STRANGER THINGS and CHILDREN OF THE DARK

Howdy, friends. I haven’t blogged in…well, just about forever. That’s because my newsletter has usurped my blog and is now my main form of information dissemination and–

Oh, just sign up for the dang thing.

Occasionally, though, there’s a topic that calls for a blog post. Like the one you’re reading now.

STRANGER THINGS has become a cultural juggernaut, a critically-acclaimed audience darling. And before you accuse me of tinging my words with irony, I’ll say it now: ST is my favorite show. Oh sure, THE OFFICE is still my favorite comedy, and BREAKING BAD shook me in a way no other show has, but if I’m picking the current show that enthralls me like no other, STRANGER THINGS wins easily.

(If you want further proof of my adoration of ST, check out this article I wrote last year for the RA for All blog.)

I could share the hundreds of reasons why I love STRANGER THINGS, but that list belongs in another blog post. What I want to talk about today is something that I’ve avoided talking about because I’ll be opening myself up to several snarky criticisms, such as…

1. “Every coming-of-age story compares itself to STRANGER THINGS! You’re just one of a thousand!”

Or…

2. “Talk about opportunism. You’re just trying to cash in!”

Or my favorite potential bit of snark:

3. “You probably copied STRANGER THINGS. What gall to now compare your story to the one you ripped off!”

So let me answer Criticism #3 now:

My novel came first.

Not by long–CHILDREN OF THE DARK was published in March 2016; STRANGER THINGS debuted four months later (to the day,)–but yeah, COTD came out before anyone had ever heard of Chief Hopper or the Byers Family.

Regarding Criticism #2, well, if you mean I’d like as many people as possible to read my novel…sure. I absolutely would. STRANGER THINGS 2 just dropped a couple months ago (on my birthday!), and it was (in my opinion, as well as my son’s), just as wonderful as Season One. So I suppose that could fall under opportunism. But as a slight rebuttal to that, I’ll answer Criticism #1:

The similarities between CHILDREN OF THE DARK and STRANGER THINGS have been pointed out by a great many reviewers, so it’s not just my imagination that links these tales together. To wit:

This excellent article in Speculative Chic is titled “Chain Reaction: Friendship v. Horror: Read-alikes for Stranger Things + IT.” In the article, the reviewer (Carey Ballard) focuses on four novels, including Stephen King’s Firestarter and my own CHILDREN OF THE DARK.

Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz

Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz

In its excellent review of COTD, Horrornews says, “One cannot deny numerous parallels between this tale and the runaway smash Netflix original hit Stranger Things,” and “Fans of the series will no question gravitate towards this literary gem.”

Book Den says COTD “would really appeal to fans of Stranger Things.”

Add to these examples dozens of reviews, tweets, and other mentions in social media about the kinship between the stories, and I think you’ll see the connection isn’t simply in my head. Or wishful thinking.

Stranger Things

So if you’re a fan of STRANGER THINGS and want something in novel form that will capture some of the same vibe, here are a few ways in which the Duffer Brothers’ amazing show and my novel intersect:

1. Both stories are firmly based in the coming-of-age tradition.

2. While ST is set in the eighties and my novel is set in the present day, their inspiration was spawned by the same movies and books. One example is the powerful STAND BY ME vibe pulsing through both stories. ST utilized scenes on train tracks from the iconic 80s film; COTD’s characters were based on Wil Wheaton’s character (named Will Burgess in my book) and River Phoenix’s Chris Chambers (named Chris Watkins in my novel).

STAND BY ME, River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, 1986. ©Columbia Pictures

3. Furthering the above idea, both ST and COTD have roots in movies like HALLOWEEN, THE THING, and ALIENS. In fact, in a podcast I listened to today, the Duffer Brothers made mention of all three of these iconic films in relation to ST’s origins. Interestingly enough, HALLOWEEN is mentioned in my COTD, THE THING relates to a specific facet of my creatures in COTD, and the sequel I’m writing now for the novel bears intentional resemblances to ALIENS.

4. Both ST and COTD are set in Indiana. The mythical town in ST is called Hawkins; my town is called Shadeland. The look and feel of these places is eerily similar, and as if that weren’t enough…

5. Both stories reference the Tippecanoe River. My novel takes place in Tippecanoe County, and ST has already incorporated the Tippecanoe River. (Incidentally, I live in Tippecanoe County and have spent a great deal of time on the Tippecanoe River.) And just in case you don’t think that’s a little cool, keep in mind that the Tippy is only 182 miles long and runs exclusively in Northern Indiana. Here’s a fun screen cap of its mention in ST:

6. Some of the similarities I’m about to point out are common in the coming-of-age genre, but they’re still connections between the works:

  • Will Burgess and Will Byers. Cool coincidence.
  • Both Will Burgess and Jonathan Byers have serious father issues.
  • Jonathan takes care of Will Byers in ST like Will Burgess takes care of his little sister Peach in COTD.
  • For most of ST Season One, there’s a trio of boys (Lucas, Mike, and Dustin) trying to solve a mystery; in COTD, there’s a trio of boys (Will, Chris, and Barley) trying to solve a mystery.
  • In both stories, characters who have lost someone and feel responsible try to atone for their perceived failures by attempting to save someone else.
  • Both tales involve government cover-ups. Throughout STRANGER THINGS, a shadowy government entity tries to cover its tracks, whitewash its nefarious doings, and generally do its best to behave despicably. At the end of CHILDREN OF THE DARK, the government steps in and begins to do what we witnessed in STRANGER THINGS (effectively setting up the sequel to CHILDREN OF THE DARK, which I’m working on now).

I could continue in this vein for days, but the long and short of it is this: These tales are kindred spirits. If you like STRANGER THINGS, there’s a good chance you’ll dig CHILDREN OF THE DARK. And before I forget, you can buy it here!

And if you’ve read my novel and haven’t yet experienced STRANGER THINGS, why are you reading this blog post? Go watch Hopper and Eleven and the rest of these fabulous characters on Netflix now!

That’s it for today, friends. 2018 is going to be incredible.