MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Saturday, November 19, 2016

November 19-23, 2016: Jeff Renye on Stranger Things: The New Weird Made Old?



[I’ve written about my colleague and friend Jeff Renye a few times in this space, but haven’t had the chance to share a Guest Post of his until now. The timing couldn’t be better, as Jeff is one of our premiere scholars of Weird Tales and the supernatural in literature and culture, contexts that as he demonstrates here add many more layers to our understandings of Stranger Things!]

This short piece sketches some common points between the legacy of a narrative mode known as the weird tale, whose modern origins can be found in the literary and visual arts of the late-nineteenth century, and that mode’s inflection in the television drama Stranger Things.  No influence in the arts that crosses parts of three centuries will find direct replication or have precise resonance in its latest iteration.  What the prepared eye and ear do find are odd echoes of the weird legacy that Stranger Things is able to strike with a deft mix of form and content.  These elements provide evidence of the show’s debt to an earlier period of anxiety and crisis and speculation from which the weird tale emerges. 

The first major reference to the weird tale is from 1927 in a long essay authored by American pulp horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature.  This work is Lovecraft’s sustained reflection on what he identifies as and asserts is a specific type of story that exists within the larger field of horror—a tale type that he otherwise comments upon in a fragmented and scattered manner in letters to fellow writers and admirers like Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth.  Lovecraft’s fiction is often faulted for its wordiness, a fact accounted for in part by a paid-by-the-word arrangement with the pulp magazines that published him, such as Weird Tales; however, his essay has an economy of thought and concision that has proved its enduring value for how we can consider a show like Stranger Things.  Lovecraft’s first sentence wastes no time to state a kernel of truth that has been a constant in modern horror fiction, for here is the essence of what underlies the weird tale: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  That final phrase, “the unknown,” is the key term that Lovecraft then applies to a Trans-Atlantic group of authors from Britain and America.  He then makes an important amplification of this idea of the unknown, and the attendant human fear of it, with emphasis on the cosmic terror that some authors and their stories invoke.  It is these stories that earn the approved label of weird tale.  Lovecraft is careful to make a distinction about why these tales are in some way apart from the bulk of horror, much of which derives from the penny dreadful popular fiction of the previous century:

            “The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted    form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and   unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint…of a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which   are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

Some clarification is needed here.  That “unplumbed space” of the weird tale often has meant something other than place in a strict sense of standard physical measurement, let alone a space that can be found out there, above and beyond the earth’s atmosphere.  Lovecraft himself wrote an entire mythos of tales that include references to realities and creatures from beyond the stars, where no aeronaut will ever reach.  A prime example of this creative vision is “The Call of Cthulhu” (drafted by Lovecraft in the summer of 1926 and first published in Weird Tales magazine in 1928, the year after the completion of Supernatural Horror in Literature). 

Other-dimensionality as a serious topic for study appears in the late-Victorian period parallel to the fiction included by Lovecraft as the first entries to deserve notice as the modern weird tale.  Charles Howard Hinton’s 1884 pamphlet What Is the Fourth Dimension? is among the first non-fiction works to discuss the question posed by his title.  Within a few years, Hinton will coin the term tesseract as an image meant to visualize a dimension beyond the three that humans most-readily perceive and experience (Hinton’s book The Fourth Dimension appears in 1904, and its earlier 1880s form exerts significant influence in a much later work of fiction, the neo-Victorian novel From Hell, where time and space undergo displacement in some weird ways while at the same time characters contend with grim realities and the investigation a mystery).  

For context, the pamphlet from Hinton is published within a few years of Arthur Machen’s draft of the supernatural horror tale The Great God Pan (published 1894, but part one, “The Experiment,” completed by 1889).  Machen is named by Lovecraft in Supernatural Horror’s final section as a “modern master,” a writer who is one of the “living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch” and “few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen…in which the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness.”  Set aside the praise for a moment because for our purposes here the skill of Machen is best considered for its depiction of borderlands, geographical and symbolic, psychological and immaterial.  This visionary plane on which Machen’s late-Victorian fiction plays out will then carry into the efforts of Lovecraft, which will then develop (with accumulations of other influences along the way, like the working-class realism of Stephen King) into the popular horror of the 1980s, and then arrive at the inventive pastiche of the Duffer brothers in Stranger Things.

The Midwestern America of small town Hawkins in Stranger Things is an instance of the pleasant place made dangerous in a manner familiar to the weird tale.  Yet, such a depiction has ancient origins, like the rugged beauty of Arcadia in ancient Greek tales where the dualistic goat-god Pan resides in light and shadow.  This beneficent protector, but also sinister threat, appears in a manner that humanity cannot predict.  As to which manifestation Pan will show depends upon a prerogative of preternatural decision making, not in accordance with the “fixed laws of Nature” or with whatever interest is held by the mortal audience who make seek contact with this force.  Consider for a moment in Stranger Things how Matthew Modine’s character insists for Eleven in the sensory tank experiment to make contact with the creature of the Upside Down, in spite of her terror and disregard to consequences.  Pan signifies the significant power of the edge places, where settled humanity and wild life and the unknown meet, and where, when met, upheaval and violent death can and do occur.  And, as in Stranger Things, Machen’s The Great God Pan opens with a section titled “The Experiment” where a scientist subjects a young girl to contact with an otherworldly being. The disastrous results allow the entrance of a being that wreaks havoc in the common reality of the story before a kind of dissolution of the body as seen at the end of Stranger Things. 

Border places and liminal spaces have long held special associations for humanity.  They have been host to a variety of prescribed actions from sacred rites to secular ceremonies.  Such locales feature prominently in many popular twentieth-century media from which the Duffer brothers borrow.  The folklore of the crossroads is found in an alternate way in Stranger Things with Eleven’s mediumistic ability to psychically reach into other planes of existence, the so-called Upside Down. 

In this sketch of a tale-telling device, it is time to move now from Lovecraft and Machen, from the Victorians and the ancients, to more recent influences on the weird content of the show.  Stranger Things borrows liberally from the storyscape of the late-1970s and 1980s (images that cite Alien to E.T. abound).  The show is one of the finer examples of a narrative told in the time of a source like TV Tropes, the website that catalogues and cross references the stock elements out of which many contemporary (and older) television shows and movies are made.  The show’s allusiveness to 1980s pop culture generally, and the decade’s horror genre specifically, lends itself to the era of trope lists—or, to consider another popular story development in TV land, the anthology show (American Horror Story plays with many familiar horror tropes as the title implies, but then so does True Detective in its first season with the citation to the Yellow King, the invention of American writer Robert W. Chambers from his collection The King in Yellow from 1895).

