It’s no secret that Stranger Things is indebted to the works of Stephen King. The horror author’s presence looms large over the Netflix series and has from day one. The show’s title and trademark font borrow stylistically from King’s 1991 novel Needful Things, while references to film adaptations pop up frequently. The fourth season was no exception; the bullying Eleven endures—and her subsequent meltdown at the roller rink—is straight out of Carrie, while Vecna’s blood-filled balloon popping in Max’s subconscious is an allusion to It.
But it’s the fourth season finale where the Stephen King references get even more literal. In one of the final scenes, we see Lucas reading a book to a catatonic Max. It’s The Talisman, a 1984 fantasy novel co-written by King and Peter Straub. The excerpt we hear mentions the name Speedy, references a roller coaster, and speaks of a place called the Territories. It’s a perfect bit of texture for the season and might also foretell what we’ll see in the fifth and final season of Stranger Things.
Here’s what you need to know about The Talisman, how its themes could fit into the show’s final chapter, and the story’s significance to the Duffer brothers.
The Duffers Are Adapting The Talisman for Netflix
There’s one primary reason for The Talisman Easter egg this season: the Duffer brothers—who created Stranger Things—are set to adapt the novel into a series for Netflix. This long-gestating project is back in the news this week thanks to the announcement of the Duffers’ new production company, Upside Down Pictures. The press release made clear that The Talisman— first announced in 2019—is still in the works, with the Duffers saying of the source material: “It’s much more fantasy [than Stranger Things]. It has sci-fi. It has horror elements. It has a lot of heart. It has everything that we love.”
The project is exciting for several reasons. Not only does it pair the Duffers with King, but also with another big Steve in their life: Steven Spielberg, whose production company Amblin Entertainment will co-produce the show along with Paramount Television. Spielberg’s influence on Stranger Things is just as significant as King’s—with E.T. and Close Encounters being particularly noteworthy—so this is a big win for the Duffers.
The Talisman Easter egg in the finale is a reference to this upcoming project, but its plot and the themes echo through Stranger Things, too—and could tease a few significant elements in season five.
Of Territories and Twinners
The fifth season of Stranger Things will be its last, so we can expect an epic, show-stopping, budget-blasting showdown with the series’ big bad, Vecna. The setup is already in place. In the finale, Vecna enacts his evil plan to destroy Hawkins and open the barrier between the Upside Down and our reality. A hellish earthquake splits the small Midwest town down the middle, with plumes of smoke, mountains of fire, and snow-like particles bleeding into our world. If the visions Vecna gave Nancy come true, we can expect great beasts to spill from this tear and wreak havoc on what’s left of Hawkins.
But what is the Upside Down? This otherworldly place remains the show’s most potent mystery. We know nothing of its origins or why its version of Hawkins is currently trapped in time. Until season four, it was an eldritch horror—an unknowable, unfathomable wasteland. For those familiar with The Talisman, this sounds like the Territories.
The Territories is a fantastical location in the world of The Talisman. The story centers on a 12-year-old boy named Jack Sawyer who goes on a journey to save his ill mother. He hunts for a magical crystal known as “the Talisman,” hidden away in the Territories—a parallel realm that mirrors our world. People known as “Twinners” live in the Territories. They are duplicates of people in our reality who share core elements of their “twin’s” lives: birthdays, major life events, traumatic experiences, etc. To access the Territories, a person must “flip” into their Twinner’s body and take over.
Like the Upside Down, the Territories aren’t an exact 1:1 with our reality. There are medieval customs and hierarchies in the Territories—kings, queens, noblemen—and werewolves. The novel is firmly rooted in fantasy, with the Territories serving as an Oz-like land where his mother’s Twinner is queen—and also, it turns out, gravely ill.
The quest at the heart of The Talisman is frightening but also quite tender. It’s one of Stephen King’s more heartfelt and thrilling adventure stories and (spoiler alert) also one of the few with a happy ending. But what does it have to do with Stranger Things beyond the similarities of the Territories and the Upside Down?
What’s in the Upside Down?
There are elements of The Talisman that could foretell what happens in the final season of Stranger Things. The concept of Twinners is one of them. One thing missing from the Upside Down is any inhabitants. However, we see the corpses of many beloved dead characters in the Upside Down and Vecna’s mind lair. Barb and Eddie were both in the Upside Down when they died, and Vecna’s recent victims are all wrapped in vines in his spooky mind palace, which seems of a piece with this hellish other world.
We know Vecna feeds on trauma. Is it possible that season five will see him reanimating these deceased characters and letting them loose in our reality? This could mean the reappearance of fan favorites, but at a terrible cost. And while this isn’t an exact parallel to the concept of Twinners, there is some shared DNA in the idea of deadly “twins” coming into play.
Another similarity that may come forward? The idea of the Talisman itself. Jack can only retrieve this magical crystal in the book by crossing into the Territories, where it’s hidden. It seems likely that something like this could happen in the final season of Stranger Things. What if there’s something hidden in the depths of the Upside Down that is the key to killing Vecna? Maybe a weapon or “talisman” that makes him vulnerable. Most of our favorite characters have been to the Upside Down already, so they know how to navigate it and what to expect. It’d be epic to see them on a Talisman-like quest to this underworld in season five.
Who Is Eleven’s Mom?
But the most significant piece of connective tissue between The Talisman and Stranger Things is motherly love. Jack’s sole reason for traversing the Territories is to save his mother. Likewise, Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, is ill, though of a different sort. After participating in MKUltra and attempting to retrieve the kidnapped El, Dr. Brenner fries Terry’s brain using electroconvulsive therapy. Despite her vegetative state, she knows her daughter is alive and that she has powers—powers that Terry shares due to the experiments performed on her.
The story of Eleven’s mother feels incomplete. In season four, El summons memories of her mom to protect her against Vecna. We even see flashbacks to her birth. We know that El can save lives and travel into other people’s minds; perhaps the final season will involve a quest to save her mother. Is there something in the Upside Down that could defeat this evil force and free Eleven’s mother from her mental prison? Maybe whatever it is can save Max, too.
Regardless of what happens in season five, it’s clear The Talisman already served as an inspiration for Stranger Things. Time will tell if that connection bears more fruit. Something major has to happen in the Upside Down at the end of it all. Why not a magical MacGuffin that leads to a happy ending?