How It Chapter Two Differs from the Book
It Chapter Two makes a few big changes to its source material that might surprise Stephen King fans. Here's what we found...
This article contains major It Chapter Two spoilers.
After 2017’s It became the highest opening horror movie of all time two Septembers ago, it was a forgone conclusion that we would soon be watching an It Chapter Two. And unlike most sequels, it made creative sense. By adapting Stephen King’s ponderous tome about the childhood terrors and traumas we suppress, director Andy Muschietti wisely cut the nearly 1,200-page book in half. Presented in print as a back-and-forth dialogue between childhood and adulthood, Muschietti opted to tell the story (mostly) chronologically and focus simply on childhood in 2017.
So any King fan knew going in that there must be a sequel to finish the tale. For closure, we needed to return to Derry again, whether we wanted to or not. While obviously most did after that first film, the relatively mixed (but still fairly positive) reception to It Chapter Two is less surprising in retrospect. By and large, most critics and general readers alike would agree that the childhood portions of the literary It are stronger, and without that echoing quality between then and now, the adult portion risked being about a group of highly successful sad sacks moping around boy and girlhood haunts before confronting a giant spider.
In other words, it is the tougher of the two movies to make, so it being less universally praised might’ve been unavoidable. Yet while It Chapter Two does have problems—perhaps one of the chief ones being it still trying to create that counterpoint-dialogue via the copious amount of flashbacks—I personally think it worked far better than it didn’t. It Chapter Two zeroes in on the central crux of the whole story: how easy it is to forget what it was like to be a child, and how those hidden or intentionally forgotten nightmares might be killing us; it’s the heart of the whole duology. If the first film is about gauzy romanticized nostalgia of youth, particularly of a 1980s vintage, then It Chapter Two presents the prickly consequences from such daydreaming by showing us adults who think they’re thriving even as they’re dying a little bit each day.
That it makes this realization a horror movie that is as much 1980s children’s adventure movie as it is ‘80s slasher—complete with some genuinely exciting setpieces involving rivers of blood, sneaky witches, and devoured children—will likely allow It Chapter Two to win over audiences better than it did critics. But this success (and some of its failings) is only possible due to major deviations from the book. So for those who haven’t read King’s It, or might be as hazy about it as a Loser 27 years later, here are some key differences between the two.
Losers Who Are Lost in Different Ways
The crux of both novel and film is that when we find the Losers as adults, none of them are particularly happy other than maybe Stan Uris… and he kills himself. Much of this is the same in both mediums, however there were changes both subtle and major borne by the transition. For example, a small shift is that in the book, Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) owns his own luxury car service in Manhattan, driving for celebrities, athletes, and the like. In the film though, Eddie became a risk assessment analyst. In both cases, he is financially secure in the Big Apple, albeit more so on the screen. Yet there is a thematic importance to this given that Eddie is still the most scared and therefore most risk-averse. It’s why he wound up marrying a woman just like his mother, overweight and overbearing.
Similarly, instead of being a radio DJ (back when that could be a career), cinematic Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) became a standup comedian. This is partially done given the audience’s own familiarity with Hader as a comedian (as well as the fact that Richie was turned into a minor comic celebrity in the 1990 miniseries as well), but it also puts Richie’s career path more in line with who he was in the first film and now: the smartass cracking jokes in the back.
But more important than what they are doing is why they are the way they are… and what they remember about their formative events. In the book, it takes them a while to remember Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but they all know something terrifying and evil awaits them if they return to Derry. This is due to the unshakable memory of the pact they each made after first vanquishing the clown. While they somewhat remember the pact in the film, each has had his or her mind wiped of Pennywise so completely that it is not until they are at the Chinese restaurant that they remember there was “a fucking clown.” In the book, they also forgot It until they got closer to Derry, but they knew it was bad news to return. It is why Stan, after all, killed himself.
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In the movie, only Stan and Mike seem to have a vivid memory of Pennywise, which is interesting given that the point in the book seems to be that by leaving, all but Mike got what Pennywise promised in the first movie: success and a long life until they return to the weeds. The irony is that none of them are very happy about it, and intriguingly none of them can have children (both Stan and Bill have tried in their own marriages and failed). It seems to be a Faustian deal none of them can remember, but by staying in Derry, Mike cannot partake in the pact and never enjoyed the rewards of forgetfulness. He is merely a lonely librarian who has spent his life obsessed with chasing the origins of It.
In the novel, this manifests by the ravings of a journal that offer “Derry Interludes” with grim stories about hate crimes and mass murders throughout the centuries. In the film though, it is taken further where it is a wonder Mike even kept his librarian job considering he is experimenting with drugs in the attic and raving like a lunatic about Chud.