Much about the sensory information out of which the Duffer brothers make Stranger Things has a counterpart in older stories.  The neon-marquee font of their show’s title sequence appears with a score whose design is more subtle and minimal than shows from which this one builds.  (Also, see the first edition cover of Steven King’s 1980 novel Firestarter, which resembles the Stranger Things aesthetic). The sound design manages to blend the familiar electronica of the eighties with the odd menace that is struck by the credit scene in the 1990s series the X-Files.  However, another show deserves attention in this discussion.  Set to the notes of a high-pitched synthesizer, the opener of mid-1980s American horror television anthology Tales from the Darkside (1983 – 1988, and produced by zombie tale maestro George Romero) is a forerunner in tone and theme of Stranger Things, even if there are few specifics shared by either show in storyline, acting, set design, or quality of cinematography.  As a product of the pre-digital age of film effects and editing, the campy title sequence of Darkside takes the viewer through a series of pastoral Americana scenes (wind-blown reeds on a sunny, blue sky day, a covered bridge, a weathered barn, a babbling brook in a clearing, etc.) that then flip into a color-drained obverse reality.  As the images pass, a gruff voice with an alarmist-tinge explains: “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality, but there is unseen by most an underworld—a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit, a darkside.”  While the effect is more rudimentary than what can be found in the sophisticated sound design of a show like Hannibal, Darkside deals in the realms of the weird that would not be unfamiliar to the basic definition provided by Lovecraft.  Now, Stranger Things has found its own place on the chronology of the weird tale, where alternate realities are explored—recklessly by the scientists of the Hawkins Lab, terrifyingly by Eleven, and hopefully by Joyce and Hopper—that exist beside our own and that are probably better left unopened and untouched to begin with.

The weird tale is cross-cultural and adaptable to multiple media.  Its emergence from the twilight of late-nineteenth Victorian culture is when the British empire’s London capital was a place of pathological class and gender divisions, of sensationalized crimes and new forms of the literary supernatural.  From that specific there and when, Arthur Machen emerged as a foremost voice who mused upon the borderlands and the so-called thin places.  Here, in the modern weird tale, the tentative nature of consensus reality of our common humanity makes contact with other dimensions.  In one of the last works of fiction that Machen wrote, a short story with the enigmatic title “N” (from 1935), the late-Victorian crisis of faith and anxiety over the old ways lost and a new world arrived resonate in the words of three friends who meet regularly at a pub to reminisce about the past.  Each would have reached adulthood in the 1880s – 1890s, and, like the weird tale of which they are a part, the tradition that they keep alive through their storytelling carries on post-Great War.  The final lines of “N” convey well the atmospheric effect of the weird tale:
  
“I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration.  It is possible, indeed, that we three
are now sitting among desolate rocks, by bitter streams.
“. . . And with what companions?”

There is a terrifying wonder of the unknown that Stranger Things creates: Yes, there is the monster from the Upside Down whose existence is fearful, and there is there is a countervailing force of Eleven with her marvelous power.

Stranger Things synthesizes characteristics of the cosmic fear implied by Lovecraft’s early scholarship, plays with features found in the late-Victorian fiction of writers such as Arthur Machen, and cites the 1980s horror that will find a frame of conspiratorial paranoia from Chris Carter’s X-Files in the 1990s.  Stranger Things is a new entry in the field of the weird tale made from many familiar parts, combining them with a technique that places the show as a fine example of the survival of an old fascination with fear of the unknown and the entertainment to be experience from its depiction. 

The show’s first season aired in the Summer of 2016 amidst a contentious and bitter election season where many social issues long-ignored and ineptly-handled by the mainstream have gained greater exposure, while contested narratives of a vision of what America is and can be are played out in public in private life. This current season’s South Park introduces the member berries as commentary on the longing for the past when things seemed better, safer, more ordered.  Stranger Things immerses itself in nostalgia for a bygone time, but in doing reveals itself to be another instance of old concerns and modes of storytelling re-appearing in the midst of a new crisis.  In such times, the arts serve not only as reflection, but as respite, and, quite possibly, resistance to our own period’s needs.
[I’m very Thankful for Jeff and for this post, so will leave it up for part of Thanksgiving week. One more Thanksgiving special post coming,
Ben
PS. What do you think?]

53 comments:

  1. In his work, Jeff Renye strongly relies on the way that authors who write weird literature, like Machen, base their style and format on authors who came before them, and as a result, common themes build and present themselves throughout the genre. He states, at the beginning of the post, “This short piece sketches some common points between the legacy of a narrative mode known as the weird tale.” Now, although this influence is true for all forms of literature, Renye addresses the fact that weird literature is RELIANT on this form of influence. Weird Literature relies, for the most part, on the unknown unknown, the things we don’t see or understand. In Stranger Things, the terror of the monster was built up throughout the episodes I have watched, we never see the “horrifying” monster. Instead, the writers focus on building up the terror of the monster, and our knowledge of its abilities.
    Throughout the stories I have read, from the Call of Cthulhu, to the Damned Thing, one aspect has remained the same. The story relies on the natural human fear of something that is beyond understanding. That is to say, something we, in the Damned Thing, are physically unable to see, or, in the Call of Cthulhu, is older than we are. In the Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu is an ancient being that is so old that he comes from a time before humans roamed the Earth. That is TERRIFYING. It is one of the reasons that movies like Jurassic park worked so well, imagine walking down the street and seeing a T-Rex stomping towards you. It’s something we, as humans, never had to deal with, and therefore, we have no idea how to. It’s larger than us, scarier than us, and has large, sharp teeth. Not a good combo.
    In Stranger Things, the story’s “monster” is a creature that seems to rely on, and control, electricity, something we cannot fathom existing without. Our lives are focused on, centered around, the energy that electricity provides, from lightbulbs to computers to heating during the winter, we have had electricity for years, most of us are unfamiliar with the idea of living our lives totally devoid of it, and as a result, preventing the monster from attacking us would be impossible. If it relies on electricity as much as Stranger Things portrays, how can we hide from it? It seems to be able to transmit itself through wires, or teleport while causing an electric disturbance, so how the heck can we combat that?? The truth is, we can’t, and it scares us more than anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I agree with most of your post, I am skeptical of the last section. Is it truly the monster's relation to electricity that makes it so terrifying? I would dispute that and say that the electrical effects are more of a flair and interesting plot device. I believe that it is more of it's unknown nature and "in the shadows" style that creates the fear.

      Delete
    2. In this writing, your particular analogy of the monster's reliance on electricity, and the human dependance on the same resource is compelling. But the points before about the usage of the same unknowns in both Call of Cthulhu, and The Damned Thing lacks evidence of this. Is there a particular moment in Cthulhu and The Damned Thing, where they build up this terror?

      Delete
    3. I agree completely with what you are saying. The idea of how the the unknown, and those that come from it are terrifying because we don't understand it makes sense. The way that I have thought about it is that in our world, we have established rules and laws, we have decided what things are possible which aren't. When something comes along and questions that, sort of like the T-Rex that you mentioned, it calls into question everything that we believe, and begs the question is what we consider to be right, actually correct. I think this is one of the most important themes that recur in the weird genre.

      Delete
    4. I found the Jurassic Park refreance very interesting, yet I belive that the fear of being chased by something bigger then you, is not only for the reason that we are not use too, but something we have deeply imbedded in most primitive of our fears. What these stories are give us are a predator who's power is truly humbleing.

      Delete
  2. The television show, Stranger Things, acts as a modern interpretation of the classic weird literature story. It uses the defining characteristics of the genre to instill terror in its viewers. Jeff Renye’s post addresses this, and analyzes in full what exactly constitutes a weird tale, and in turn, what makes Stranger Things an homage to older works of weird literature. Most notably, he recognizes how the “weird” of a weird tale is inexplicable with our current understanding of the universe; in essence, we as a species have not developed the ability to perceive or interact with the ineffability of the weird. This idea is extremely prominent in Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing.”

    Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing,” addresses how our biological composition has limited our perception of the world around us. Bierce’s writing suggests there are creatures that live on different planes of existence than us, one being the “Damned Thing.” Prior to a fatal encounter with the Damned Thing, Hugh Morgan recounted his final moments prior to his death by the hands of the creature, realizing that “The human eye is an imperfect instrument,” and that “there are colours we cannot see … the Damned Thing is of such a colour!” (Bierce). The Damned Thing inhabits a plane of existence imperceivable to us, because it is a color that our eyes do not have the ability to distinguish. It is human nature to feel most safe and secure when we are completely aware and totally in control of a situation. Such a situation Bierce proposes, that there exists creatures imperceivable to us simply at a fault of human evolution, is terrifying. We cannot control our biological flaws, much less human evolution, ultimately creating a sense of paranoia within us. We begin to doubt our place in the universe, recognizing how limited our scope of it truly is. A lack of knowledge is a lack of power and control, forcing us to succumb to the unknown and potential dangers of the world. What else are we are unable to experience because of our innate abilities, as a species? What don’t we know about the universe because of this?

    The human inability to experience the totality of the universe is an essential element of weird literature that is expertly utilized in Stranger Things. Eleven is a girl who was born with the ability to access a parallel universe known as the Upside Down. The Upside Down is inhabited by a creature that is a combination of common nightmarish elements we know, but whose intentions we have yet to understand, hence it representing a more sinister aspect of the unknown. The very existence of said creature, and of the Upside Down, are inexplicable by our understanding of the universe. In fact, we would not know for certain its existence, had Eleven not been able to interact with it. Characters in Stranger Things are forced not only to question what they know about the world around them, but to also recognize the limits of human capability, because of their encounters with Eleven. The show’s use of such key traits of the weird genre, especially those in terms of human frailty and inability, truly add to its value as a terrifying modern take on the weird tale.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quite the read! What other weird lit stories could you make this contrast too? I am a weird literature enthusiast and cannot wait for a reply!

      Delete
    2. Yes, I definitely agree with this. Both "The Damned Thing" and "Stranger Things" embody the fact that humans fear what they do not know, not what they know they do not know. This fear is rooted in the fact that humans believe that they are always at the top of the food chain or that we know what came before us and therefore do not have to fear it.

      Delete
  3. In his work, Renye links Stranger Things to the other prominent stories in weird lit. He makes the point that the ideas and themes in Stranger Things could not have been possible without the predecessors of weird that came before it. He makes connections to many of the older works in the genre, such as The Great God Pan, Tales from the Darkside, and Call of Cthulhu. One of the connections that is particularly strong is his comparison between the otherworldly settings of Stranger Things, and Call of Cthulhu. Yet the strongest connection between the two are in the antagonistic groups of the cultists from Call of Cthulhu, and the scientists from Stranger Things, which is absent in his post.
    In both stories, the main antagonistic groups, have similar motives to uncover some knowledge about the unknown monster. In The Call of Cthulhu, a cult that worships and tries to understand Cthulhu spreads across the world. The cultists “worshiped, so they say, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men,” and prepared for the end they would bring (Call of Cthulhu, page 18). Similarly, the scientists in Stranger Things try to contain a monster, and must try to understand it for the safety of Hawkins, Indiana. Both groups in the stories represent the analytical part of weird lit, as they both are the reasons that we as readers and watchers understand the unknown in the two stories. They act as an insider for the reader, giving us little pieces of understanding about the two monsters as the stories progress.
    Adding the connection between the two groups in his post, would not only strengthen his argument, but also give insight into how powerful these types of characters can be. This connection would further strengthen his argument about how certain aspects of Stranger Things, have been influenced by older works. For example, the cultists from Call of Cthulhu are the only reason we know about and understand the idea of how the “Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea,” and the idea that “the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters,” would bring the end of man on earth (Page 18-19). Similarly, without the scientists in Stranger Things, we would not have an explanation as to how the Demogorgon arrived, or what it is. This would explain how Stranger Things has adopted archetypes from older works of weird lit. Although his comparisons of the settings give us good examples of how Stranger Things has been influenced by older works, having this particular connection between the main groups of the story gives a deeper understanding about how Stranger Things fits into weird lit as a genre.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You briefly talked about the scientist in Stranger Things, I think that there is more than meets the eye concerning them. The scientist embody the human thirst for knowledge. Despite the fact that they know what they are doing is wrong, they continue to experiment on 11. They continue asking questions that in fact if they knew the answer for, they would stop immediately.

      Delete
  4. Dalton

    The Duffer Brothers hit series Stranger Things has garnered a huge amount of popularity since its debut in July of this year. With constant references to such classics as E.T, Goonies, and The Nightmare on Elm Street, many see Stranger Things as a continuation of the horror and science fiction genre of previous decades. While this is certainly true, and it is no coincidence that the series takes place in 1983, the Duffer Brothers were unquestionably inspired by the weird literature works of writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. In Dr. Renyes post, entitled Stranger Things: The New Weird Made Old, he illustrates the ways in which the Netflix series is an homage to many of the weird literature tales of the 19th and 20th century. I believe that the similarity between these tales and Stranger Things comes from the terror stemming from both storytellers use of the unknown. The heavy themes of the unknown are used in Stranger Things in a very similar manner to the devices used by Arthur Machen in his seminal novella, The Great God Pan.

    Both stories possess a dangerous and mysterious unseen realm and a sinister creature that can travel between both. In Stranger Things there is the Demigorgan, a monster from the so called “upside down” who travels to our dimension to hunt. In The Great God Pan it is Pan, a god like being who travels between our world and his for slightly more mysterious reasons. The presence of other realms in these stories serve to terrify the reader, or in Stranger Things’ case the viewer, in a very primitive yet deep way. The reader and the protagonists are forced to question their own definition of reality. An example of this is seen in Machens tale when, due to a somewhat frightening surgery, a girl named Mary was able to see Pan's realm, leaving her in a brain dead like state. Her own adopted father (the man who preformed the surgery) said “it is a great pity; she is a hopeless idiot. However, it could not be helped; and, after all, she has seen the Great God Pan.” (page 17) This quote perfectly exemplifies the danger of knowledge emphasized in many weird literature tales, making even the reader wonder if even they know too much after reaching the story’s end. An idea used by the Duffer Brothers is that after the the protagonists of Stranger Things gain knowledge on the recent disappearances, they are targeted by the government and the Demogorgon.

    Yet another undeniable example of the similarities between the two stories is in the similarity between Stranger Things’ Eleven, and The Great God Pan’s Helen. Both are strong and mysterious females who act as a bridge to the other realm and both are feared due to the unknown power they hold. They both seem to be deeply connected with the “monsters” of the story. This is seen when Helen is spotted with Pan and when Eleven must sacrifice herself to kill the Demogorgon. While Helen seems to have malicious intent, contrasting Elevens “good guy” image, this may just be due to the point of view in which these two stories are shown. If this does not sound convincing, think how different Stranger Things would be if it were told from the point of view of the government. Finally there are the references to Christianity. Helen is mothered by Mary, a women who had come in contact with Pan, and it is hinted that she was still a virgin when she gave birth. This, of course, is a reference to Jesus's birth. In Stranger Things, is seen walking on water. All these similarities in the characters, mystery, and use of the unknown in both these tales show that Stranger Things is indeed a modern work of weird literature.






    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you need more justification (as the author does) of Stranger Things being a part of the weird canon. You can say Helen and Eleven are similar, but that does not explain to me why either prove their respective stories to be weird. Similarly with your discussion of the theme of "the unknown", just because we don't understand all aspects of a monster doesn't mean it is a piece of cosmic evil. You need to talk more about what the demogorgon or Eleven mean for humanity if you are to claim Stranger Things is a work of Weird fiction.

      Delete
    2. [Max Burkeman]

      I do agree that the show takes plenty of inspiration from old stories such as Call Of Cthulu, however why do you think that they arguably took the most influence from 80's horror, asthetic and pop culture. For exmple, the small things in the show like the synth heavy soundtrack, to the toys and furniture.

      Delete
    3. I think you were right in using Machen as a canvas to show how Stranger Things compares to other weird tales and uses many archetypes found in classic weird literature. I do agree that you should have had more evidence to support your claim. Machen was definitely one of the first weird storytellers, and the Great God Pan provided a model for the weird tale, influencing storytellers from Lovecraft to the Duffer Brothers.

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maxwell Rubenstein

    Dr. Reyne’s comparison between two weird tales - a seminal text and a modern tv series - show how authors can create terror through utilizing the unknown. The idea of the unknown is a relevant theme that can be seen throughout most weird tales. Renye suggests that Stranger Things is a modern take on weird literature influenced by fundamental weird works like Machen’s The Great God Pan.
    Reyne hints that the unknown invokes terror by asking the reader - or in the case of Stranger Things, the viewer - to fill in the blanks through use of his/her imagination. He touches on how many of the illustrious writers of the weird use this idea as a tool to enhance their stories. He states that a weird tale is “more than a secret…...it’s the breathless and unexplainable of the outer.” Considering this, Eleven’s unexplained power seems to dovetail with Machen’s character Helen from The Great God Pan. In a socratic seminar, Renye once stated, ‘both [Eleven and Helen] are perceived as threats to society presumably because both are weapons of sorts. The doctors explored their curiosity by probing the minds’ of the main characters, allowing them to see the unknown.
    Dr. Reyne also makes a statement that there is some kind of mind altering experiment to connect them to supernatural horrors that lies beneath the world. I personally think that both of these doctors manipulated Eleven and Helen as a key to unlock the unknown. By using Eleven and Helen as gateways to “lift the veil”, the unspeakable world is now open. It is that which we don’t see- we don’t know.
    Reyne said that there is no definitive fine life between supernatural horror and weird literature. “The weird can include that which cannot be explained, and could be explained only if we had the ability to do so- then you have weird literature” I strongly think that Stranger Things does a fantastic job of crossing this line and merging both topics together. It explores the supernatural horrors with outerworld beings while combining the unexplainable questions about what we do not know.

    Prior to reading this blog post I would have never noticed the relationship between weird tales in the past and those in present day. Reading further along in the post, Reyne implies how essential the unknown is in a weird tale, allowing room for interpretation This is evident through both Lovecraft's and the Duffer Brothers work. Not only did Lovecraft create a foundation for one of the rules of weird literature, he also influenced new writers to modernize this genre much like the Duffer Brother’s extended it into a present day sci-fi series. I am in awe of how long this type of terror has stuck around and it still gets the reaction as it did during Lovecraft’s time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Max this is a solid connection because I believe that what you're saying is true. But, in The Great God Pan, Machen says they were trying to see Pan purposefully. While in Stranger Things, they encountered the Demogorgon from the upside down by accident. So, what I'm trying to say is that they are not the same kind of encounter, one is purposeful, and one was by accident, so in some way they are different.

      Delete
    2. -Davis Schwartz

      Delete
  7. Hi All,

    Thanks for all these great thoughts! I'm assuming this is for a course--can you all let me know, either here in comments or by email (brailton@fitchburgstate.edu), what the specifics are, so I can pass them along to Jeff? Thanks!

    Ben

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We just came across this and felt a need to share our thoughts!

      Delete
    2. Thanks Jerry! I hear you all are working with my friend Frank Portella--if that's the case, say hi for me, please!

      Delete
  8. [Max Burkeman]

    In Weird Literature, setting and atmosphere plays a large roll in not only the mood in the story but also what makes it terrifying for the reader. As Reyne speaks about, setting has an important role in what is happening in the story, and can give hints to what will happen in the future. Reyen describes the setting of the hit show Stranger Things as, “The Midwestern America of small town Hawkins”, he also describes it as a “Pleasant Place” which is a place that holds comfort and safety, which is usually beautiful and has a “homey” feeling. The reason the show is set here is to not only take us by surprise when something awful happens, but also to signify how horrendous that thing really is. In the show when Will Bryers goes missing, the town doesn't even suspect something bad happened. When the Mother of Will Bryers, Joyce, spoke to the sheriff of the town about her missing son the Sheriff says, “Joyce, 99 out of 100 times, kid goes missing, the kid is with a parent or relative.” in which Joyce responds, “What about the other time?” As seen here, not even the sheriff of the town suspect that anything is awry. Becuase the town is, “a pleasant place” no one can even think of something bad happening.
    That is why setting is so important in Weird Literature, it not only helps create a contrast with the story and the dilemma, but also creates an illusion for the reader and the characters in the story, giving a false sense of hope or maybe a false sense of dread. Another story that uses setting as a false pretense for security is The Festival, by H.P. Lovecraft. Not only is it named the Festival, which is usually associated with happy and exciting moods, but it is also set in Christmas, or as they call it Yuletide which is the most wonderful time of the year. However as this story continues, we find out that this story is one of the most sinister and terrifying stories we have read. It describes the town as, “Kingsport outspread frostily in the gloaming; snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willow-trees and graveyards.” (1). This description gives the reader an image of a quaint old town, one that might be in old England. However when we delve in deeper to the story, the reader learns that all that has been presented to them, has been false. The festival is a cultish worship, and christmas not being a happy holiday to celebrate family, but a time to remember Monsters seen as gods.
    Weird Literature uses setting and the environment around the main character to give a false pretense of the emotion of the scene. Its an effective method to either surprise the reader or create dramatic effect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is an interesting comment. How do you think an atmosphere can make a contrast between the events of the story and the innocence of an environment?

