I binged STRANGER THINGS like a political science undergrad binges a season premiere of HOUSE OF CARDS. In every episode, I had to hit the pause button for a moment and reflect on specific tones, themes, and tropes that were blatantly smacking me in the face. I know I’m an English major, and we tend to overanalyze, but this was different: STRANGER THINGS is like a homage to Stephen King’s greatest hits! Even Stephen King himself took to Twitter to give his stamp of approval on this flattering honor to his legacy—as King has been known to do in the past. STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King’s work have so much in common!

It is interesting to see how the lines between STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King narratives put to paper in his career interact with each other. By the end of the binge, I could count five thematic elements that the Duffer Brothers developed as either: a nod to the master of all things jittery or as essentials to a narrative that will go down in history as King’s spiritual successor—a sequel that features similar elements or designs to another work.

5. The Shining: Tiny Psychic Children

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Eleven in a sensory deprivation tank, testing the extents of her formidable psychic abilities.

STRANGER THINGS capitalizes on psychic phenomena that King has coined as “The Shining.” Characters manifest psychic abilities, specifically telekinesis and telepathy, as a central characteristic of the plot. Stephen King has used this trait many times in the past, but his most iconic psychic characters include Carrie White of CARRIE and Annie Wheaton of ROSE RED.

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Stephen King loves to showcase strange psychic abilities in his stories, particularly in characters who epitomize innocence, like children. Kids, from small toddlers to newly pubescent high schoolers, all conjure bizarre mental abilities. In STRANGER THINGS, we meet Eleven, or El, a silent girl who was abducted at a young age and raised to become a weapon against the Soviets. Much like King’s characters, Eleven’s powers counterbalance her vulnerable nature.

Eleven is socially ignorant and quick to trust. Worse, she doesn’t understand the bare essentials of modern human interaction. She fails to grasp how money works or how friends relate to one another. Though, this vulnerability still counters the fact Eleven can shatter a person’s bones by merely looking at them and can mentally transcend the limitations of her mind. The only reason her powers are not horrifying is the fact that the viewer never gets the idea that Eleven would ever utilize her powers in an abusive manner.

4. Kid-sized Coffins: No Child is Safe

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This fun-sized “Scooby Gang” reach a low-point and find something they might not be able to handle.

Children are as likely to suffer horrible fates in STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King narratives. This fact raised the stakes throughout STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King’s material. The idea that young Will Byers could very well be brutally murdered even after all the fighting as Joyce—his mother—goes through to save him, consistently increases the tension in the narrative.

This theme is recurring in all of Stephen King’s works. Children are some of the first to be harmed, in fact. One example being the scores of children preyed upon by every child’s should-be mortal enemy: eccentric clowns.  IT’s first character to be taken to the great circus in the sky is six-year-old George Denbrough. The death of these children is allegorical, so it is necessary for the narratives.

The death or loss of child life in King’s works is meant to invoke many adult fears: a parent losing a child, a loved one harming your child, somehow failing to protect your child, or losing your child emotionally because of your actions. With this adult psychology in mind, audiences who are raised to believe in the inherent innocence of children become emotionally invested in the series. They stay tuned either for the happy ending of the child’s survival or the dramatic heartbreak of watching all the protagonist’s efforts be proven entirely useless.

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Usually, I roll my eyes when children get involved in horror plots. Most children seem indestructible, like any threat they face isn’t real. Plus, realistically they should leave meddling to the adults; this isn’t a SCOOBY DOO movie. But I didn’t feel this way with STRANGER THINGS. Probably because STRANGER THINGS kept dangling the real truth of child death in the audience’s face, throwing in twists and turns to keep the fear alive in everyone’s mind, it was the realism of the human fears — though the series dealt with an isolated eldritch monster from Earth’s mirror world.

Realistically, children sometimes die. Especially in regards to specific scenes of STRANGER THINGS, children often die when they go hunting for a friend who was very definitely kidnapped and a girl who says bad men are after her starts living in your basement. It is these truths that keep readers on their toes when reading King and hitting the play button before their Netflix playback hits zero.

3. Things That Knock in the Dark: Eldritch Abominations

Stephen King is the king of the macabre. From IT to the creatures of THE MIGHT to the alien children in UNDER THE DOME, creatures from the other side cross the great divide to feast in King’s world. It from the eponymous IT features a monstrous spider-like being from the “deadlights” who has a rumbling for children. In what seems to be the primary homage to King’s work, STRANGER THINGS features its eldritch horror, and it has no name.

