Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things and many of King’s works.
Many of us binged Stranger Things when it dropped unceremoniously on Netflix in July of 2016. We all enjoyed it for the story and embraced it for the nostalgia. There’s not a one of us that didn’t catch at least a few references to the ‘80s. There’s quite a bit of Spielberg (including Jaws, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, John Carpenter’s The Thing). The moody synth score is also vintage Carpenter. On top of all of these however, the show is filled with references to all things Stephen King, including the title card font.
The Duffer Brothers, showrunners, writers and directors on Stranger Things are clearly big King fans. Not only is the show steeped in Kingian (I just made that word up) lore, the brothers unsuccessfully attempted to pitch a remake of King’s IT, before they got Stranger Things. And having seen just how well they worked with the child actors on that show, it really is a shame knowing what they could have pulled off with The Loser’s Club. Fortunately, Finn Wolfhard (Mike) will actually be playing the young Ritchie Tozier in Andy Muschietti’s IT remake that is currently filming in and around Toronto.
Okay, enough foreplay, let’s get to the specific ways in which Stephen King inspired Stranger Things.
Eleven has the powers of Carrie White.
Carrie (1974) was the first novel King ever published, and it is a taught, short thriller about a teenage girl who, with the onset of puberty, begins to hone telekinetic abilities that have been there since her birth. She is bullied mercilessly at school, and controlled by her religious extremist mother. Suffice it to say, the ending of the novel is a literal bloodbath.
While the specifics of Carrie’s story are not those of Eleven’s, there are some very distinct similarities. Like Carrie, Eleven is controlled by an extremist parent (in this case, Matthew Modine’s Martin Brenner, who may be, but is likely not her actual father), before breaking away (Carrie in a figurative sense, Eleven in a literal one) to find freedom and a sense of self.
Carrie and Eleven also share the power of telekinesis. The difference here is that Carrie uses her powers for vengeance (and rightly so), while Eleven tries to avoid using hers (as doing so makes her weak), except in situations where she can help her friends. In some ways, Carrie and Eleven are two sides of the same coin.
Eleven is Charlie McGee.
Charlie McGee is the main character in Stephen King’s Firestarter. Eleven is probably about 11 or 12 years old in Stranger Things, so she is likely halfway between the ages of Carrie (16) and Charlie (about 9). I would argue that Eleven’s story most closely mimics that of Charlie. Some facts about Charlie (that you just might recognize). She’s a young girl with tremendous power (in this case telepathy, telekinesis, the ability to dominate another’s mind, and, of course, pyrokinesis). She is held captive by a clandestine government agency (The Shop) that forces her to use her powers in a controlled environment, testing what she can do, with the presumable intention of weaponizing her. After she escapes The Shop, she is pursued by the agents and must use her powers and cunning to protect herself. Familiar, right?
Eleven is Beverly (“Bevee from the Levee”) Marsh.
Stephen King’s IT is a pretty harrowing read. It tells the story of an ancient force of evil (IT) that surfaces approximately every 30 years to feast on the terrified children of the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The story focuses on a group of misfit kids, self-dubbed as the Loser’s Club, who decide to band together and fight IT in the ‘50s, and then try again in adulthood when IT resurfaces in the ‘80s. Bev is the outright heroine of the team, besting IT both times.
Like Eleven, Bev is the only female in a tight-knit group of male losers. Like Eleven, Bev is the one with the power to come out on top. What powers? Well, she’s got deadly aim with a slingshot (not quite the supernatural talents of Eleven), which comes into play during the Ritual of Chud. Also, being the only girl, she, well… How to put this delicately? Let’s do it like a band-aid. She’s involved in a gangbang of 11-year-olds.
Furthermore, like Carrie, and Eleven, she’s emotionally and physically tortured by a father figure (though, with Eleven, it’s mainly emotional torture).
The novel fuses the children’s storyline with that of the adults, but Beverly is the lynchpin in the children's story that forces IT away.
The Boys Are The Crew From Stand By Me (The Body).
Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas are the young driving forces of Stranger Things. Obviously it is Will’s disappearance that acts as the impetus for the story itself, but it is easy to see the connections to the characters of Chris Chambers, Gordie LaChance, Teddy DuChamp, and Verne Tessio from King’s The Body (later made into what might be the greatest coming-of-age film in history, Stand By Me, by Rob Reiner).
While the stories differ significantly, we are still treated to a group of four pre-pubescent boys who have a strong fraternal relationship and are on a journey towards self-actualization. Mike is our Chris Chambers. No, he’s not a felon, but he’s the hardass (as hardass as this group gets) of our little crew. He’s the leader.
Will Byers functions as our Gordie LaChance. He doesn’t figure into the story (as far as screen-time is concerned) as much as Wil Wheaton did in Stand By Me, but he’s the innocent figurehead of the team. He’s the one that will come of age by going through an awful experience and will be changed by it in the end. How is he changed? Sadly, we’ll have to wait for season 2 to find out.
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) both share traits of Verne Tessio and Teddy DuChamp. Dustin is mostly Verne, a chubby, good-natured goof, and Lucas is mostly Teddy, standoffish, and ready for a fight.
Visual reference: the boys end up walking along the railroad tracks.
The Boys Are Also The Loser’s Club From IT.
The specifics of this team of little dudes doesn’t accurately represent the Loser’s Club, but there are similarities. Both are groups of 11-12 year old guys with a single female member. Both groups are bullied by the older kids until they find the resolve to stand up for themselves. They are throwbacks to the ‘50s and ‘80s respectively, and, most importantly, they come together to defeat their fears and destroy a supernatural evil that is preying on people in their town.
Bonus: Police Chief Jim Hopper is Somewhat Reminiscent of Sheriff Alan Pangborn.
A character from King’s Needful Things and The Dark Half. He is a small-town officer, a widower, a chief who comes off at first as somewhat bumbling, but ends up being an absolute hero by the end. A loose connection to King's work, to be sure, but the similarities are there.
If, hypothetically, you still haven't seen Stranger Things, what's wrong with you?! Please enjoy this trailer.
It’s no secret that Stranger Things owes a lot of its ideas, looks and settings to Stephen King. What other Kingian things did you notice? Hit the comments below, and let’s discuss!