      Delete
    2. I completely agree with what your saying about how usually when there is some kind of strange thing happening, people dont want to face the reality and not consider that "one percent". We can see this in the damned thing when they have seen similar instances with the man who got mauled. But they have disregarded it. Your response is very interesting and bring up a lot of great points. Great Job!!

      Delete
    3. Yes, I think this denial of the obvious is very common in weird literature, as it is a natural reaction to seeing the laws of nature, which we usually consider concrete and immutable, challenged or broken. This rationality is comforting to us, as it protects us from recognizing the terrifying supernatural forces that threaten our sound minds with the mystery of their existence.

      Delete
  9. I agree with this post but I also believe that “Stranger Things” uses plot devices from previous modern weird literature tales. Stranger things reflects the weird literature of yesteryear through its choice of character traits. In “Stranger Things,” the character Joyce who is the mother of an abducted child, becomes increasingly and unconsciously ignorant of the supernatural occurrences that she experiences as the story moves forward. This phenomenon has been seen in stories of the weird before. The idea of people becoming entangled within the confusion of the weird to a point where it begins to make some kind of sense to them has been seen in other stories such as the God of Dark Laughter.


    Winona Ryder’s character Joyce bears a likeness to the mindset to the narrator of “The God of Dark Laughter,” Edward B. Satterlee. In the story, Satterlee is investigating a cult believed to be involved in a series of murders within another cult. As he reads more about the religion and beliefs of the two cults, he is unaware of how his beliefs are changing. He states in his account how through life he has “clung fiercely to Occam’s razor,” the idea that the simpler an answer the better it is. (Chabon, 23) The cults he had been studying were examples of the opposite. As the story continues, he drifts away from this principle, believing the writing in the cult books he was reading. In the last paragraph he speaks of how religions of different cults might bear truth. He speaks of the “truth in the grim doctrine of those (cult members)” and the “return of our father Yrrh.” (Chabon, 23) At this point it is doubtful whether he believes in the dogma of either cult but by the end of the paragraph he makes it shockingly clear that he now believes the world will end in a “single, a terrible guffaw.” Satterlee went from a skeptic to almost becoming a cult member without realizing his belief emerging or even change in his beliefs.


    Like Joyce, Satterlee was brought into a world of weird and unconsciously disregarded how unworldly that situation was. Joyce’s ignorance was conveyed late into the alleged abduction of her son. She had been part of many searches and it was becoming more clear that her son would not turn up. Joyce grows more tormented by this fact as days pass. Late into the searches she receives a phone call from whom she believes to be her son. Although only breathing is heard it is clear to her that she is speaking to her son. This situation is already strange in that someone who has been kidnapped most likely would not call their mother without speaking. She disregards this and attempts desperately to communicate through the phone. The phone call ends when an electric pulse through the receiver shocks her and destroys the phone. She breaks down at that moment about her son and how badly she wants to find him while disregarding the anomaly of the phone’s destruction. This is an indicator of supernatural powers at work which she clearly has not picked up on. Her involvement and disregard of the supernatural is very similar to that of Satterlee. Joyce’s lack of common sense through self doubt is an example of weird literature, specifically “The God of Dark Laughter”, reflected in “Stranger Things.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with the content of this post! :) Weird literature tales also tend to have characters cling to their ignorance, unwilling to accept whatever weird they have encountered, like in "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad!"

      Delete
    2. What does Occam's Razor have to do with the detective's eventual downward spiral into madness?

      Delete
    3. Continuing from my early comment, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," focuses on a protagonist that is skeptical of the supernatural. He is in denial of the weird, until he finally has a one-on-one terrifying experience with it, forcing him to accept the existence of the weird!

      Delete
  10. “As to which manifestation Pan will show depends upon a prerogative of preternatural decision making, not in accordance with the “fixed laws of Nature” or with whatever interest is held by the mortal audience who make seek contact with this force. “
    The weird element in these stories is independent of the motives of the characters in the story. It has is own agenda, and while it may be opposed to the characters, it has no malicious interest, for there is no real interest in the characters at all. In Stranger Things, the monster’s true motives are never revealed, and it seems to be more of a wild animal that happens to kill people rather than a human-like malicious being. I would liken it to the dangers of the stories The Willows and The Call of Cthulhu.
    In Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, the danger is an uncertain number of extradimensional entities. They seem to certainly be dangerous to humans, even seeking them out and hunting them, as the monster from Stranger Things does. But, as is the case with other weird elements, these entities seem to still be indifferent to the specifics of human motives or even identities; the entities, upon the main characters’ departure from the island where they reside, almost immediately go after the next human they encounter. The very fact that there default is to behave in a way that is alien and does not fit in with what we perceive as “human” further exemplifies their indifference and independence from human interests. I would say this is the example that is closest to the monster in Stranger Things.
    Another example would be the titular entity from H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu, an elder god tasked with resurrecting his race from a spellbound slumber, has about as much regard for a human’s life as a human would for an ant. This is what really makes weird creatures differ from a given malicious entity in other genres of literature: the alienation from our reality and our world that makes them indifferent to the interests of humans. It makes these entities even more terrifying as they can’t be reasoned with, pleaded with, or even understood; this lack of knowledge and understanding terrifies humans and is the root of weird literature’s fear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How would you relate The Willows to The Call of Cthulhu and Stranger things? Do you personally see any single connection? In other words, as you stated, every story is different, and has its own features that make it weird, but are there any connections? Are there any single factors that create a basic "formula" for weird literature to you, or are all of the stories weird in their own way?

      Delete
    2. The overall connection would be the nature of the dangers in each of the stories. They all have an extradimensional entity which is indifferent to the cares of humans.

