For anyone who has read the book or saw the miniseries or watched the new movie, you might be puzzled why Pennywise never killed the kids. If he could appear anywhere and at anytime, then why not come after them in their sleep? Why did they keep escaping Pennywise?
I have read the book and watched the mini-series and movie. One thing that stands out in the book is the constant references to the unusually strong imaginations of the seven members of the Losers’ Club.
In the opening of the book, the first victim of the story is actually an adult homosexual male described as being “childlike” and having a vivid imagination. His partner witnesses part of his murder; moreover, he describes a clown being the killer. The police in the interrogation room don’t believe him and dismiss his account. However, they do find bite marks on his partner and signs that something with a very large mouth did gnaw on the corpse.
Throughout the rest of the story, several of the bodies are found to have teeth marks and pieces that were bitten off, but Pennywise doesn’t actually eat the corpses. Stephen King actually references this later in the story, mentioning that Pennywise does this as part of the fear. Pennywise doesn’t eat human flesh. It eats something more metaphysical. The biting is more like how a lion might nuzzle a delicious meal while drunk off the pleasure of filling its belly.
It eats the imagination, or the soul.
Bill Denbrough — the main protagonist of the story — loses his younger brother to IT. This scene is shown in both the movie and the TV while the book starts in the interrogation room of a police station. In fact, his brother’s death is worst than you can imagine. His brother’s very soul and essence was consumed by IT. There is literally nothing left of Bill’s brother or any of the children that IT devoured.
Moreover, IT goes to great lengths to mentally torture and terrify its prey, saying, “You taste so much better when you’re afraid”. This constant reference to the emotional state of It’s prey affecting the flavor is made again and again in both the movie, TV miniseries, and book. IT can eat adults and children, even when they’re not afraid, but they won’t taste good.
For people who’ve read the books, you know that IT makes the rounds when selecting prey. IT visits its targets before going to for the kill, often playing mind games on them and making them feel helpless and full of despair. The only exceptions to this are when IT first wakes up. Since It is hungry, it goes for the first thing that it can eat, such as Bill’s brother or the man at the beginning of the book.
In the books it describes that It prefers feasting on children because they have more vivid imaginations and are much easier to scare. Adults are described as “complicated”. It takes a lot more work to scare adults, and they’re not as tasty.
The vivid imaginations of children have a danger to IT, as shown by the Losers’ Club ability to drive Pennywise off on several occasions through the power of their belief. In fact, Bill even warns his friends “You must believe, no matter what”. They are not so much physically fighting IT, but mentally fighting Pennywise.
This is demonstrated in the books from their use of silver balls fired from a slingshot to critically damage IT, to one of the characters, Eddie, using his inhaler to melt Pennywise’s face by saying, “This is battery acid, slime!” These things work because the children believe they will work.
Power of belief
Pennywise realizes that imagination is not just tasty, but can harm, if not kill, IT. Even worse, IT develops fear of the kids, fear for its safety and well-being, a feeling it has never known in all its ancient existence. The Other is referenced as being a mysterious force that is working through the kids to empower them and help them defeat IT through the power of their incredible imaginations.
The children weaponize their own imaginations against Pennywise, stripping IT of its weapon to terrorize them and giving them the means to terrorize IT.
It can eat the children when they reach a state of 100 % belief in IT.
“I’m not afraid of you.”
They have to believe that IT can eat them. Only when they totally give into the fear and despair can IT kill them. This is again referenced in the TV mini-series when Pennywise recruits Henry Bowers from the insane asylum.
Pennywise tells Henry that “You can kill them whether they believe or only half-belief”.
This again references that belief is vital in Pennywise’s ability to kill.
If there is even a sliver of doubt, Pennywise can’t kill and eat them. The children of the Losers’ Club are singled out for their particularly vivid imaginations. The book mentions that if they had not banded together, Pennywise would have picked them off one by one. They were targeted as the most tasty and for being the gravest threat.
When they combine their vivid imaginations and believe “We can kill IT” then Pennywise becomes helpless to their power. Their imaginations deal body blow after body blow.
The very imagination that made them such attractive targets, also could be weaponized against It. This is why when the seven children coalesce together around the idea that they have the power to kill It and that It fears them, they become It’s worse nightmare.
They shatter the illusion by weaponizing their belief.
In the beginning, It underestimates the threat of the children and toys with them. Only towards the end does it realize how dangerous they are to IT, that they have the power to destroy IT.
Once they fully believe “We can kill Pennywise”, they gain the power to do so. IT is vulnerable to the very imaginations that IT consumes. Even worse, when they succeed in making IT believe that It can die, when they drive Pennywise into a total state of fear and panic, they can the power to destroy the clown once and for all.
I also speculate that the reason IT can’t come after the kids in their sleep is because its power over the children is a reflection of their imaginations. It needs the imagination of an active mind to bring its illusions and creations to life. There is a reference in the book that It must abide by the rules of the form It takes. If the clown becomes a werewolf, it gains all the weaknesses of a werewolf. Whatever the children believe are the weaknesses of a werewolf.
Sleeping minds can’t supply IT with the energy it needs to take on a form. In fact, I almost wonder if the children become invisible in this state. IT seems drawn to awake and active imaginations, and seems to know where they are and when those imaginations are getting in a state of fear. It appears all over the town and seems able to sense this in children.
I think sleeping minds just don’t draw IT the way a young child’s active imagination in a state of fear does. I don’t think IT so much finds the kids visually, as it senses them and its senses their imaginations. Only in a waking state are the kids visible to IT.
Not once does IT ever go after any person in a sleeping state.
There is an incident in the books where Pennywise draws out and captures adult Bill Denbrough’s wife — who foolishly drives to Derry. However, the attack doesn’t actually start in the book until she wakes up. It was waiting for her to wake up, then it began building up her level of fear.
When the kids almost kill It in the sewers, they not only physically wound it, but they also psychologically hurt It. Imagine if you will, your favorite hamburger that you’ve eaten for years suddenly leaps off the plate and attacks your throat. It takes you years of recovery before you can finally physically eat again. How are you going to feel about trying to eat another hamburger?
A little nervous and afraid?
Same for It.
Their assault against It does more than hurt it physically, they left It with a deep psychological fear of its own food. As long as It is afraid of its own prey, it can be like it was and do as it had done.
This is why it draws them back to Derry and wants a Round Two. It needs to reassert who is the prey and who is the predator. However, things backfire and, well you know the end if you’ve read the book.
As for some of the mind-tripping in the book, you have to wonder what King was smoking (or drinking) when he wrote certain sections of the book. I mean, giant turtle god empowers kids to fight spider demon? Really.
Another theory can be found in this video: