Film studies

Stephen King: Interconnection and Inspiration

Alissa Burger’s IT Chapters One and Two contextualizes the 2017 and 2019 adaptations within the larger landscape of King’s literary and popular culture influence. In our latest blog post, Burger explores the interconnections between different Stephen King novels and how IT Chapter One and IT Chapter Two follow a similar ethos.

Stephen King’s work provides readers with a host of horrors populating richly detailed worlds, people and places that work their way into our imaginations, our hearts, and sometimes, our nightmares. While each of King’s novels holds its own appeal, what is perennially fascinating to me are the interconnections between these works, the unexpected moment where an aside or a reference offers a different perspective on a person or place we thought we knew, or when we see a familiar face in a new place: when Donald Callahan, last seen leaving Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine shows up in Calla Bryne Sturgis in The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla. When Later’s Jamie Conklin learns about the Ritual of Chüd. When Mile 81 offers a shout-out to the popular culture resonance of Christine. In these moments, a door swings open just a crack, offering the smallest glimpse of the ways in which all of these threads are connected and so many of King’s worlds overlap with, echo through, and influence one another. Those moments of frisson, the knowledge that while the story stands alone, it is also part of a bigger picture, a larger universe, never fails to draw me in and thrill me.

These interconnections radiate throughout King’s fiction (this is particularly true of King’s Dark Tower series, which I have written extensively about elsewhere in The Quest for the Dark Tower: Genre and Interconnection in the Stephen King Series). These interconnections are also reflected in films and television series adapted from or inspired by his work, highlighting the ways in which King’s universe transcends his fiction. The Hulu series Castle Rock (2018-2019) is an excellent example of this: its narrative is grounded in an iconic King locale, with established characters like Alan Pangborn (played by Scott Glenn) and Pop Merrill (played by Tim Robbins) joined by a range of new characters, as established King narratives like those of The Dead Zone and Cujo exist side-by-side with new horrors.

Jackie Torrance (played by Jane Levy) talks about her uncle Jack, who was a caretaker for a hotel out in Colorado, though no one talks about what happened there, while Annie Wilkes (played by Lizzy Caplan) shows up in Castle Rock, giving fans an opportunity to see this familiar character in a dramatically different context, years before her encounter with Paul Sheldon. The cast also includes a number of veteran actors from other King adaptations, including Bill Skarsgård, Melanie Lynskey, Sissy Spacek, Tim Robbins, and Chosen Jacobs. Castle Rock connects disparate King threads, drawing on fiction and film adaptations alike, clearly demonstrating the ways in which King’s work is interconnected across his canon as well with the popular culture landscape which surrounds it, where his own work has inspired further connections, new narratives, and fresh perspectives. King fans can walk the streets of Castle Rock alongside one of King’s narrators or a Hulu series character with equal ease, with each showing them different glimpses of or new insights into this familiar town.

Andy Muschietti’s approach to IT Chapter One and IT Chapter Two follow a similar ethos: the streets of Derry are familiar and the Losers are old friends. Pennywise is a horror we know, though he wears a new face. However, particularly in IT Chapter Two, Muschietti invites us to consider the absences, to peer into the dark voids and listen attentively to the silence, to discern what has been repressed, silenced, or left out of earlier narratives altogether. He draws on King’s established and well-loved tale while adding some new stories of his own, giving viewers yet another way to know, understand, and think about the dark and familiar town of Derry, providing us with an opportunity to plumb the interconnections that resonate within King’s fiction, as well as the inspiration that echoes between fiction and film.

It Chapters One and Two is available to order on our website now.

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