This article contains major spoilers for It Chapter Two and Stephen King’s It novel.
It Chapter Two is finally here, and we can at last see how director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman solved what many perceive to be the problem of Stephen King’s It. Rightly hailed by many, including myself, as King’s magnum opus, It contains many of the defining themes and virtues of King’s work. An epic dialogue between the past and present, childhood and adulthood, the book seamlessly alternates between 1957/58 and 1985 as it tells the story of childhoods irrevocably damaged by trauma—and the haunted grown-ups they form.
Also an excuse for King to write every type of monster that ever scared him as a kid into one book—be it werewolves, vampires, mummies, or even a giant shark with orange pom-poms—the novel has a kitchen sink approach that might shock many readers who open it up expecting just a story about a creepy clown. However, it also indulges some of King’s most ambitious cosmic ideas. While reveling in the fantastical or obtuse from the outset of a novel or series of novels—like, say, The Dark Tower series—can be grand, discovering your evil supernatural clown is actually a giant space spider that is billions of years old can be a big pill to swallow. As can the Ritual of Chüd, which is introduced in the third act as the only way to kill that fucking clown.
Hence why Muschietti and Dauberman have some fun at King’s expense when his onscreen avatar, James McAvoy’s adult Bill Denbrough, is mocked for writing lousy endings. This is also why the Ritual of Chüd is so drastically different between the book and the film. Still, even on the screen, it is pretty far out there. So we’ll do our best to make sense of it all, first by explaining what the Ritual of Chüd is in the book and then what it is in It Chapter Two!
Stephen King’s Ritual of Chüd
The Ritual of Chüd—before it gets that name—is first discovered in the novel by Ben Hanscom. At the library, he learns of an ancient way of fighting evil spirits or demons, which the Losers believe Pennywise to be. The ritual involves staring into the monster’s eye and then biting its tongue. Actually, it is to tell it jokes until it laughs, and then bite its tongue and hang on until you expel it.
This becomes more literal and cosmic during the climax of It, both when the Losers are children and again when as adults they confront It’s final form. Well kind of. As we explain here, the final form the Losers see as a giant spider is actually just what human minds can best perceive the evil emanating from its deadlights to be. And it is by staring into those deadlights that Bill initiates in both eras the Ritual of Chüd.
In 1958, he stares into the Spider’s eyes/deadlights and is thus psychically linked to Pennywise and transported across the cosmos. His consciousness flies by a giant turtle named Maturin. This space creature, who is something of a sibling to It, is actually responsible for the creation of our universe, which he accidentally barfed out while having a tummy ache. He is the one who tells Bill, “There is only Chüd and your friends.” On this tip, Bill psychically hones in on It. It’s psychic voice mocks him and laughs at his misfortune. Bill then uses his mind to bite into Pennywise’s mind’s tongue, and holds on. During this battle of wills, he stops It from carrying his consciousness beyond the realm of our universe and into Its deadlights.
Bill then thinks, “Chüd, this Chüd, stand, be brave, be true, stand for your brother, your friends; believe, believe in all the things you have believed in.” Essentially a psychic act of saying everything good you’ve ever heard about, from the kindness of strangers to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, is real, Bill’s goodness holds It’s tongue in a vice-like grip until It/Pennywise surrenders in agony. Thus returned to Earth, Bill sees the Spider is psychically wounded and retreats in pain.
Bill repeats this again in 1985—the climax of both eras are presented back-to-back on the page—but fails the Ritual of Chüd by not being strong enough to bite It’s tongue because he is shaken to learn that the giant space turtle with galaxies in its glowing toenails has died… it apparently choked on another galaxy or two due to a case of indigestion. It is thus up to Richie to stare into the deadlights, fly across the cosmos, and save Bill from the true source of It, the deadlights in the greater Macroverse, by biting into a cackling psychic Pennywise’s tongue. Afterward, the Spider is weakened in our world, but still strong enough to kill Eddie. Nonetheless, Bill and Richie use their psychic power of Good with a capital “G” to beat the Spider to death and pull out its heart while Ben Hanscom squashes its arachnid offspring, which are just hatching from It’s abandoned egg sack.
… Yep, the ending is not perfect!
It Chapter Two’s Ritual of Chüd
The concept of “Chüd” is introduced earlier in Andy Muschietti’s It Chapter Two and plays out quite differently. It occurs when adult Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) drugs McAvoy’s Bill with a “root” and tells him about what he’s learned from Natives living outside of Derry’s town limit (and It’s supernatural grasp). He reveals the Ritual of Chüd is a spiritual ceremony Native Americans used to contain and defeat It in the past before It became Pennywise.
With a ceremonial box that acts as a weapon, or prison cell for Pennywise, the ceremony involves the power of seven volunteers. Beloved possessions of each, or tokens, are sacrificed to the box and burned before the deadlights of It are summoned by ritualistic chants. Due to the sacrifices made by the seven (six at It Chapter Two’s end since Stan is dead), the deadlights are supposed to be trapped by the goodness of humanity. Of course this isn’t the case in the film. When Pennywise’s deadlights appear to be trapped into the Chüd box, Pennywise then has the last laugh. The deadlights turn into a giant red balloon that grows so big the box cannot be shut. Soon it expands beyond the box until it is the size of the room.
The Ritual of Chüd turns out to be a superstition that never worked. When the Natives tried it, the volunteers were apparently killed by It’s spidery legs. Which would make sense given the indigenous population chooses to have nothing to do with Derry after that day. But Mike apparently believed, or was told, that the volunteers didn’t believe the ritual would actually work. Mike thought it would if he believed hard enough and got the other Losers to believe it too. However, it turns out to be a lot of hot air and now they’re trapped in the Lair of the Clown.
How they wind up actually defeating Pennywise is similar to how they beat It as kids in the first film: they stop believing in It’s power over them. Last time they beat the clown up when It grew weak and afraid. This time they don’t let It crawl away. The Losers stand above Pennywise as It lays helpless on the floor, and they take out It’s heart and crush it. Who’s laughing now, Bozo?