All of the Losers remain lost, but how they find their way home, and why they stay there, has definitely changed…
Who Says You Can’t Leave Home?
Another key difference is that once the Losers return to Derry, they don’t have a choice but to confront Pennywise again on the screen. This is revealed by Bev (Jessica Chastain), who apparently has dreamt of how each of the Losers will die if Pennywise is not stopped. She had this vision when she looked into the deadlights at the end of the first movie. The Bev of the novel, however, never looked into the deadlights nor did those who had gain a psychic vision of the future.
In some ways, this change can be argued to have sound narrative logic while still being somewhat underdeveloped. The fact none of the literary Losers who left Derry could remember anything about it until Mike called them, and then it came flooding back, suggests that Derry and It had a supernatural pull over each one of their lives. They were touched by childhood trauma, by an evil clown, and even if they thrived like Pennywise promised they would in the first movie, none of them can escape the emptiness left by Pennywise’s corrupting shadow. That Faustian pact they forgot also could come with an expiration date, which explains why Bev could see while floating in the deadlights how Stanley killed himself. This becomes a narrative device that suggests she saw each of them dying before they reached the age of 60, and the only way to prevent this is to kill It for good right now.
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However, this ultimately is not explored further than being a narrative device that explains why the Losers don’t just leave town as soon as they remember Pennywise. How did Bev see their futures before Pennywise suggested the deal, and who is to say they won’t still meet those same fates, even if It is destroyed? Further would seeing those fates—which the viewer is not privy to—mean that they could be safe in confronting Pennywise right now? If the future is written until Pennywise is dead for good, is he not already doomed? It is an underwritten addition that raises more questions than it answers.
A Shrinking of the Supporting Players
But one of the key reasons that Beverly can have that vision in the movies is that she is the only character besides Richie on screen to look into the deadlights and live to tell the tale. This is a major departure from the book in several ways. First, it was a drastic change in It Chapter One that Pennywise kidnapped Bev and forced her to look into the deadlights. In the book, she fought against It side-by-side with the rest of the Losers when they first came near Pennywise’s Lair, proving indispensable with her mastery of the slingshot. However, one character who served a very similar function in the book is Audra Phillips, Bill Denbrough’s wife.
Little more than a cameo appearance in It Chapter Two, Jess Weixler’s Audra feels a bit inexplicable in the movie. Existing almost exclusively because she existed in the book, she shows up as an actor on the film set where Bill is reluctantly working, and is one of several folks to ding him for the poor quality of his endings. The irony is that Audra has a much bigger role in the ending of the It novel that Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman are implicitly critiquing. While Bev is never kidnapped and forced to stare into the deadlights, Audra is. She is the one floating in the giant Spider’s web at the climax of the book and who remains comatose afterward, having seen into the furthest reaches of the cosmos that exist within Pennywise’s being.
In fact, the best possible ending of the book might’ve been she stayed that way, as she represented the adulthood Bill tried to run away from when he returned to Derry. While she was the responsible spouse, following him to his hometown, Bill attempted to relive childhood romances by sleeping with Beverly at the B&B they’re all staying at (Bill merely kisses Bev in the movie). But King gives Bill and Audra a happy ending in the final pages of the book when Bill introduces Audra to Silver, his beloved bicycle that somehow wakes her from her limbo as she is forced to ride on his back.
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Similarly, the only reason she was kidnapped is because Tom, Beverly’s husband, has become seduced by Pennywise and is acting as his human agent—like The Shining’s Jack Torrance or Henry Bowers. This is because like Audra, Tom is a much more developed character on the page, and he’s scarier too. In the movie, he’s introduced as jealous, controlling, and abusive. He is all of those things, and a tragic commentary on how Beverly cannot escape the scars placed on her by her abusive father as she married a man just like him. However, he also follows her to Derry in the book, planning to kill her when he finds her. After Henry Bowers is killed by Eddie in the book (in the film, it winds up being Richie), Pennywise moves on to seducing Tom to be his familiar who can touch the adult, less-scared Losers. Tom brings Audra into the sewers to It, who in its true form forces both to look into the deadlights. Tom instantly dies due to his innate weakness while Audra floats into seeming oblivion.
The removal of both characters is both a plus and minus in the film. Audra particularly gives more depth to Bill, who has long conversations with his wife before returning to Derry. The fact he never told her that he had a kid brother who was murdered shocks both parties, as well as the reader. It also says something about his failure as a husband that he cannot be honest with his wife or himself, hence why he agreed to rewrite her movie as some attempt to save their marriage.
