“Stranger Things,” Netflix’s horror-sci-fi TV series set in the mid-1980s, the second season of which premiered Oct. 27, is a bona fide pop cultural phenomena. The list of 80s films and TV, music and other pop culture that inspired series creators Matt and Ross Duffer is a mile long.
But there’s one inspiration that towers above the rest: Stephen King.
The Duffer brothers themselves say so, listing King books and movies as one of the primary reference points for the entire series. The Bard of Bangor says he’s a fan of the show, too.
Watching STRANGER THINGS is looking watching Steve King's Greatest Hits. I mean that in a good way.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 17, 2016
Fans of both have been making connections between the two since the show premiered in summer 2016 — with some even going so far as to say that “Stranger Things” actually exists in the King multiverse, where all of King’s works take place.
The Duffer brothers have, essentially, denied that that is the case, and I, as a huge fan of both, am aware it’s not true either. In reality, all of these things are just indicative of the myriad ways in which King’s works inspired “Stranger Things” — and, for that matter, countless other movies, books and TV shows.
But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a minute that they do exist in the same world. Let’s go down the demogorgon hole together, shall we? Come on, it’ll be fun.
Warning: there will be lots of spoilers ahead, for both seasons of “Stranger Things.”
1. Bob the Brain and “IT”
The big King easter egg laid in episode three of season two is the one that gives the most credence to the idea that the show exists in King’s world. Bob Newby (Sean Astin), Joyce Byers’ new boyfriend, tries to give Will Byers a pep talk of sorts, regarding Will’s constant, horrifying visions of monsters in the Upside Down.
Bob relates a story to Will about how, when he was a kid, he suffered for years from nightmares about a clown named Baldo, who offered him a balloon. It was only when he stood up to the clown and told him to go away did the nightmares stop. Sound familiar, Georgie?
As if that wasn’t enough, in the episode prior, Bob mentions that his parents live in Maine. Isn’t that where Pennywise — and Stephen King — both live? Coincidence? I think not (but probably).
2. Psychic abilities
People with telekinetic and telepathic abilities feature prominently in King’s stories — Carrie White (“Carrie”), Charlie McGee (“Firestarter”), Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran (“The Shining”), Johnny Smith (“The Dead Zone”), Ted Brautigan (“Hearts in Atlantis”) and on and on. Is it any surprise that Eleven has similar powers?
Eleven got her powers because her mother, Terry, was a subject of the CIA’s MKUltra program in the 1960s — which is remarkably similar to Lot Six, the drug given to 12 test subjects in the 1960s, including Andy and Vicky McGee, parents to Charlie McGee, a.k.a. Firestarter.
Eleven’s abilities to project her mind into other dimensions and move objects with her mind bear striking similarities to King’s many psychic characters. Could Eleven, like Ted Brautigan, be a Breaker, helping to break down the beams of the Dark Tower? Is the “gate” that Eleven opened just before the events of season one of “Stranger Things” a thinny? Is the Department of Energy lab in Hawkins a front for the Sombra Corporation?
OK, I’ll stop. This is getting a little ridiculous.
3. Demogorgons in the Mist
The demogorgon that the boys and Eleven fight in season one is just one of what turns out to be countless vicious “demodogs” (as Dustin attempts to name them) that overrun the lab and the town in season two. They emerge from a terrifying parallel dimension, cloaked in a creepy fog, ready to attack and kill anything in their sights. Which is pretty much exactly how the creatures in Stephen King’s “The Mist” behave.
In fact, one could argue that the Upside Down in “Stranger Things” is nothing more than a form of Todash Darkness — a limbo between dimensions, where the creatures from “The Mist” reside. Or, perhaps, a terrifying, barren wasteland version of the Boo’Ya Moon, the dream world Scott Landon travels to in “Lisey’s Story.”
One could also argue that the shadow monster that inhabits Will is a monster not unlike Pennywise, which, as constant readers know, originated in the Todash. See? It’s all making sense, man.
4. The Kids
The best part of “Stranger Things,” in my opinion, is the kids. All of them — Eleven, the four boys, Nancy, Jonathan, Steve, Max, even that jerk Billy.
And what sort of character does Stephen King write really well? Kids, be it the Loser’s Club from “IT,” the boys from “The Body,” kids and teens like Danny Torrance, Carrie White, Charlie McGee, Jake Chambers, Trisha McFarland and so on. The “Stranger Things” kids could come straight out of a King book — they’re funny and flawed, they swear and mess up and are loyal to one another, and they all have to go up against some seriously crazy supernatural forces.