It was in 1986 that Pennywise first floated up from the darkest depths of Stephen King's imagination to invade our own, appearing under every bed and inside every sewer drain we've encountered since. A few years later, Tim Curry scared countless more fans by dancing onto our screens in the 1990 TV adaptation of IT, literally leaping off the page like Pennywise in slides from Georgie's photo album.
Those of us who still visit the town of Derry in our nightmares have embraced the idea of meeting Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. After all, the titular Eater of Worlds is a truly horrifying creation, and now that he's been let loose in a R-rated adaptation, fans may finally meet a Pennywise who will capture the true evil of Stephen King's greatest creation.
Despite all this though, the Dancing Clown isn't the scariest monster that's crawled out of King's psyche. Hell, Pennywise isn't even the scariest character in IT. Sure, anyone who's seen the trailers for Andrés Muschietti's movie may not be inclined to agree with us. The truth is though that there's another evil in Stephen King's story that's far scarier than any Dancing Clown or even Henry Bowers, the bully who used a knife to carve his initials into Ben's stomach — and unfortunately for the Losers' Club, this evil floats far, far closer to home.
Mrs. Kaspbrak Holds Eddie Back
Although he ultimately proves himself to be one of the strongest Losers of all, Eddie Kaspbrak doesn't initially command respect. In fact, the sickly, asthmatic boy cuts a pitiful figure at first, controlled by both his domineering mother and an overwhelming dependency on his inhaler. All that changes, though, when Eddie begins to realize that Pennywise isn't the only evil that's destroying his life.
While doing errands at the pharmacy, store owner Mr. Keene sits Eddie down and reveals to him that the asthma medicine he's depended on all these years is nothing more than a placebo administered by his mother. In reality, the psychosomatic symptoms that Eddie suffers from aren't the result of any respiratory disorder:
"My son is crazy? Is that what you're trying to say? ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY THAT MY SON IS CRAZY????"
Instead, its his mother's deep-rooted insecurities and overbearing jealousy of anyone who comes close to Eddie that are the true cause of his suffering.
Reeling from this earth-shattering revelation, Eddie accidentally runs into the path of Henry Bowers and his gang, who proceed to beat him up and break his arm. The severity of this life-threatening encounter shouldn't be underplayed, yet that still pales in comparison to the monstrous way that Mrs. Kaspbrak tries to reassert control during Eddie's subsequent hospital visit.
'We Lie Best When We Lie To Ourselves'
Jealous of Eddie's newfound friends, Mrs. Kaspbrak decides to blame them for Eddie's accident, despite knowing that Henry Bowers was responsible. Because of her insecurities, Mrs. Kaspbrak drives the Losers' Club away before trying to once again position herself as the most important element of her son's life. As if that wasn't shocking enough, her resentment toward Eddie's friends becomes even more pronounced when Sonia discovers that one of the boys is black:
"She thought reproachfully, as if Eddie were here and could listen to her: You never told me that one of your 'friends' was a n****r."
Stephen King provides us with disturbing insight into Mrs. Kaspbrak's warped mentality during this chapter, revealing how she used her tears as a weapon by her own admission. Despite this, Sonia still tries to convince herself that she's controlling Eddie for his own benefit, "always for him..."
Sitting in a hospital bed with his broken arm, Eddie should have been at his weakest, yet knowledge of how his mother tried to manipulate him empowers the boy to resist her psychological manipulations. No longer would Eddie allow Mrs. Kaspbrak to control his every action. Instead, the smallest member of the Losers' Club blackmailed his mother, agreeing that he would continue to use his inhaler and forget this situation ever happened on the condition that he could still see his friends.
Knowing that the Losers' Club would stand by him certainly helped Eddie in this regard, but ultimately, this inner strength came from him, even if the Turtle may have lent a helping hand along the way too. Those who haven't read Stephen King's book may be shocked to learn that a "normal" woman came arguably closer to dividing the Losers' Club than Pennywise ever did, yet Eddie ultimately succeeded, fighting a threat that's perhaps even more dangerous in its familiarity.