With that said, given the third interloper who is neither Loser nor clown, Henry Bowers, feels ultimately perfunctory in It Chapter Two (and is an element that could have easily been erased in the screenwriting stage to tighten the film), it was probably wise to avoid leaning too much on damsels and toxic males in an already stuffed-to-the-gills movie.
Flashbacks New and Invented
The key to the literary It is how the events of your youth can echo into your middle age, even when you’re not aware of it. It is about the bridge that links both. But as both movies aim to tell the story in a mostly chronological manner, It Chapter Two had the tricky proposition of leaving the child cast behind and focusing on the adults.
Muschietti and Warner Bros. attempted to solve this problem by introducing a plethora of flashbacks to the past, and we mean a lot of them. A few of these are actually scenes that simply were excised due to pacing and perhaps budget from the first film— such as when Ben builds the Losers a clubhouse that is underground in the Barrens in the book—but many of them were wholly invented for the film. Eddie is not attacked by the Leper a second time in the pharmacy, nor does Bill confront Pennywise’s giggles at the sewer drain where Georgie died either in the past or present. And Ben most certainly doesn’t inexplicably spend his summer in an abandoned schoolhouse being chased by Pennywise (although it was an amusing homage to the 1990 miniseries that Pennywise howls, “Kiss me, fat boy” after pretending to be Beverly).
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While most of these scenes work, one or two likely could’ve been cut in order to improve the pace. Nonetheless, it does allow the second film to develop the double-edged sword nostalgia and half-remembered innocence. That’s why the most successful of these, in this writer’s opinion, did not involve Pennywise at all. It is again them entering that clubhouse for the first time where Richie and Eddie exchange love-hate banter, or Bev dreamily riding on Bill’s shoulder as he races along on Silver. (In the book, that bike really did beat the Devil, as Bill and Richie escaped It in the shape of a Teenage Werewolf while riding that sucker.) These sequences add a wistful texture to the film that makes up for too many flashbacks of Pennywise playing “gotcha.”
Pennywise’s Origin Is Explained
One of the most satisfying things about Pennywise in It is how enigmatic and mysterious the evil clown is. Why did It, an apparently eons-old alien entity, choose a clown as its favorite shape to torment children? While the movie keeps its cards close to the vest, It Chapter Two attempts to explain this in further detail.
When Beverly goes to the apartment that used to belong to her father, she learns that he has died and a deceptively sweet old woman now lives in the space. But even before she figures out something witchy is afoot, she is given a momentary chill when she hears the elder’s father “joined the circus” when he moved to the United States… and she then sees him in an impossibly old photograph. In a picture that must be more than a hundred years old given the fashion and horse drawn carriages, Bev sees this woman’s father and he bears a striking resemblance to a familiar clown. He also has a circus wagon that says, “THE GREAT PENNYWISE, THE DANCING CLOWN.”
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From what I can gather, we are meant to deduce that Pennywise was the stage name of a real circus performer driven crazy by It, much as we see Henry Bowers driven mad in the films. Bev likewise sees a glimpse of insanity when a spectral version of the flesh-and-blood Pennywise begins tearing apart his own face. We examine the greater origins and changed backstory of Pennywise right here, but the overall effect is to give you both some sympathy for Pennywise and a further hint that this is but the tip of an iceberg worth of mythology.
Rewriting the Ending
Even if you haven’t read the book, it’s easy to suspect the ending was changed given how much shade is thrown Bill Denbrough’s way for writing loopy endings. And the end of literary It has the largest loops. The kind that involve flying to the end of the universe and meeting giant space turtles with galaxies glowing from their toenails.
So that’s all gone, but more importantly, the ending of It Chapter Two redoubles focus on the Losers’ camaraderie. For starters, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) is present for the finale. While the novel suffers the unpleasant trope of the wise black man bringing all the white characters together and then being taken out of commission so they can save the day—he suffers a grievous stab wound by Henry Bowers that at first seems lethal—in the film, he tosses Henry like a rag doll across the library. Further the film makes him deceitful about what he knows regarding It and the Ritual of Chüd, and he is less the novel’s angelic, stereotypical force. He lied about the threat in Derry when he brought them back, knowing they would not remember Pennywise until they were here (in the book, he’d hoped they would remember immediately and not kill themselves), and he omitted the fact the Ritual of Chüd would not work. As a consequence, his own flaws help initiate the climax, as well as maybe unite the characters… if only for sharing that friend.
Similarly, Mike, Beverly, and all the Losers have much more to do in the climax. In the novel, the Ritual of Chüd primarily involves just Bill and then Richie. It begins when they stare into the deadlights located in It’s true form—the eyes of the Spider. Bill actually did this as a child (but he did not remember it until facing the Spider again), and both times he is hurdled across the cosmos to the origin of It’s power and true shape—the deadlights floating in space outside this universe… and in the greater King Macroverse. It is there that Bill has a psychic battle that he wins as a child but loses as an adult which involves biting into It’s psychic tongue with the human’s psychic teeth…. Yeah. Richie ultimately has to do the deed when they’re adults.
