7 March 2024
The hugely popular Netflix series Stranger Things is set in 1980s middle America. The creators, the Duffer Brothers, have atmospherically laced their work with 80s cultural references – including music, film, and fashion. From the jangling guitars of The Smiths, the punk anthems of The Clash, and the heavy metal of Metallica. Iconic 80s films are also referenced – Poltergeist perhaps most provocatively. And the actors’ costumes impeccably reference 80s fashion. These cultural references work together to create a heady trip into the decade that saw American pop culture going global. So, why are we getting medieval?
Well, watch closely and you’ll see that the over-arching theme to the narrative is certainly the Middle Ages. How so? Well, the 80s board game, Dungeons and Dragons, a big inspiration for the series, provides the medieval context. And the troubling presence of the Upside Down, in the form of a world ruled by Evil, as opposed to Light, connects the world of Hawkins, Indiana to thirteenth-century Europe.
In this talk, Dr Cynthia Johnston will discuss the connections between the series and the Medieval world. She will share images from medieval manuscripts including the Hart Collection in Blackburn Museum that link these seeming very different worlds without drawing on the powers of Eleven to do so.
We were left teetering seemingly on the apocalypse at the conclusion of the last series (S4). But now the creators are back in action after the settlement of Writers Guild of America. And we can’t wait to see what happens next!
Dr Cynthia Johnston
Dr Cynthia Johnston is a Senior Lecturer in the History of the Book at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Trained as a medievalist, she has published widely on the medieval book, the history of book culture, and book collecting.
Her research interests include all aspects of medieval book culture with special interest on the development and transmission of decorative techniques in western Europe during the thirteenth century. She is currently writing a literary biography of the twentieth-century novelist, Dorothy Whipple.