Stephen King’s It is a beast of a novel. Over 1,100 pages long, the reader is provided with plenty of eerie scenes of Pennywise stalking the children of Derry, yet it doesn’t take many encounters before you’d notice a clear pattern: Pennywise always lets the children know that they’ll float, float just like his helium balloons.
Well, what the hell could that possibly mean? It’s never explicitly stated in the book, but the movie adaptation provides an explanation of Pennywise’s catchphrase, specifically the one that was released in September of 2017. After Beverly Marsh is abducted by Pennywise and the Loser Club descends into the sewers to find her, they see her catatonic as she floats in mid-air.
This interpretation of the Dancing Clown’s titular line suggests to the reader that the “floating” that he tells his victims they’ll experience is them suspended in todash space, the dimension of nothingness inhabited by the most horrific of Lovecraftian creatures that exists in between each alternate universe, which is perhaps where Pennywise takes their souls once he consumes their flesh. For those of you who are unaware, the todash space is featured in dozens of Stephen King novels, most notably the Dark Tower series, where not only do we learn that one does indeed float when they enter the limbo-esque dimension, but it’s heavily implied that the same monstrous species that Pennywise is part of came from there.
In my personal opinion, however, I think the meaning behind Pennywise’s catchphrase is far less complicated, yet simultaneously far more terrifying. In the book, Stephen King devotes a substantial amount of the description of Derry to the expanse of sewers and drainage pipes that lie underneath the city, all of which lead to the expanse of river that cuts through the woods just outside of the town’s limits. Throughout the novel, every one of Pennywise’s victims are always found near water, such as underneath bridges or at the mouths of culverts, which not only cleverly and ironically associates the life-giving liquid with rot and death, but also heavily implies that the “floating” Pennywise is referring to is what the children’s corpses will do after he finishes eating pieces of their bodies.
This seemingly rather unimportant line illustrates to the reader how Pennywise, in fact, rather enjoys feasting on children. Comparing a helium balloon with the gray and bloated body of a dead child floating down the sewers is only a joke that a truly sadistic beast would make, one who seems to take the same satisfaction in his hunt as a house cat does when it pounces on birds and squirrels in the backyard. Pennywise sees human beings as nothing more than prey to satiate himself with.