The Turtle Easter Egg in 'IT' That Ties Stephen King's Worlds Together
The newest adaptation of Stephen King’s IT is setting records in theaters after a rocky pre-production period that saw the producers and original writer-director Cary Fukunaga argue about how the sprawling 1,000-plus page novel could be split into two affordable films and still honor the source material.
In September of 2015, after he had left the project, Fukunaga told Variety: “Our conversations weren’t dramatic. It was just quietly acrimonious. We didn’t want to make the same movie. We’d already spent millions on pre-production.” Eventually, director Andy Muschietti and his producer-partner sister Barbara, coming off the success of their Jessica Chastain-led horror film Mama, came on to re-translate the first part of IT into a film.
As part of this reshuffling, the adaptation wound up with an alternate interpretation of King's work than Fukunaga had originally presented. One major difference between the leaked draft of the first script and the version of IT we ended up seeing on screen is the ending where the kids face IT in its lair. In the film, Beverly glimpses “the deadlights” deep in the face-maw of Pennywise the Clown, while the old script had the kids transported to the greater “Macroverse” where they saw the deadlights at the center of a giant space starfish. The IT currently in theaters doesn’t get very metaphyiscal, and doesn’t offer any more outlandish ideas than the concept that a shape-shifting clown monster can feed off fear. In the novel, though, It often appears with clown-like characteristics, but can morph into several forms.
But one small Easter egg in the current film that serious King fans would've picked up on points to the Macroverse and even ties in other King novels. I'm talking, of course, about the turtle.
How the turtle functions in IT and The Dark Tower
In the novel and in the Stephen King expanded universe that the Dark Tower novel series lays out, there is a force of good working with the children against the monster: a cosmic turtle who got sick a long time ago and vomited up the entire galaxy. In the novel, IT is a creature from that same space-beyond-reality, dubbed the “macroverse” by King (and later thought to be The Dark Tower’s Todash space). In the chapters narrated by IT, we know the entity hates the Turtle and thought it had died after vomiting up our reality. In the textual confrontation with IT, the kids enact the “Ritual of Chud,” which is a metaphysical battle that sends Bill’s spirit hurtling towards the deadlights as he flies past and speaks to the Turtle.
Later, in the Dark Tower novels, we learn that the Dark Tower itself, the spoke of the wheel of all reality, is held up by a series of beams (this holds true in the movie adaptation). Those beams have what are best described as spirit guardians, and one of the beams has a Turtle Guardian named Maturin. Maturin guards a beam with Shardik, the cyborg bear (the Dark Tower books are weird). This is the same universe-vomiting turtle, but here he's remembered through an occasionally repeated rhyme that reminds everyone he's a good force that favors children:
See the Turtle of Enormous Girth
On his shell he holds the Earth.
His thought is slow, but always kind.
He holds us all within his mind.
On his back all vows are made;
He sees the truth but mayn't aid.
He loves the land and loves the sea,
And even loves a child like me.
You may not have noticed, but the turtle makes an appearance in IT
At first glance, Maturin looks to have been cut from the grand narrative of IT, along with the Ritual of Chud and the metaphysical battle co-existing with the much more down-to-earth struggle between childhood friendship and fear. The good news is that first glances are deceiving, because Andy Muschietti intends to re-introduce the more metaphysical components of the King novel back into the world of on-screen clown terror.
Even better is that sharp-eyed viewers who were fans of the book likely noticed the subtle callouts to turtles in the movie. As the director himself told us: “The Turtle plays a pretty big role in the book... But it's a very subtle presence, and it's approached from a very speculative perspective, because nobody knows what The Turtle is, but it comes in dreams and messages and mythology. So I didn't want to introduce The Turtle as it's described in the book, because in the book there are speculative descriptions of what the Macroverse is -- the other dimension where It comes from and where The Turtle lives. But I did want to hint at the presence of the turtle in this movie, as a force of good that's basically trying to protect the kids.”
The most obvious turtles are the Lego turtle that Bill is holding when he sees Ghost Georgie, as well as turtle wallpaper in Bill’s house. The other turtle reference is something that doesn’t feel out of place until the scene ends: When Beverly has joined the Losers for a swim in the quarry, they notice a turtle and all dive beneath the water, portending what feels like a jump scare waiting to happen. Then... the scene ends, and we pick up after the kids are done swimming.
Muschietti was acutely aware of the effect of the line and the edit. “The screen goes completely green, and I think people sort of brace because they think something scary is going to happen, but then we cut to the next scene. It's a bit of an Easter egg for people who've read the book. For people who don't know the story at all, The Turtle goes completely unnoticed, I think. But I didn't want to leave The Turtle completely out, because I think it's a hint for further exploration in the second part."
Just how is that going to play out in the inevitable IT: Chapter 2? First, the second movie will keep the flashback structure of the novel, so it’s entirely possible to revisit moments from the novel that were skipped over or left out in the first chapter. “The hope is we’ll find the best way soon, because it’s also important for Andy to get flashbacks with the kids, who are growing very fast,” Barbara Muschietti told Entertainment Weekly. “They are an important component in the next film.”
Her brother has also found a way to bring in more “out there” ideas like the Macroverse and a sentient giant Turtle of Good, and it twists the story of Mike Hanlon from the novels even further than the first film: Instead of just being the librarian who monitors Derry for IT’s resurgence, Mike Hanlon will also be a drug addict, chasing metaphysical information about the entity. Says Muschietti, “He’s not just the collector of knowledge of what Pennywise has been doing in Derry. He will bear the role of trying to figure out how to defeat him. The only way he can do that is to take drugs and alter his mind.”
Whatever final form the sequel takes, you can expect more of the greater King mythology to make its presence felt. For now, you'll have to content yourself with knowing you caught the turtle references most viewers missed.