The Origins of Pennywise

The Origins of Pennywise
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
It's time for a deep dive into one of the scariest characters of all time! For this video, we're breaking down the Origins of Pennywise. We're looking at the history of Stephen King's cosmic clown, from his book backstory all the way up to his first encounter with the Losers Club.

Pennywise Origins

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re breaking down the Origins of Pennywise.

For this video, we’re looking at the history of Stephen King’s cosmic clown, from his book backstory all the way up to his first encounter with the Losers Club.

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The first thing we should mention is that “Pennywise” isn’t Its actual name, if It even has one. Rather, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just one of the many forms It adopts to hunt Its victims, albeit Its most recurring one in more modern times. But just for the sake of convenience, we’ll be using “Pennywise” and the simpler “It” equally to refer to the shapeshifting creature Itself.

Similarly, Pennywise’s true, base form isn’t entirely known either. While Its spider-like form could be Its original, earthly visage, the likeliest center of Pennywise’s being are the hypnotic balls of energy known as the Deadlights. It’s likely that the Deadlights are the source of Its abilities, as are they the prison that traps the souls of Its victims. Still, what we don’t know about Pennywise is often what makes It so frightening.

As many as billions of years old, Pennywise originated in a realm outside the known universe called the “Macroverse.” Though not confirmed, it’s been suggested in the “Dark Tower” series that Pennywise was created by a being known as “the Other,” which may be the godlike figure known as Gan, who is also the embodiment of the Tower itself. One of the twelve guardians of the Tower’s six beams, Maturin the Turtle is credited with creating our universe, having vomited it up due to a tummy ache. And hey, we’ve all been there.

Some time after the universe was created, Pennywise made Its way to Earth, crash-landing in what would eventually become Derry, Maine. Once it became inhabited with people, Pennywise began Its infamous quarter-century cycle, awakening from hibernation every twenty-five to twenty-seven years to feed. Though It doesn’t discriminate, Pennywise prefers to feast on children as their heightened fear makes them taste better. As if It wasn’t a despicable enough nightmare clown.

Presumably doing this for millenia with little resistance, the first recorded appearances of It come in the 18th century some hundred years after colonials first settled in Maine. Though Pennywise keeps a large portion of the town under Its thrall, insofar as almost all the adults tend to look the other way at Its individual murders, Its feeding frenzies are often marked by large-scale, horrific tragedies. These are often brought about by those whom Pennywise has possessed into doing Its wicked bidding, such as the deranged Henry Bowers in the mainline “It” timelines.

The first known instances of these tragedies came in the 1740s when, after Pennywise feasted for some three years, upwards of three-hundred settlers of Derry Township disappeared in a mystery very similar to that of the real-life Roanoke Colony. Why anyone would want to resettle in a cursed town like Derry is beyond us. You know, aside from a mind-controlling clown coercing them to do so.

Similar to Henry Bowers, Pennywise possessed a man named John Markson in 1851 to kill his family. After poisoning them, Markson took his own life and thus tied up any loose ends for the demonic clown. Another of Pennywise’s 19th century atrocities came in the 1870s when It murdered a group of lumberjacks and left their remains beside the real-life Kenduskeag Stream. But this wouldn’t be the only lumberjack-related incident Pennywise would incite. At the turn of the 20th century, a man named Claude Heroux murdered several men at a bar with a double-bladed axe.

However, Pennywise’s greatest tragedy of the 1900s was yet to come. In 1906, the Kitchener Ironworks exploded. A whopping 108 people were killed, eighty-eight of whom were children participating in an Easter egg hunt. After such an atrocity, you would be correct in assuming this marked the end of Pennywise’s rampage in Derry. For now.

Upon returning in 1929, Pennywise orchestrated the slaughter of the Bradley Gang, a group of murdering robbers in Derry. Though nearly all the townsfolk would pretend the shootout involving ordinary citizens never happened, one witness does remember seeing a clown in farmer’s garb joining in.

Continuing the series of heinous calamities of the 20th century, 1930 saw the burning down of The Black Spot, a nightclub frequented by black soldiers stationed at the nearby Army base. It was the work of arson by the hate group, the Maine Legion of White Decency. The account comes courtesy of Mike Hanlon’s father Will, who survived the fire and reported seeing Pennywise in the form of a massive bird with balloons attached to its wings. Interestingly enough, another noteworthy survivor came in the form of the cook, a young Dick Hallorann, long before he ever worked at the Overlook Hotel.

Whether you’re working within the timelines for the book, miniseries or feature films, this brings things up to Pennywise’s next appearance with his famous battle against the Losers Club. Pennywise of course doesn’t survive his second encounter with the grown-up Losers, whether that be by way of the Ritual of Chüd or a series of schoolyard insults. However, if there’s something that Pennywise’s long history shows us, it’s that there are an endless amount of horrific stories to be told featuring the terrifying clown.