The Origins of Stephen King’s Pennywise Are Pure Nightmare Fuel


The Massive Image

  • A childhood worry of clowns is frequent, with Stephen King utilizing this phobia to create the terrifying Pennywise in
  • King’s inspiration for Pennywise got here from his personal worry of clowns, heightened by a weird encounter with a Ronald McDonald lookalike.
  • Clowns make us uneasy attributable to their exaggerated options, corresponding to white faces and crimson smiles, which our brains interpret as threatening.

Because the Seventies, Stephen King has created a number of the most iconic monsters in horror historical past because of 75-plus books. If you’re afraid of vampires, Salem’s Lot is sure to haunt your nightmares. If werewolves offer you chills, take a look at Cycle of the Werewolf. King has written about terrifying psychopaths aplenty, whether or not they be possessed by the supernatural or just loopy, from The Shining to Distress. In 1986, Stephen King wrote a novel that took all the pieces we worry and mixed it into one chilling villain with It. Arguably his most well-known novel, and with profitable miniseries and have movie variations, It succeeds by having nice characters; however none of it really works with out an antagonist who can become anything you’re afraid of. Due to that, the creature in It is the proper monster, however its scariest type is that of Pennywise the clown. That straightforward however efficient selection discovered its roots in a number of experiences for King, from childhood awe and fears, to a quick meals pitchman, and a fateful airplane trip.


Seven younger outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare — an historic, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer each 27 years to prey in town’s kids. Banding collectively over the course of 1 horrifying summer time, the chums should overcome their very own private fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown referred to as Pennywise.

Launch Date
September 6, 2017

Andres Muschietti

Stephen King , Chase Palmer , Cary Fukunaga , Gary Dauberman

135 minutes

New Line Cinema

What Makes Pennywise So Terrifying in ‘It’?

Most monsters are monsters as a result of they seem like them. If we see a machete-wielding madman within the woods sporting a hockey masks, we will run. If we had been to ever come throughout an actual vampire or werewolf, our brains routinely inform us to get out of there earlier than we get ripped aside.

Clowns are an odd worry to have, as a result of they’re innocent, a childhood type of leisure meant to carry pleasure. Clowns smile and do magic methods, all to make children smile and snort. What’s to be petrified of about that? Nonetheless, many of us are truly terrified of clowns, a lot in order that it is a phobia with a reputation referred to as coulrophobia. In accordance with a 2023 research accomplished by Scientific American, 53% of respondents admitted to being petrified of clowns. The origins of that worry come from the clown’s exaggerated facial expressions, which our brains inform us are a threatening gesture, the white and crimson make-up, which reminds us of dying and blood, and the way that make-up makes the particular person behind it disappear, turning the clown into one thing not human. Our brains cannot correctly course of that distortion, similar to why we have the same fear of dolls.

Even Stephen King Is Scared Of Clowns

Stephen King has all the time identified what scares us, as a result of it scares him too. In a 2017 interview with Yahoo, King put it merely:

“Clowns are scary. There’s simply no approach round that. Clowns may be as indignant as they need, and that’s their proper — they’re clowns!”

King went on to elucidate that if he was a sick child in a hospital and a clown got here into his room to cheer him up, he’d be scared to dying. Kids are scared of clowns. If adults have that worry, think about how terrifying it’s for a kid, whose brains are nonetheless studying and do not perceive their environment in addition to an grownup does. A grown-up is aware of their worry of clowns is foolish, that this white-faced particular person is not going to assault them, however a toddler may actually suppose {that a} clown goes to harm them.

During a 2013 event with Nicole Schröder, King defined how Pennywise in It got here to be. He mentioned that he wished to put in writing a guide that had all of the traditional monsters in it, however determined he wished one creature so scary that you just scream simply to take a look at it. King stated, “So I assumed to myself, ‘What scares kids greater than anything on this planet?’ And the reply was ‘clowns.'” In a 2005 look on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, King spoke of the worry children have of seeing clowns at a circus, saying, “Their faces had been useless white, their mouths had been crimson, as if they had been stuffed with blood, they’re all screaming, their eyes are enormous. What’s to not like?”


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A Airplane Trip With Ronald McDonald Confirmed Stephen King the Distinction of Clowns

Tim Curry holding ballons as Pennywise in stephen king's IT 1990
Picture through ABC

It is rare to see a popular clown as a non-scary form of entertainment these days. You’ll be able to thank Stephen King for that, because the creator’s creation of Pennywise ruined something even remotely enjoyable about clowns. Many years in the past, again within the ’70s and ’80s, nonetheless, clowns did large enterprise. Bozo the Clown was on hundreds of thousands of tv screens as soon as upon a time, making children snort fairly than scream. Check out him, and you can see Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgard‘s versions of Pennywise. As creepy as Bozo the Clown can unintentionally be, King discovered inspiration for Pennywise in a extra mainstream and even much less threatening clown, Ronald McDonald — the spokesman for McDonald’s. Sadly, children immediately do not see Ronald McDonald attempting to promote them hamburgers, however for individuals of a sure age, he was simply as widespread as Mickey Mouse.

In his 2005 look on Late Night time with Conan O’Brien, King spoke about being on a protracted tour for considered one of his first books. As he was sitting on a airplane, who ought to board however a man dressed up as Ronald McDonald. The clown then sat proper subsequent to King, and as quickly because the “no smoking” mild went off, Ronald McDonald lit up a cigarette. King stated:

“And he orders a gin and tonic from the stewardess. He is sitting there ingesting a gin and tonic, smoking a Kent, and I say the one factor I can consider, ‘The place did you come from?’ He says, ‘McDonald Land.'”

King thought the man was being bizarre and requested him the place he actually got here from, solely to seek out out there’s a actual place referred to as McDonald Land and Ronald was there to open a brand new restaurant. The creator referred to as it a surreal second, and it needed to be — even for him. Clowns are scary due to the distinction between what we see and the way we course of it. They smile and snort, however we interpret it as menacing. They paint their mouths crimson to make their smiles look greater, however we see blood. They paint their faces white to make them extra expressive, however we see dying. And typically, of their full gear, they only drink a gin and tonic on an airplane and say they’re from McDonald Land. Now that’s scary.

2017’s It is on the market to stream on Netflix within the U.S.

Watch on Netflix


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