’t understand why at first until later in the book when he explained why Pennywise targets children and not adults. A children’s fear is usually tangible, a monster under the bed or in your closet, while an adult’s is more theoretical. An adult may fear change or failure, but what manifestation can Pennywise turn into that would encapsulate that? I love that Stephen King recognizes how difficult that would have been and I think it makes Pennywise the perfect villain because if adults don’t acknowledge he exists, who would be able to stop him? Had the Losers Club not banded together and sworn a blood oath to defeat him, he still would be picking away at children in Derry, Maine.
I think this is one of Stephen King’s best novels! It has the perfect monster that really would strike fear into anyone along with the creative double-sided story that we get to see with the children in 1957 as well as them as adults in 1984 to show that while you may change as your grow up, fear is something that usually stays the same. I want to give this book a 10/10 BUT… I really can’t due to one scene. For those that read the novel already, you probably already know what I am talking about but I am going to say it anyways. Children gang bangs are a hard NO in my book. I have no idea what Stephen King was thinking when he added the scene that all the boys must have sex with Beverly in order to escape the sewers as children. It was just weird and uncomfortable and unnecessary. Even when things got weird fighting Pennywise through the Ritual of Chüd, I let it slide because the only thing that makes sense for Pennywise to exist is if it is some weird immortal being. Even with that said, the rest of the novel really is incredible. Even the movie adaptations managed to capture how truly creepy and terrifying Pennywise is. I would definitely recommend to Stephen King fans or those that are a fan of the movies because the books just include so much more horrifying detail that is just worth the read!