Afterward, the Spider is wounded. While they failed to kill it as kids, they go after it as adults. Eddie does indeed die, albeit by having his arm ripped off in the book, and Bill and Richie use the power of Good with a capital G coursing through them to deliver a beatdown on the Spider that ends with them ripping out its heart and crushing it. Bev meanwhile is left to mostly grieve over Eddie’s body.
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The film makes them all more proactive as they discover It may not have a true form. The Ritual of Chüd is a bad joke that ends up being at their expense after the deadlights refuse to stay in the ceremonial box Mike retrieved from Natives living outside Derry, and he then pushes them to their limit. Some of this is like a greatest hits of the It movies, as Richie and Eddie are forced to relive their nightmare in the Neibolt House, albeit this time with a hilarious puppy. For the rest, it is them facing their greatest fears from a childhood they’ve repressed.
Beverly is still the young girl in a bathroom stall being bullied by life, be it mean girl peers, sadists like Henry Bowers, or worst of all her abusive father who always wanted to see into her private space. Being drowned in blood while reliving the day she got her first period in school is loaded with Carrie-like allegory. Ben (Jay Ryan) is put back into the clubhouse he built underground, which Pennywise seems determined to turn into his grave. Despite his wealth and success, and losing of his weight, he still fears dying alone and unloved, which Pennywise attempts to make a reality by burying him alive. And then there’s Bill. Bill returns to the trauma that always haunted him. He returns to Georgie.
This gives greater weight to the thematic idea of facing those childhood fears that would keep you up at night if you were honest. It also is still more effective than Pennywise growing giant spider legs, which feels like a cinematic compromise between the high fantasy idea of King’s ending and the need to keep a human face on the screen. Still, the Losers corner him as they did in the first film (and as they did the Spider in the book), and this time finish the job by crushing his heart. But the most profound difference here is the impact of Eddie’s death.
While Eddie seems always destined to die, making it Richie who grieves the most opens up a poignant dimension about the smartass with a big mouth. The childhood memory that seems to scar him just as much as any demonic clown is the memory of when he was called a “fag” by bullies in 1989. Perhaps it’s because he actually is gay but grew up in an era where he had to hide it? He still seems to hide it in 2016, as Pennywise taunts him as an adult about knowing his secret, and the death of Eddie feels as much like the loss of a first love as it does of a good chum. The movie never verbalizes or explicitly states Richie’s sexuality in the film, and it is stronger for it. Whereas he is just a wiseacre in the novel (and clearly straight), Richie being a closeted member, or at least a private member, of the LGBTQ community who compensated all his life with a big mouth turns him into the strongest character of It Chapter Two.
Derry Is Saved
One change that I imagine was made for budgetary reasons—as the film was long enough—is that the end of It means the end of Derry, at least as countless generations have known it. As the Losers approach It’s Lair in the book, King continually shifts focus to the many locals of Derry that readers are much more familiar with. These locals witness what must be a hurricane coming out of nowhere. Soon water mains are breaking around town, manhole covers are decapitating creepy old men, and those who were there the day Georgie’s body was found see the streets flood with canal water in an almost biblical reckoning.
As Derry is literally built on the foundations of It’s power, the death of It heralds the end of Derry. It’s corrupting influence is swept away, and hopefully if it ever rebuilds, it will be filled with less people like Henry Bowers or the homophobes who killed Adrian Mellon.
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One final wise change is that the Losers do not forget what they learned by coming home again. In the novel, Bill and Mike realize in their final conversation that they’re already forgetting details about It and Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Someday soon, Bill posits, they’ll likely forget it ever happened, and this time for good. They decide this is for the best, although it is a bit odd considering Beverly and Ben are finally together, and one wonders how that relationship can last if they forget how they reconnected or what that love is founded on?
It feels like one last creative flourish that is unneeded, and indeed the movie does away with it. Bill remembers what happened to Eddie and essentially eulogizes him in his next book, and all of the Losers know who Stanley Uris is when his suicide notes reach them. For the record, Stan also didn’t mail anyone in the novel, and his death was entirely out of fear, not some altruistic game move to “take myself off the board.” That change actually makes little sense, because if he had the clarity to think that way about fighting Pennywise, he should’ve been able to help without suicide. Nevertheless, the point is that the Losers can finally embrace being adults, even if it’s at middle age, because they are at peace with the joys and horrors that shaped them. It Chapter Two remembers the importance of that.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.