Much like Pennywise’s cyclical slumber, there was a 27 year gap between the original TV adaptation of IT in 1990 and Andy Muschietti’s big screen iteration. But what did the mini-series have to say about its central septych of characters, the Losers Club? Kim Morrison heads back to Derry to find out…
The mini-series of Stephen King’s IT (1990) is split into two parts: the first is set in 1960 and follows the Losers Club as they start to figure out there is something very wrong in the small town of Derry, before eventually facing off with Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry); the second part picks up the story years later, with the friends returning to Derry to fight It once again and – hopefully – defeat him for good.
While it is the adults that are able to kill the clown and rid Derry of the evil which has plagued it for hundreds of years, they were only able to get to this place because of the power they held as children when they first formed the Losers Club.
The reason Pennywise is so successful in Derry is because the adults in the town are willing to turn a blind eye to the horrors that take place: Bill’s parents shut off from the tragedy of Georgie’s death and in turn shut out their oldest son in the process; an old man watches Beverly get attacked by Henry Bowers and chooses to hide inside rather than help. The adults are either pretending there is nothing bad going on, or are all too aware and refuse to get involved in hopes of an easy life.
And so the children of Derry are left to face Pennywise pretty much by themselves. Most kids are wiped out before they even realise what’s happening but the Losers are different, mainly because Bill is left to wallow in the grief of his little brother’s death by himself. Without his parents to turn to, he talks to his friends and they soon piece together that something strange is going on. Unlike the adults, the Losers know that ignoring this problem won’t make it go away – and won’t keep them safe – so they band together, pooling their knowledge to work towards a solution.
Pennywise decides to feed on children for a variety of reasons. Firstly their fears are very easy to represent. Having the ability to turn into someone’s worst phobia Pennywise is able to terrify It’s victims before they die, ensuring they taste better. The fears of children are simple, with werewolves, Frankenstein’s Monster and school showers all making an appearance. The fears of adults however are probably more complex, and so Pennywise is making life easy for Itself. There’s also the fact that children are easier to overpower, and even if they do escape an encounter the odds of an adult believing them are very slim.
This is where the Losers Club develop their power because rather than hiding their encounters, lying about them or allowing their fear to overwhelm, they instead choose to band together to realise their common enemy. And when the final member of their group, Mike, joins the Club, Pennywise realises how much of a threat the Losers could be. As they huddle together to look at Mike’s photos of historical Derry, Pennywise shows Itself to the group: It doesn’t attack, knowing that It would probably be unable to take on all seven at once. Instead It aims to strike fear into the group, hoping to drive them apart. For probably the first time in It’s existence, Pennywise is the one who’s scared.
If Pennywise wants to isolate the children of Derry – so it’s easy for It to pick them off one by one – It doesn’t reckon on the Losers, who are already on the fringes of society, distanced from their parents, and often without any friends. These children are used to being alone, used to not being believed, and used to being terrified. Beverly and Eddie are abused by their parents, and most of the Losers have been on the wrong side of Henry Bowers and his gang at one point or another. When Pennywise pops up, rather than further isolating the group, It pushes them together because they are sick of being mistreated in Derry and being ignored by the people who are supposed to protect them.
Right away the Losers recognise how special their friendship is, and it proves to them that they need to fight against Pennywise to save the town and their friends, and to get the justice that Bill so desperately wants for Georgie. They’ve had trouble making friends in the past, but when they start to form the Losers Club by building a dam down in the Barrens they instantly recognise that they need to stay together.
While they have the pressures of trying to survive Pennywise’s attacks, this newfound friendship also gives the Losers the chance to finally be children and enjoy their childhood. From listening to Bill’s stories to visiting the cinema or hanging out in the school canteen together, the Losers Club offers them a little slice of a normal childhood. And it’s this glimpse at what their lives could be that causes them to fight all the harder against Pennywise and the town of Derry itself.
But with the threat of Pennywise hanging over them, they know they need to use their shared knowledge of the monsters to kill it. After taking on Henry Bowers and his gang – and finally winning for once in an epic rock fight – the Losers know how much power they hold as a group compared to as individuals.
When the Losers are adults, the thought of fighting Pennywise terrifies them. A few of them want to leave Derry before the battle and poor Stan feels he has to take his own life rather than risk another confrontation. However when they were children the Losers didn’t think twice about taking on the monster because they were filled with childhood confidence and unwavering faith.
The Losers know that silver is commonly used in the movies they frequently watch to take down the monster, and so they decide this is how they will kill Pennywise. Adults would have doubts about such a plan, which could easily lead to their demise. But the children have seen this plan work in the movies – they have seen monsters killed and the heroes win the day – and so base their entire plan around Beverly being an excellent shot with a slingshot and a couple of silver earrings.
In the final battle with Pennywise in 1960, their faith in each other and their weapons is what wins the day. When Pennywise grabs Stan, Eddie screams “This is battery acid, you slime!”, believing in the transmutation of his inhaler and causing the clown’s face to melt off. In It’s weakened state, Beverly is able to hit It square in the head with one of the silver earrings, bursting It’s skull open, and causing It to flee into the sewers. It’s unclear if the Losers would have been able to fully kill Pennywise during this fight because Pennywise isn’t the monster’s true form, but they at least end It’s current cycle and send It underground for the next 30 years (as opposed to 27 years in the novel). Pennywise usually preys on their childlike beliefs to twist their fears into something they think is real, but the fact that the Losers are able to channel this themselves and give simple objects almost magical powers shows their amazing strength.
As adults, the Losers are almost unsuccessful because they try to rely on the same methods they used in childhood, but their faith has wavered. When faced with the monster’s true giant spider form, they allow their fear to take over. Eddie tries to use his inhaler trick again, but fails and tragically dies. Beverly, however, is focused, comes armed with her slingshot, and takes aim when all the other Losers are incapacitated. Knowing she’s the only chance the Losers have left of survival, and aware that this childhood faith is the only thing that might win the day, she fires the last earring into the beast’s deadlights. This wounds the monster enough for the friends to unite one last time and tear the beast to pieces.
Even though they have less faith and more fear of failure as adults, the Losers are adamant that they won’t turn their back like so many other generations of Derry adults have done before them: they made a promise that day in 1960 in the Barrens after their first fight with Pennywise, and it’s the strength of that promise that brings them back to Derry 30 years later. Many have taken on Pennywise before and have lost, but the Losers Club recognise the importance of the lucky number seven, and how fate brought them together that one summer to ensure someone finally had the power needed to wipe Pennywise out forever.
Want more Stephen King content? Check out our podcast mini-series on the film adaptations from his work here.