A lot of people suffer from coulrophobia – a fear of clowns. Imagine the shock and crippling horror when a horror movie monster comes in the form of a sinister, unsettling clown with a singsong voice and a penchant for kidnapping children! In a nutshell, that accurately describes the character of Pennywise the Clown from the horror franchise It.

Adapted from Stephen King’s 1986 classic, the It franchise is delightfully dark and dread-inspiring, much to the thrill of horror fans all over the world. However, Pennywise the antagonist is not your regular clown with a dark side.

Read on for Pennywise explained, including his origin, history, powers, and more.

What is Pennywise?

Pennywise the clown is the antagonist of the It movie franchise, lifted straight from the Stephen King novel and given the cinematic treatment. He is a clown who lives underground, can shift shapes at will, and loves frightening children to near-death. After preying on them for a while, he plans to lure them to his lair, where he can proceed to keep them indefinitely in a catatonic state, feasting on their happiness. However, as the story reveals itself, it becomes clear that Pennywise only physically manifests as a clown. Underneath, he is a far more evil and sinister monster.

Pennywise explained

Is Pennywise real? While the character of Pennywise is definitely fiction, it is not a stretch to see that King used several real-life incidents as inspiration. Notable among these is the story of John Wayne Gacy, who used a clown costume and the name “Pogo the Clown” to commit multiple unspeakable acts. King has also admitted to taking inspiration from the physical appearance of the famous Ronald McDonald to style the look of his character.


Explaining the Origin of Pennywise

From the novel, it is easy to see that Pennywise is of alien origin. As the narrative unfolds, his alien origins become clear and he seems to be revealed as a monstrous cosmic entity with his grip on multiple dimensions of reality. According to legend, the town of Derry, the scene of the entire story, experienced a fallen asteroid that could have easily been his origin.

According to the local legend of Derry, Pennywise has been at it terrorizing and abusing children for many centuries. The films also establish the fact that he comes out of his lair to torment children for a period recurring every 27 years. Over the centuries, the annuls of his bloody handiwork are plastered across old newspapers and the memories of people.

Pennywise explained

The History of Pennywise

Taking cues from both the novel and the films, Pennywise seems to be a very ancient creature, certainly older than human civilization and possibly even older than the known universe. While his history is only slightly explored in the films, King provided a much more detailed description in his novel. Pennywise apparently lives in a parallel universe called the Macroverse and has a turtle called Maturin as his nemesis.


He is also associated with a power known as the deadlights, a set of lights that can truly make people insane once they see it. This is exactly the power he uses to put the children into a mortally afraid catatonic state before suspending them in thin air inside his underground lair.


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In the movies, this history is partially explored through the character of Ben, who researched Derry’s history and identifies key points in the timeline with events that may have been caused by Pennywise. In the second movie installment, it is also suggested that Pennywise might have been an actual clown and was possessed by the evil spirit, taking its final form.

What are Pennywise’s Powers?

Pennywise is a stunningly powerful creature with many powers. Apart from his already dread-inducing clown persona, he is also a shape-shifter. He uses this power well to terrorize and paralyze children, appearing to them when they are alone in manifestations that rouse their inherent fears. He can also play human doppelgangers with equal ease. He can influence the weather and conjure up powerful visions, replete with sounds and smells, and confuse his targets.

He is also able to read and manipulate minds, making him an absolute nightmare in every way imaginable. On the other hand, Pennywise fears a show of heart and courage as these displays weaken him and seem to limit his powers. It is these vulnerabilities that ultimately lead to his downfall.

In a world where a fear of clowns already abounds, the character of Pennywise can definitely be a handful to handle, even for hardcore horror aficionados. In fact, a lot of people have actually admitted to developing this fear directly as a result of the character of Pennywise. For horror fans, the masterful portrayals of Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgard have also contributed significantly to cementing the absolute horror of this character, while Stephen King definitely loved him enough to include him in multiple other novels.

Last Updated on April 30, 2022.

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