      Delete
  11. Mr Renye,
    While I find your article eloquent and compelling, I can not agree that The Stranger Things could be considered a piece of the weird canon. I think it sits far more comfortably next to the 80’s horror you describe, and is no more than tangentially connected to Lovecraft or even Machen. Important note for rest of the comment: I am two episodes shy of finishing The Stranger Things, so take everything with the very large grain of salt that necessitates.
    I do not know that I could create a sheet of violations for the Duffer Brothers that explicitly and succinctly explains where exactly there story diverges from Weird Literature, but I know it is clear by the first time text appears on screen. The font too adds far too much camp for me ever to be frightened again. It is rather hard for me to fear anything I associate with ewoks.
    You’re first quote describing “the weird” from Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature “A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present” is self defeating. I agree (this time) with Lovecraft’s diagnosis of what a weird story is, but you act as if the Stranger Things fits this description without really backing it up. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not finished the series, but so far the atmosphere feels far from “breathless” and there is no more “unexplainable dread” than any other horror story where the killer is relatverly enigmatic. The atmosphere is typically as far from breathless as one good get without an oxygen tank. We slink through small town life in Indiana at a decent klip, with events unfolding and reactions taking place, but the pace is not intense enough to deplete my oxygen reserves. I think this is partially an issue with format and an issue with the vast majority of season driven tv shows; creating immediacy is hard when you have to drag your plot out for damn near 8 hours. There just isn’t enough there there and break for normal life to generate the “breathless” feeling cultivated so well in Lovecraft’s The Festival or Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Stranger Things feels like a very classic dark sci-fi story. This is not a bad thing, but it seperates the TV show from Weird Literature. The plot is pretty straightforward: bad creature disrupts life in quiet town, good forces and innocence combine to beat it back, despite obstacles. Compare that to The Dunwhich Horror by Lovecraft, which I consider to be structurally the weirdest weird tale we’ve read. For years an evil presence intensifies in a corner of a run down village, never giving itself away with anything but an atmosphere of malignance. This builds and builds, with the evil getting so palpable it repulses its human allies, like Lavinia. Still, the weird waits, unconcerned with the normal world. The hills outside Dunwich had been festering for hundreds of years, and yet nothing had ever emerged to give fright to the world of man. By the time the scholars of Miskatonic pieced together enough information to even suspect foul play, the maleficence is out on the world, all the inertia of its wait behind it.
    This is essential to a weird story. The real darkness must not emerge before the reader and characters know too much to turn back. In his opus, The Call of C’thulu, Lovecraft writes “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” While certain pieces of knowledge join up for grim conclusions in the show, I think this is far from the focus. Weird literature makes one feel powerless. People did not create C’thulhu or R'lyeh, we merely felt a pinprick of their influence on our world. The danger of Stranger Things feels too wrought by the works of main for us to fear greater knowledge. It seems to show the opposite; the more knowledge characters acquire about The Upside Down or The Demogorgon, the more defeatable they appear. This is often the case in science fiction, the genre that Stranger Things belongs to. It is focused much more on mans effects on the stars, versus the weird which is focused on the stars and the things that reside among them.
    So while I enjoyed The Stranger Things and even jumped at The Demogorgon once or twice, I think you need

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with this classification of Stranger Things as more of a story of Science Fiction than Weird Literature. The nature of the monster and The Upside Down is too close to our scope of understanding and too involved with our lives to fit with the detached and alien feel that the classic dangers of Weird Literature has.

      Delete
    2. I do agree with you on this Jerry, but I also feel that the story does have a hint, or more of a side, that is closest to the weird genre. I do think that Stranger Things is mostly Sci-Fi, but it should be noted that aspects of the weird do shine through.

      Delete
    3. I also agree due to the fact that all things described as "terror" or "weird" are visible to us. The definition of terror is "extreme fear". Fear is "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous". We know that the demogorgon is dangerous and we knew that it was going to become a threat to all of the characters because w became personally familiar with it. If we had not seen the monster perfectly clearly than this would be more weird literature than 80's horror.

      Delete
    4. It does have elements and some qualities of weird, but I would still say it has a overall combined genre of Science Fiction coming of age for the kids, Conspiracy Thriller for the grown ups, and Teenage Monster Horror for the teenagers. All of these incorporate weird elements, but they are the predominant genres.

      Delete
  13. (Davis Schwartz)
    I believe that the Netflix series Stranger Thing has used rules from many weird tales that predate it. Renye’s post delves deeper into these influences, but one significant work of weird literature that isn’t mentioned is Algernon Blackwood’s novella The Willows. There are many important themes and motifs that The Willows utilize that are also present in Stranger Things. For example, both have an ominous, unknown being that is at odds with the protagonists. In Renye’s post he discusses that a places first impression gives off a very normal vibe, but looks can be decieving. When these protagonists found out what they have gotten themselves into, they try to figure out what these things are, and then escape them. I think these two rules are used in Stranger Things.
    The two men who were in a boat and needed a pit stop on that and island in the middle of unknown waters surrounded by willows and the boy who encountered something off in his house and decided to investigate it have something in common. Both settings in which the protagonists encounter these beings seem like seemingly normal settings. “The Midwestern America of small town Hawkins in Stranger Things is an instance of the pleasant place made dangerous in a manner familiar to the weird tale.”(Jeff Reyne’s blog post) of The Willows. Just town that Stranger Things takes place in, the setting in The Willows has the same effect. The island's first appearance to the narrator in The Willows, was that the island was, “impressive scene, with its utter loneliness, its bizarre suggestion”(page 5, The Willows) makes you think it is a completely normal camp in which they will just be taking refuge for a couple of days until the river calms down. They both encounter horrible surprises; the Demogorgon and the unknown being of The Willows.
    Another strong connection between both weird tales is the monsters in each, the Demogorgon and the unknown being in The Willows. Both creatures hold true to the rule that:
    The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint…of a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.(H.P Lovecraft)
    The demogorgon and the unknown being both defeat the fixed laws of Nature that H.P Lovecraft is talking about. These creatures are of the unknown, they defy reality. They can do things that we can’t do and quite frankly things that we have never seen done before. All of the protagonists really don’t understand what these entities want or why they are here. The protagonists in both stories try to figure out what these beings are, but both fail to fully comprehend what these beings are or what their intention is in our world. These beings have fully broken our “safeguard” about what we know of this world and how it works. But that’s what a weird tales supposed to do, right?
    Stranger Things includes many weird literature guidelines that were from other stories. But, I thought about willows specifically, because even though the Demogorgon was a monster and the unknown being in The Willows was something that is not physically seen, they both have the same kind of origins and their interactions are alike with the protagonists. The normality of the location in which these stories take place and weirdness of these beings in the context of our world are very different, yet they are very in common at the same time.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. so is any story with a supernatural villain "weird."