Mrs. Kaspbrak Brings Misery
The fact that the Turtle felt the need to intervene during Mrs. Kaspbrak's hospital showdown with Eddie reveals just how dangerous she really is. After all, the only other mention of the Turtle's presence in the book's 1000+ pages occurs in the presence of Pennywise. Those looking for reassurance that IT was manipulating Sonia like the other townsfolk of Derry may be disappointed to learn that Kaspbrak's cruelty was all too real.
Much like Annie Wilkes in Misery, Sonia abused the one she loved most through Munchausen's syndrome by proxy. This divisive condition is diagnosed when caregivers pretend that their victim is sick or even induce illness in them to appease their own insecurities. In Mrs. Kaspbrak's case, this need to keep Eddie sick is ultimately derived from her fear of loneliness. When she considers what life would be like if her son ever married, Sonia laments that she would no longer be needed;
"Where's the place for me in any of that?"
Despite the fact that her behavior is rooted in fear, there's no excuse for the abusive way that Mrs. Kaspbrak raised her son, just like there's no excuse for those who suffer as a result of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy in real life. In 2003, a mother from Arizona called Blanca Montano was filmed contaminating her infant daughter's IV with fecal matter. In 2011, a mother named Lacey Spears was convicted of murder after she slowly poisoned her 5-year-old with lethal amounts of salt over a period of five years. The tragic difference between these victims and Eddie is that they didn't share the support system he did.
Why Mrs. Kaspbrak Is The Scariest Monster Of All
Mrs. Kaspbrak isn't the only adult who abuses a member of the Losers' Club in IT. Bill Denbrough is neglected by his parents following the death of his younger brother Georgie and Beverley Marsh is both physically and sexually assaulted by her husband and her father too. However, while each of these acts is despicable in their own way, the deliberate and calculated nature of Mrs. Kaspbrak's behavior is arguably even more unsettling.
Male abuse of women is hideous and deplorable on countless levels, but #StephenKing himself knew that the most disturbing betrayal of all comes from the mother figures who we're supposed to trust most. That's why King threaded this fear throughout the book, even revealing that #IT is a mother too toward the end, laying eggs that fill the Losers' Club with an unparalleled dread.
Considered one of the most dangerous forms of child abuse, Munchausen's syndrome by proxy has had a lasting impact on Eddie's life, the consequences of which become all too clear in the adult sections of the book. Despite winning that confrontation in the hospital, Eddie is still tethered to the inhaler that he himself knows isn't needed, even after his mother's death. The psychological trauma that Eddie endures is also clearly evident in the form of his wife Myra, who acts as a mirror image to Mrs. Kaspbrak in both a physical and mental sense.
The problem with abusive families is that they foster an environment where the abuse is somehow normalized and can even become intertwined with love, warping the victim's perception of both to an irreparable degree. There's comfort in familiarity, even when this comfort is derived from violence, neglect or even psychological torture.
At the end of the day, the violent bullies and shape-shifting creatures are all part of a greater evil, but none of these characters can damage us in our innermost sacred places like a parent can. By normalizing abuse in the home, parents such as Mrs. Kaspbrak and the "comfort" they bring can and should feel far more alien than IT's true form ever could. As a young Eddie says, you can "still exist inside the pain, in spite of the pain," but such trauma transforms our lives forever, no matter what catharsis is later gained.
Each member of the Losers' Club has their own trauma to bear, some more painful than others, but it's those who suffer abuse at the hands of those they love who are the most damaged. #Pennywise may intend to devour these children and the Bowers gang are determined to cause them pain, but at least that's in their nature. We expect the ancient monster to seek destruction and even the bullies of this world are always to be feared. What we don't expect is for our own mothers to convince us that we're sick and fight us using tears that continue to ensnare our hearts long after they're gone.
Who do you think is the scariest character in Stephen King's IT? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!