‘Stranger Reads’ exhibit to feature sci-fi/horror items that inspired ‘Stranger Things’

Stranger Reads – Halloween Pop-Up Exhibit

University of Iowa Main Library, Group Area D – Monday, Oct. 30 at 12-2 p.m.

Stranger Things is full of ’80s nostalgia, but its scares go back to early-20th-century pulp fiction. — still from the Stranger Things 2 trailer

Stranger Things fans who can bear to pause their Netflix streams are invited to get acquainted with the hit show’s heritage.

The University of Iowa Special Collections and University Archives is hosting “Stranger Reads,” a Halloween pop-up exhibit opening Monday, Oct. 30 at noon. Magazines, books and other literary items, some more than 100 years old, that laid the groundwork for Netflix’s celebrated science fiction-horror series Stranger Things will be on display.

The highly-anticipated second season of Stranger Things was released Oct. 27. Nine new episodes continue the story of a group of imaginative young boys, their families and their friend Eleven, a girl whose telekinetic abilities made her the victim of governmental experimentation and a powerful weapon against otherworldly monsters — and bullies.

Set in the 1980s, the Duffer Brothers’ series draws heavily from the work of Stephen King (It, Stand By Me), Stephen Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Goonies) and other filmmakers who contributed to the mix of the science fiction, horror, fantasy, comedy, coming-of-age and adventure genres of the ’70s and ’80s for which the public is so nostalgic.

Photo courtesy of UI Special Collections

When Stranger Reads curator Micaela Rae Terronez began searching for Stranger Things-esque items in the UI’s Special Collections, she and the department’s science fiction and popular culture curator Peter Balestrieri realized the roots of the show went back much further than Spielberg and King.

“We looked deeper and noticed a lot of ’80s sci-fi movies were remixed from 1950s sci-fi-horror. For example, [Invasion of] the Body Snatchers is a book that was originally written in the 1950s with a film version soon after, and they did a remake of it in [1978],” Terronez said. “We started to see that pattern with a lot of ’80s movies based on movies and books that came way earlier.”

To highlight this pattern, the Special Collections staff chose works published prior to the 1980s, with most coming from the ’30s and ’40s. Pulp fiction magazines such as Weird Tales and Fantastic Adventures featured monsters as spine-chilling as the Demogorgon and worlds as eerie as the Upside Down. While these stories can be campy and lurid, they kickstarted the careers of many influential writers, including Ray Bradbury, HP Lovecraft and Isaac Asimov. Some of those writers, such as Robert Bloch (author of the novel Psycho) and Arthur C. Clark (co-writer of 2001: A Space Odyssey), had a direct and profound impact on filmmaking in the 20th century.

Photo courtesy of UI Special Collections

Old editions of a few 19th century books will also be on display at Stranger Reads, including Frankenstein (1818) — “When people mention the first science fiction-horror book, what they think of is Frankenstein,” Terronez said — and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), as well as a first-edition copy of The War of the Worlds (1897) signed by H.G. Wells.

Most of the exhibit’s items are from the Hevelin Collection, which consists primarily of 20th-century fanzines collected by James L. “Rusty” Hevelin. When the collection came to the University of Iowa in 2012, it invigorated the science fiction archive of the Special Collections.

Stranger Reads will be on display Oct. 30 in the UI Main Library from noon until 2 p.m. Visitors will be able to make buttons using printed images of the featured materials.

If you miss the exhibit or want to get a closer look at the materials, just visit the UI Special Collections and University Archives Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and make a request. No appointment is necessary.


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“I think there’s this perception that we’re hoarding all these items, but they are able to be viewed by the public any time during our open hours,” Terronez said. “It’s a fun place, and the exhibit is meant to show how fun Special Collections can be.”

The first and second seasons of Stranger Things can be streamed on Netflix.

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