STRANGER THINGS quite literally features a monster from beyond our star who appears in the small Indiana town by way of summoning. It is frightening, capable of overcoming any known defenses and has absolutely no apparent goals besides devouring young, unsuspecting children. Similar to King’s use of child death in his stories, eldritch abominations are also metaphorical. An eldritch abomination is an allusion to the stranger archetype. Like a stranger, eldritch abominations come from outside the comforts of our world and hunt the unsuspecting and innocent. They remind us of the strangers in trench coats that use to haunt every cornerback during the 90’s “Stranger Danger” era, except they’re the creepy and macabre creatures who could never look half human.

To the adept horror fans, the eldritch tones of both King’s works and STRANGER THINGS have a callback to infamous literary genius (and part-time bigot), H. P. Lovecraft. Both have the distinct flavor of Lovecraft, the big daddy of weird, from the otherworldly horrors to the tones of dread. Plus, if we’re totally honest, any homage to anything of King’s would have to fit Lovecraft’s standards before it can be called an accurate reflection of King’s legacy.

2. The Sisyphus Complex: Drug and Alcohol Dependency in STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King

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A paranoid, sleep deprived Joyce prepares to battle the unknown to find her son — all while the town questions her sanity.

Drug and alcohol addiction as a character trait is also nothing new. It appears every once in a while with authors, but Stephen King takes the cake with it. Usually, if a character is seen on a bender, or with some dark past of addiction, they’re essential. THE SHINING featured Jack Torrance. THE TOMMYKNOCKERS featured Jim Gardener. And even DOCTOR SLEEP had Danny Torrance.

With STRANGER THINGS, several characters walk that line of addiction and sobriety. Chief Jim Hopper is an addiction addled man with a painful past, and he is no stranger to the slippery road of addiction. This road is made even more poignant when it becomes a threat to his credibility. Credibility: that is a crucial theme to our characters navigating the weird happenings throughout the story.

In a setting that is new to the supernatural and otherworldly, like STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King narratives, our characters lean on their credibility for others to believe them and for themselves, who wrestle with the question of their sanity. As Hopper wakes up from a strange night– with a table filled with drugs in a sloppy apartment– we are made to question his worth and effectiveness as an officer. It’s not hard for viewers to write Officer Hopper off immediately in the moment. I even found myself thinking he would soon be dead.

We, as the audience, also rely on the credibility of our characters — whom we witness the story through. We also use addiction to justify a character’s worth when the stakes get high. If a strong character cannot beat their addiction, then the audiences see that as a parallel to their ability to overcome their obstacles. Luckily, Hopper’s addiction merely results in some less than moral decisions in STRANGER THING’s nerve-wracking storyline.

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1. Cops are Dumb in STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King Novels

It’s no wonder so many characters in STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King’s novels either end up dead or having a calamitous meltdown: law enforcement aren’t the most reliable of people.  How could there be any conflict if they were, though? If the protagonist were to report their troubles to the cops and by some weird coincidence be believed, then our plot might just end in the third chapter when a S.W.A.T. team is called in with a truckload of M-16s and assault rifles.

STRANGER THINGS features the bumbling county police department who tend to do very little outside of breaking up the odd teenage brawl or respond to noise complaints. Severe felonies like assaulting a police officer are dropped in a single conversation, and most of the cops just pass off their cases to State police without so much as a bit of filing or desk work. Worse, the entire department seems so inept at their job that they allow several minors to slip through the cracks without much investigation. Taxes don’t pay for much in fictional Indiana.

King’s works like to play with the intelligence of police officers. Occasionally, King will showcase a cop who is somewhat competent at their jobs, but the amount of stupidity far outweighs anything the cop can do. This is especially embarrassing when you consider most of King’s works were revealed to be occurring in the same universe. Some might suggest this is the author’s outlook on law enforcement because, as he once said in ON WRITING: “…Write what you know.”

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Child, Eleven, unleashes her powers to protect her new friends no matter the personal costs to herself.

The thematic elements of STRANGER THINGS and Stephen King are essential, but it’s more than pure luck and situations that give this Netflix series the spirituality of a King project. It’s the essence of horror, the demonstration of all of these themes in action. The strangers from another world who diminish human ego by revealing our vulnerability. The revelation that the universally meek and innocent have more power than we could conceive. The genuine fear of dying innocence through child harm. Our blankets of protection might just be a well-constructed illusion, and no matter how hard one might try, we are all eternally slaves to the things which give us happiness. STRANGER THINGS smartly capitalizes on these things that King has long-since realized in his career. That’s what makes the series, indeed, a phenomenal love child of Stephen King’s extended works.

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