8 Times STRANGER THINGS Gives Us Literary Déjà Vu
Bring on the fleshly and psychological beasties, Netflix. I’m a sucker for things that go bump in the night.
That being said, Stranger Things is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. Not only is it a parade of once-dormant ’80s fashion trends (Mom, if you’re reading: I want a Sherpa-collared corduroy jacket for Christmas), but it often raises hairs—in a way that feels satisfyingly familiar.
You guessed it: The show’s horrific elements take inspiration from literary classics, some of which likely live on your bookshelf. Let’s review the list, shall we? (WARNING: Major spoilers ahead!)
1. Wrist Rockets FTW
In the pivotal scene where our trio of prepubescent oddballs attempt to fight the Demogorgon (initially sans their MVP, Eleven), the only available weapon is a wrist rocket. Alarming? Of course. But if Stephen King has taught us anything, it’s to never underestimate the power of slingshots. Just ask It’s titular demon. Cute kids: 1. Clown: 0.
2. Telekinetic Weirdo Gets Asked to a Dance
Not to be too Stephen King-y in this post, but when the TV gods hand you a deeply troubled girl who tends to telekinetically shove people around, it’s hard not to recall the antihero in that one book who makes everyone uncomfortable at prom. Let’s not forget that she, too, suffers at the hands of an abusive parental figure. Who’s this, you may ask? Her name rhymes with scary.
3. Chilling Alternate Universe Hidden in Plain Sight
The idea of The Upside Down existing a heartbeat away from The Rightside Up (read: Earth) is visually disturbing in the show, especially when Jonathan can hear Nancy’s disembodied screams when he loses her in the forest. The blink-and-you’d-miss-them portals to a darker world are reminiscent of the tiny door in Coraline, existing right inside the protagonist’s own home, wherein a monster lurks.
4. Human Becomes Less Human
In the last scene of Season 1, the unlucky Will Byers excuses himself from dinner so that he can upchuck a slug. His body is still reeling from exposure to ungodly elements of The Upside Down, and one can guess symptoms will only worsen from here. Studying a character’s emotional response to an inexplicable loss of bodily control has got Kafka’s The Metamorphosis written all over it. Let’s just hope Season 2 doesn’t open with Will waking up as a monstrous insect.
5. White-Haired Rich Guy with Too Much Power
Besides being a kidnapper who belongs in solitary confinement, Dr. Martin Brenner brandishes his money and power as carelessly as the founder of InGen. Yes, I’m talking about Michael Crichton’s John Hammond: a guy who releases a monster (or twelve) upon the unsuspecting public via a controversial project—and ends up being eaten by said monster(s). Talk about sacrificing everything for a biologically irresponsible cause.
6. Frantic Mom Is Frantic
A dangerous Stranger Things drinking game would involve taking shots every time Winona Ryder cries. Or screams. Or thrusts lightbulbs in people’s faces. The constant freak-outs, understandable yet tiring, are very much a page out of Chris MacNeil’s book. Who, you say? Why, the mother of poor, possessed Regan in The Exorcist! Want to never sleep well again? Read that book and watch the film. And in between screams, remember that Chris was the O.G. panicked mother.
7. Tired Sheriff Deals with Small-Town Horrors
Jim Hopper has the worst job. He’s police chief in a tiny hamlet where either nothing happens, or unimaginably crazy events unfold. Accelerating from 0 to 100 mph, Jim is expected to get to the bottom of the Will Byers case straightaway, with no one helping him except a sobbing mother who talks to light bulbs (drink!). Hopper’s character pays homage to Amity Beach’s police chief Martin Brody, the saving grace of another small town plagued by a hungry predator. Jaws-t believe me, guys. The likeness is uncanny.
8. Moving Walls Question Everyone’s Sanity
When characters begin to see the walls bend and figures moving within them, it becomes momentarily unclear if the characters are actually glimpsing Will and/or the monster, or if they’re simply hallucinating. It’s hard not to remember Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s masterpiece The Yellow Wallpaper at this time, which follows a woman’s slow decline into psychosis as a result of understimulation. Ultimately, she believes she’s seeing actual people skulking around behind the wallpaper—leading her to slink around the room, touching the walls to get to them. This scene especially parallels that in which Joyce hacks open the wall with an ax to reach her son. Heart-wrenching, alarming, and totally the patriarchy’s fault.
That’s my list, Swooners. Now it’s your turn. What literary Easter eggs did you discover in Stranger Things?