Recently, I just finished watching the Hulu limited series based on Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, and I was a little disappointed. For those unaware, 11/22/63 is about a man named Jake Epping who discovers a portal that transports him to the year 1958, and who sets off on a quest to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy and, hopefully, change history for the better. Unfortunately, though, once Jake succeeds in stopping Lee Harvey Oswald and travels back to his own era, he finds out that the alternate course of history he set in motion is far worse. Not only was I disappointed that we spent less than five minutes in this parallel timeline before Jake returns to the past – provided with no explanation as to what series of events transpired that turned the world into a war zone – but the series also skipped over one of my favorite references Stephen King makes to his other books.
For the majority of his career, King has worked to create a single connected universe in which all of his books take place. Most of the time, he accomplishes this just by having his stories take place in the same fictional small towns of Derry and Castle Rock, but it’s not as superficial of a connection as Quentin Tarantino’s Red Apple cigarettes. Many times, characters from previous novels appear, and sometimes their arcs are necessarily contingent upon the events of their previous book. Other times, the references serve as clues, helping the reader understand the complicated rules of King’s world and discover more about previously underdeveloped elements.
So where does the Dancing Clown fit into Jake Epping’s story? Well, in the novel, Jake actually crosses paths with Bev Marsh and Richie Tozier, shortly after they had defeated Pennywise in It. Now, throughout Jake’s time in Derry, he feels a dark presence, which suggests that he’s there during the events of It, and in It, Beverly’s father is possessed (or at least “influenced”) by Pennywise, and is suddenly very abusive with her. Back in 11/22/63, Jake is in Derry to stop his adult student Harry’s father from slaughtering his mother and siblings with a sledgehammer in front of him, an event which left him mentally stunted. Before that moment, when we’re first introduced to Harry’s father, he acts completely mentally stable, and is even friendly with Jake, suggesting to me that Pennywise took over his mind just as he did with Beverly’s father.
If you need more proof that Jake’s time in Derry coincides with the events in It, here’s a passage from a scene shortly after his interaction with Richie and Beverly:
I can tell you one more thing: there was something inside that fallen chimney at the Kitchener Ironworks. I don’t know what and I don’t want to know, but at the mouth of the thing I saw a heap of gnawed bones and a tiny chewed collar with a bell on it. A collar that had surely belonged to some child’s beloved kitten. And from inside the pipe—deep in that oversized bore—something moved and shuffled.
Come in and see, that something seemed to whisper in my head. Never mind all the rest of it, Jake—come in and see. Come in and visit. Time doesn’t matter in here; in here, time just floats away. You know you want to, you know you’re curious. Maybe it’s even another rabbit-hole. Another portal.
Maybe it was, but I don’t think so. I think it was Derry in there—everything that was wrong with it, everything that was askew, hiding in that pipe. Hibernating. Letting people believe the bad times were over, waiting for them to relax and forget there had ever been bad times at all.
I left in a hurry, and to that part of Derry I never went back.
So there you have it. Not only is the Dancing Clown in 11/22/63, but he’s directly responsible for one of the novel’s most major events!