Drawing on the Dark

(Spoilers for Stranger Things, Season 2, and X-Men: First Class.)

I’ve finally gotten to Stranger Things on my Netflix queue, a series my teen has been talking about (non-stop) for months. I enjoyed both seasons. It felt like a cross between The Goonies and Aliens, both among my favorite movies. I liked the show’s adoration for all things 80s. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and I liked that some of the obvious pairings (Nancy Wheeler and Steve Harrington, Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper) didn’t go the obvious way. I also loved seeing 80s movies icons (Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser and Sean Astin) in older incarnations, even though it made me feel my years.

In talking through the last few episodes with the Child, she criticized the psychic character’s discovery of her power. “It’s too much X-Men,” she complained. “That scene where Eleven moves the freight car and then when she closes the gate is exactly Charles [Xavier] and Magneto in X-Men [First Class].”

I thought about it for a while, and with all due respect to my teen, I think she’s wrong. If anything, the scenes with Eleven finding her emotional core are the inverse of the point between rage and serenity that Charles Xavier teaches Magneto. Her fellow experiment-ee, Eight, teaches Eleven to draw on anger and pain to reach her potential. During the climax, Eleven has a flash-back to her father-figure, Doctor Brenner, telling her that she has a wound inside her that is killing her. Eleven “cures” the externalization of that wound to save herself (and the world), but what fuels her explosive power are the darkest of her memories: loss, horror, fear and grief. There’s no serenity in that moment: Eleven draws purely on the dark.

Since Eleven is battling is a very negative force, indeed, I think what the show is saying is that sometimes we need to draw on that darkness inside us to defeat the external darkness. It’s a subversive idea, since traditional models of heroism pit light against darkness. It’s a brave choice for the show to make. They could easily have gone the other way. The show has set up positive relationships that Eleven could have drawn on. Instead, the show acknowledges that rage and pain are potent sources of power.

That’s an idea that resonates. It’s probably always resonated with the angriest segment of the population (teens), who know that anger can be just as powerful as love. (Despite the most successful of teen franchises, Harry Potter, preaching the opposite.) But it also resonates now, when so many of us, across all segments of the population, are dealing with so much rage and frustration. That brave, resonant idea is particularly poignant for me as I deal with my own feelings from this tremendously difficult year, and write it out through anti-heroes like the Hauser boys and my sometimes-dark urban witch, Tsara Faa.

Have I got it wrong? Am I mis-construing Stranger Things? Let me know in the comments!

15 thoughts on “Drawing on the Dark”

  1. Great post! I love your take on Eleven. I can relate, because I explore darkness and light, how we need them both, in my own work. Yin and yang and all that. Remember what John Lydon said. Anger is an energy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anger is an energy, and although I like the message of “Harry Potter” and other media which focus on the power of love, I think we ignore the energy of anger and pain at our cost. I’m looking forward to getting to the Covalent series in my TBR pile and seeing how you explore darkness and light!

      Like

      1. Thanks! Although I’m afraid it will be a while. I’m pulling my nooks. I’ll re-release when the whole five-part series is done. I’m finding it impossible to work full-time, write my books and market my books at the same time. I’m a slow writer. Hats off to anyone who can do it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabulous post. I think you nailed it. Fire with fire. It is heartbreaking which makes her friendships (and budding romance) that more important because they will secure her to safe ground. Here in the states the teens have only lived in time of war. Hardships reasonate with us all. Sure we can connect with Harry Potter, but life is more like Eleven’s struggles (monsters not included 🤞). We aren’t positive for the sake of being positive. We need a support group. Our weaknesses are strengths. We learn from our pain and our past and grow stronger.

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  3. I’m stopping by Target today to see if I can find Season 1 on DVD.

    Your recommendation isn’t the only one I’ve read.

    Grace VanderWaal is a fan [and I’m a super-fan of her music and talent] has recommended this series too. If you don’t know who Grace VanderWaal is, Google her. Since she won America’s Got Talent in 2016 at age 12, she has released two albums through Columbia Records, performed all over the world and launched her first sold-out 13 city concert tour earlier this month. Grace studied music theory on her own at age 11, taught herself to play the ukulele with help from YouTube, writes her own songs, and has been compared to Mozart and Beethoven. She also plays the piano and saxophone.

    “Most works by modern songwriters are two movements, three at most. Two would be verse and chorus (Blowin’ in the Wind [Dylan], Hallelujah [Cohen]); three would be verse, chorus, and break strain (many songs by Jim Croce and Elton John had break strains). But,… four or FIVE distinct portions, arranged to sound like nine or more?! Very few contemporary popular music composers do this — Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller come to mind as examples, also The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and Queen on several works. This is the kind of thing Mozart and Beethoven did, centuries ago.

    “Beautiful Thing (short version) is five distinct musical units (six in the full version), arranged to sound like many more. Light the Sky and Clay are also complex musical structures. Grace isn’t merely a songwriter; she is a composer of miniature symphonies – at the age of twelve – and she’s completely unaware of it… she’s just writing songs – naturally.”

    Windex: The Story of Lucy

    Grace wrote and performed “Beautiful Thing”, the song you hear while watching this commercial that brings tears to many eyes. Powerful! Grace will turn 14 in January 2018. She is a child prodigy and obviously a genius who doesn’t know it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And today, I bought the first season of “Stranger Things” and four more copies of Grace’s LP bringing the count to ten for “Just the Beginning”. I’m giving her LP out as gifts this season.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Season 2 of “Stranger Things’ isn’t out on DVD yet. I’ll have to wait, but on December 11, the 7th Season of The Games of Thrones will be released on DVDs. I just spent the last two hours watching segments of season 7 on YouTube and now I’m all fired up to watch the entire season. All I have to do is wait 12 days. I’ll be watching Season 21 of Stranger Things during that time. :o)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Stranger Things, which is odd because I have little interest in kids, but these actors are GOOD. I also love the 80s-ness of it; it wouldn’t work half so well with today’s technology. I don’t look into it too deeply, I just like it. Sometimes, that’s all you need!

    Liked by 1 person

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