      Delete
  14. So much of the premise of Stranger Things reminds me of Machen’s, The Great God Pan. Consider this: 11 contacts the demogorgon in “the edge places” as Renye states, in a similar way to how Mary experiences Pan by way of a procedure that allows her to lift the “veil” as Machen states. Hence we have a reference point to start thinking about Stranger Things in relation to the works that the Duffer Brothers gained their knowledge from including stories written by Machen. In Stranger Things we follow 11’s adventure into the edge place where she can approach the demogorgon face to face. Although she is afraid she knows she cannot physically get hurt. This edge place is the middle ground between our dimension and the upsidedown dimension where you can interact with the other dimension but aren’t quite there. The Sensory Deprivation Tank is the gateway for 11 to reach this place.
    The first time the monster appears, 11 walks up to it and gently touches its back after her “papa” telling her she wouldn’t be hurt it, while also driven by her curiosity. 11 is a young girl and when putting a human child right next to a “strange”, unknown monster, fear replaces curiosity. After she touches the demogorgon it whips around and yells flashing its vicious looking teeth and of course, 11 begins to screams. The power that comes from such a genuine fear of the unknown creates a rip in the dimensions, a portal that bridges the right side up to the upside down. This power that she creates to open up this portal is just like how Mary was able to lift the veil to go with Pan to “the darkness of darkness beyond the stars”. The two characters also die from the same things, the use of too much brain energy, Mary dying from forbidden knowledge and 11 “dying” from too much energy (which was measured by the amount of blood that dripped from her nose). This idea of humans being able to transcend different dimensions because of who they are obviously is a recurring theme that both The Great God Pan and Stranger Things do uniquely and with quality. I loved how Stranger Things created a whole television series based off of the other worldly and even though it is so hard to understand it became the most popular Netflix show. I just got into weird literature this year and am glad that this genre of literature is becoming part of the mainstream media.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree there are strong similarities between 11 and Helen, but I don't think that is enough justification for being Weird. I agree the story Stranger Things is most similar to is The Great God Pan, but I think that is because The Great God Pan is 1/2 sci-fi, and not because Stranger Things is Weird.

      Delete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. *telling her she wouldn't be hurt by it

    ReplyDelete
  17. (Aidan Zajac)
    Much like Stranger Things, The Damned Thing, by Ambrose Bierce explores possibilities of worlds beyond human perception, and how these worlds can interact with our own. In H. P. Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, he writes, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Stranger Things introduces us to a creature which no one, from the viewers to the characters of the tv show itself, fully understands. In the very first scene we’re met with, this common weird literature trope. As viewers, this is the introduction to a new universe, and as tv producers, this is the scene that has to get the viewers engaged with the story. The scene depicts a terrified scientist running down dark and empty hallways looking for an exit. The entire time he glances behind him, as if he thinks something is trying to get him. He finally finds an elevator and the suspense builds as the doors slowly open and he gets in, only to realize the monster was waiting for him the whole time. It’s that feeling of suspense, of lurking danger, but never truly knowing what it could be, is what makes this so terrifying. Even when the man is presumably eaten by the monster, we never get to see what it looks like. This is the “fear of the unknown” Lovecraft wrote about in his essay.
    The Damned Thing is short story that practically mirrors Stranger Things’ building feeling of anticipation and and terror. Much like the first scene in Stranger Things, there is a chapter dedicated to an account of the aforementioned damned thing attacking. We never get to actually see the maleficent creature. It exists on another plane, one that humans almost can’t sense. “‘They represent colors… which we are unable to discern. And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of such a colour!’” This reminds us of the creature of the Upside Down, which only eleven, a girl with supernatural powers, can interact with.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I agree there are strong similarities between 11 and Helen, but I don't think that is enough justification for being Weird. I agree the story Stranger Things is most similar to is The Great God Pan, but I think that is because The Great God Pan is 1/2 sci-fi, and not because Stranger Things is Weird.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This was put in the wrong place, sorry.

      Delete
  19. Renye quotes from HP Lovecraft to define the weird tale and what makes it unique and separate from other genres of horror. According to Lovecraft, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Renye calls this “the essence of what underlies the weird tale.” Although there are many horror stories outside of the weird genre that make use of this fear, Renye points out another quote from Lovecraft to explain what makes the weird tale distinct. Lovecraft writes that in the weird tale, “a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present, and there must be a hint of suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the demons of unplumbed space.”
    Lovecraft’s definition makes sense when applied to both old and modern weird tales. For example, in the story “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce, published in 1893, the protagonist is stalked by a terrifying unknown and invisible entity. The monster in the story seems to exist in some other dimension and is never seen or identified, mostly making itself known through strange occurrences that seem to defy the laws of nature. The enigmatic nature of this monster is what makes the tale so unsettling. The narrator is never certain that the monster is real, but the real terror of his experience comes from the laws of reality that he sees broken, and the terrifying thought that whatever is responsible must come from some unknown dimension. In “Oh Whistle And I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M.R. James, published in 1904, the main character is a professor who prides himself on logicality, which makes him all the more susceptible to the terror of absurdity. After blowing into a mysterious whistle, he begins being stalked by a shadowy figure. The existence of this unknown, otherworldly entity challenges everything he has known to be logical and true, and his terror grows as he struggles to deny the obvious with what he perceives to be rationality. However, eventually terror drives him mad as he realizes that the absurd reality is not always in line with the comforting “laws” of the world.

    ReplyDelete
  20. (cont.) Lovecraft himself is considered by many to be the master of weird literature, and his stories, especially those within his Cthulhu Mythos, were model weird tales, utilizing many of the elements discussed in his essay. In “the Dunwich Horror” the dread builds as it becomes obvious that the Whately family is housing a terrifying unknown presence. When the presence is let loose, it terrorizes the small town of Dunwich, killing people and families and leaving people terrified of who the next target will be. In this story we again see an invisible entity, this time causing terror on a larger scale. The unseen element of the monster is terrifying as it poses a threat to the entire town, and it is impossible to know where it will strike next. This story is perhaps the most similar to the modern weird tale, Stranger Things. The setting of Stranger Things is a small, pleasant town that is turned terrible by an unseen monster that begins terrorizing the community. We see a scientist attacked by the creature, and shortly afterwards a young boy goes missing. Although Stranger Things is a very recent and modern weird tale, it perfectly fits into Lovecraft’s definition. First, the show creates an atmosphere of dread of the unknown and otherworldly, both through the town and the events that occur within it. The setting of Stranger Things is a small, pleasant town that is turned dreadful terrible by an unseen monster that begins terrorizing the town. We see a scientist attacked by the creature, and shortly afterwards a young boy goes missing. The inexplicable nature and mystery of these events and the unnaturalness of the creature involved evoke fear of both the unknown and the otherworldly that increases as more supernatural elements are revealed and more attacks occur. Second, things happen in the story that challenge the laws of nature. The most obvious example of this comes from Eleven’s mysterious powers. We also see this in the strange occurrences that Joyce experiences, like the strange substance in her walls, the strange calls she receives, and the music that begins playing in Will’s room. Stranger Things also creates terror of the unknown through the mysterious drama that the show utilizes, beginning the show with many unexplained mysteries such as Eleven’s background and what happened to Will that raise even more terrifying questions as the characters learn more.
    What sets weird literature apart from other genres of horror is the unknown element; the terror of the inexplicable, strange and absurd that Renye calls “the essence” of the weird tale. As explained by Lovecraft, this essence is captured in weird tales through many different components. In weird tales throughout the past few centuries, we have constantly seen these elements utilized by authors of weird literature, even in the very recent and modern tale “Stranger Things.” These constants are what make the weird tale so successfully absurd and terrifying, and what make the genre so distinct.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Building on Renye’s mention of how Machen’s work The Great God Pan has influenced Stranger Things, it’s important to consider the similarity of some of the main characters. For example, Machen writes about a naive girl, Mary, who is manipulated by her father figure, Dr. Raymond, into participating in an experimental surgery. This surgery allows her to come into contact with the otherworldly being Pan. Helen, Mary’s daughter, is able to successfully connect with the god Pan unlike her mother. Similarly, the supernaturally gifted Eleven in Stranger Things is trapped in as an lab experiment by her parental figure, Dr. Martin Brenner. Brenner and Raymond bear a close resemblance insofar as risking the lives of their daughters to connect with another world. Throughout both the story and the show, Mary and Eleven come face to face with beings so horrible, their minds are forever tainted and the barrier between the unknown and reality are breached.
    Mary experiences Pan and her brain seemingly shuts off after the encounter; she eventually dies, but not before giving birth to Helen, a girl who will soon become the terror of the story. Eleven is born with extraordinary powers of interest to the government. She is subjected to brutal experiments to discover the full potential of her power; one experiment in particular introduces a world called the Upside Down and the Demogorgon. This monster and the world from which it came splits the town, Hawkins, into two worlds. The ways the people around both girls react to their power and connection to the “other side” bring up an interesting motif in both works. Sexism.
    In Machen’s time, women still were not allowed to graduate from college and educated women were seen as intimidating. A more extreme version of this is Mrs. Beaumont or Helen because she holds herself like a lady of great intelligence and this seems to terrify the men in the story. The power she has challenges the men she is around and it seems as if she is one of few women who are in high society without a husband or association to a man. In Stranger Things, Eleven is more powerful than her Papa and the men that keep her captive. She is held underground in an effort to manipulate her and use her powers for the benefit of her captors. The fact that she also cannot speak well when she meets Mike and the boys shows that she was also kept uneducated so as to not allow her to know anything but captivity. To even her friends, she is sometimes seen as an unpredictable threat because she is not like Nancy, a stereotypical teen who is dependent on Steve and Jonathan throughout the show and fits the role of a pretty and popular girl.

    ReplyDelete
  22. [Ben posting Riley's thoughts!:]

    After reading Dr. Reyne’s comparison of Stranger Things and The Great God Pan, it became much clearer to me how much these two weird tales have in common. Despite the fact that both were written at different times, the effectiveness of the literary devices used by Machen to convey the strangeness of his story were once again used by the Duffer brothers while writing Stranger Things. In a sense, Stranger Things encompass what made The Great God Pan a great story while at the same time building upon the past one hundred years of weird literature. Stranger Things accomplishes this by using many devices such as: a monstrous creature whose existence embodies the unknown and comes from a dimension that we aren’t able to understand. Additionally, another commonality between The Great God Pan & Stranger Things is that sinister things happen to those of us who know too much.




    The monster in Stranger Things, known as the Demogorgon, appears multiple times throughout the course of the show. While the monster itself is quite horrifying, the scenes leading up to its appearance are actually terrifying. The reason why this is important is that the terror is the anticipation, it makes the reader think and imagine, which is a key part in weird literature. Horror, on the other hand, shows the monster and thereby stops our imagination and the terror it created. It’s terror that is the hallmark of weird stories. The same can be said about Helen V. in The Great God Pan. Even though the final scene is disturbing and raises many questions, the chapters that lead up to the climax hold even more weight. For example, when the reader learns of the suicides and their connections to Helen, it adds to the sense of pending doom and it alludes to the fact that something menacing is right around the corner. What that thing is, is up to us as Machen often stops right before explaining too much. It’s the absence of what is said that actually becomes the springboard for the weird genre.







    The fear of the unknown and the monstrous creature(s) that exist there are two key literary devices in both two stories. However, there is one other device that can be claimed responsible for everything that happens in both, and that is the human thirst for knowledge. In both stories, the thirst for knowledge appears twice, once in the beginning, and once throughout the whole story. Both Stranger Things and The Great God Pan open with experiments for the purpose of better understanding the unknown. Dr. Raymond attempted to expose Mary to Pan, and by doing this he ultimately sent into motion the events that would lead to all of the deaths that Helen caused. In the case of Stranger Things, the government's experiments and fascination with 11 are what caused the Demogorgon to become a problem. Aside from the people who initially seek knowledge, there are also those who attempt to understand what is going on, like Villiers in The Great God Pan and all of the children in Stranger Things. The thirst for knowledge is a driving force when it comes to strange literature. It is what leads to stories happening, for without it we would have no reason to pursue what we don’t understand. Each of the three literary devices I touched strengthen their respective stories by adding layers of depth to everything that happens. It also goes to show that in the genre of weird lit there are some ideas and concepts that just work. These concepts add to the stories terror and it that much more pleasurable to read. It’s for these reasons that some of the same devices have been used for the past hundred years and, that even though they have been used many times they can still contribute to a good read.




    -Riley Siltler

    ReplyDelete
  23. In the Duffer Brother’s Stranger Things the character Eleven displays a parallel to Mary in Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. They both have father figures that experiment on them to expose their minds to a different dimension. While Mary needs Dr. Raymond, her father figure, to do the procedure in order to see the Great God Pan, Eleven already has telepathic powers and the ability to open the a realm coined the Upside Down. Dr. Brenner, Eleven’s “papa”, is there to monitor and train her as a deadly human weapon. Unlike Mary, Eleven does not become a “hopeless idiot” after seeing the Demogorgon but instead she has a connection and a slight power over it. This relates to Helen, Mary’s daughter, in relationship to Pan who is believed to be her father.
    Helen and Eleven are both women and both have the power to do something to people’s minds. They are both central female characters and are viewed as deadly threats. The two either must be contained or killed, the men seem to leave no room for a middle ground. When Arthur Machen wrote The Great God Pan women were still very much in the shadows of men, especially when it came to education and discovery. So having a character such as Helen where she’s a strong woman who men fear is threatening to some readers during that time period. In Stranger Things although it was made in the 21st century where women have more rights and acknowledgement, there is still not a fully balanced scale of men and women. The show itself takes place in the 80s which is around ninety years after The Great God Pan was written, and women had more rights. Eleven’s character is not only a female but she’s a child. For her to be a badass female is already intimidating, but in addition she’s young and still has a lot to learn through life. Helen’s character is mysteriously intimidating and the men in the story plot her death due to the terror of what Helen is possibly capable of. As readers we do not know the specific connection Helen has to Pan, but we do know they were seen dancing in the woods together. We know there is a connection between Eleven and the Demogorgon and she has some sort of power over it. There are many, many more similarities, but none that are more important than the abuse, silencing and ultimately the witch hunt of these women.
    In the end, it’s important to consider that one of the most important themes in both of these works is the role of females - especially those with power. In a male dominated society women in power may not always be hushed, but their voices are often ignored. In order for us to be heard we must work and yell ten times as loud as the male figures around us, however we must yell politely and at a certain level in order to not be violent threats.

    ReplyDelete