It’s no mystery that, according to Stephen King, the state of Maine lives on some sort of Hellmouth. In his fabricated towns such as Derry and Castle Rock, strange events have punched through the barrier between our world and what’s known as the Todash space, a chaotic interplanar realm that’s birthed most—if not all— of King’s monsters into existence…and belched them into Maine.
If you read and watch your way through King’s entire canon, you’ll see that everything is intentional and connected and can be viewed as multiple universes, layered and running parallel to each other. For some great visuals, peep the amazing flowchart by Gillian James [Below] that captures pretty much every connection up until 2016, and this chart that makes the paths between universes a bit more digestible.
But understanding the lore of King’s multiverse and how everything is connected can be like untangling how every plane works in Dungeons and Dragons. If you aren’t one of King’s “Constant Readers”, the mountains of information can be daunting. So: rather than digging up the minutiae, let’s take a skimming tour of King’s multiverse, its traits, and how it has transformed with time.
It’s a Small World After All
With very few exceptions, King’s works are set in Maine. The ones that aren’t set in his go-tos Derry, Castle Rock, and Jerusalem’s Lot, are in nearby towns. Pet Sematary, for example, is set in Ludlow, a stone’s throw from Derry (we see highway signs for Derry in both films and it’s referenced in the book).
With so many works across such a small geography, it makes sense that King’s characters should cross paths. That practicality doesn’t make it any less surreal when you find yourself realizing that:
- Dick Halloran, the chef at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, used his powers to save Loser’s Club member Mike Hanlon‘s father when they both served in the army before the events of IT.
- In Misery, it’s mentioned that IT‘s Eddie Kaspbrak was childhood neighbours with Misery‘s abducted author Paul Sheldon.
- Dolores Claiborne‘s titular character shares a telepathic connection to Jessie Burlingame in Gerald’s Game during a traumatic eclipse that occurs in both books.
- Rose Red‘s powerful psychic Annie Wheaton might have been first mentioned in a letter in the epilogue of Carrie. (I know this one’s a bit of a stretch, because Annie‘s last name is Jenks in the book and the letter takes place in Tennessee instead of in Seattle in Rose Red. BUT Annie Wheaton is inarguably Carrie-like in how her powers manifest [in that both crib heavily from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House] and the timelines match up relatively well [young Annie is two in 1988 in Carrie and the prologue for Rose Red is set in 1991 and shows Annie as a five-year-old]. It’s my head-canon, and now it can be your head-canon, too.)
Concepts and Connections Evolved
Psychic powers are a bit of a Stephen King staple, and probably the most well-known of these powers is the shining or, more simply, the shine. First described by Dick Halloran to little Danny Torrance in the aptly-titled The Shining (1977), the shine is described as a clairvoyance-like power. Even in The Shining, the power isn’t limited to Dick and Danny, Jack Torrance‘s interactions with ghosts are probably thanks in part to his own flavour of the shine.
By the time we get to The Stand in 1978, King makes it clear that the shine is straight-up a fact of his universe:
“Prophecy is the gift of God and everyone has a smidge of it. My own grandmother used to call it the shining lamp of God, sometimes just the shine.”
In The Stand, it’s Mother Abigail and Nick Andros who shine. Other characters in the multiverse who shine include Jake Chambers (The Dark Tower), Abra Stone (Doctor Sleep), Molly Strand (Castle Rock), Ellie Creed (Pet Sematary) and Johnny Smith (The Dead Zone). But we can assume that everyone can shine, even if it’s just a teeny little bit.
These days the shine is used as shorthand by fans for any sort of psychic power, prophetic or not, and in a way, this brings all of the psychic characters, whether they come by their powers naturally or through laboratory experiments, a little closer together.
Once we bring Dark Tower lore into the mix, we run into characters known as “Breakers”. It can be understood that Breakers are merely people who shine that have been enslaved to destabilize the metaphysical Beams that support the Dark Tower. The Tower’s destruction translates to destroying a sort of lynch-pin in the fabric of space-time, and so the destruction of every world in the King multiverse. Confirmed Breakers are Ted Brautigan (Hearts in Atlantis), Dinky Earnshaw (Everything’s Eventual), and Sheemie Ruiz (Wizard and Glass).
Based on what we know about Breakers, fans have started combing through earlier works to identify characters who could be powerful Breakers. Who are some candidate Breakers, according to fans? Potentials include Carrie White (Carrie), Douglas “Duddits” Cavell (Dreamcatcher), and the aforementioned Johnny Smith (The Dead Zone).
Some fun Easter Eggs referring to the Beams have popped up in recent King adaptations. In Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game (2017), Gerald straight-up says “All things serve The Beam”, and in It (2017) there are a number of references to turtles (The Turtle is a guardian of a Beam and is known enemy to Pennywise/It; it features way more prominently in the book).
But wait: there’s more.
With the existence of a multiverse, of course, we must consider the existence of doppelgängers and parallel versions of characters. Luckily, King considered this too and introduced the concept of “twinners”, which suggests that every character can have one or more parallel version of themselves in other universes. The concept was first introduced in The Talisman in 1984, and echoed in many other works, notably with a dual publication of “twinner novels” Desperation and The Regulators in 1996.
So far the list of confirmed versus possible twinners in King canon is a subject of much debate among fans, but the opportunities to forge new narratives and connections out of this concept are endless. Are Talitha Unwin from Song of Susannah and Mother Abigail from The Stand twinners? How about the two Henry Deavers in Castle Rock?
And finally, probably the coolest crossover element when it comes to Stephen King:
King’s Narrative Universe Has Grown Beyond Him.
While he’s done a few collaborations here and there, King is pretty much a solo-act kinda guy. That said, when it comes to collaborators, he seems open to other people playing in the sandbox of his narrative multiverse and expanding upon it.
It’s no secret that Joe Hill is the nom de plume for Stephen King’s son Joseph King. While Hill has established himself as a strong horror writer independent of his father’s work, he definitely pays plenty of homages. Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is probably the most firmly established in King’s universe. The book’s main villain, Charlie Manx, mentions collaboration with The True Knot, the villains that would be found in King’s Doctor Sleep later that year, not to mention the fact that Manx also references “doors to Mid-World”, a plane in King’s multi-verse.
King has returned the favour, adding an important direct reference to Charlie Manx in his novel, Doctor Sleep.
Peter Straub’s 1983 novel Floating Dragon shares more than a few connections with The Talisman, Straub’s collaboration with King to come out one year later. Straub himself has suggested that Floating Dragon, IT, and The Talisman form a loose trilogy of sorts.
Like Straub, Richard Chizmar co-authored an in-universe work with King, Gwendy’s Button Box, set explicitly in Castle Rock in 1974. Chizmar has gone solo to write its sequel, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, which will be published this November. Not only does he have King’s permission to add to Castle Rock’s dark history, but he gets to bring in characters from other Castle Rock-based books, most notably, Castle Rock sheriff Norris Ridgewick, who’s seen more than a few novels’ worth of strange goings-on.
What are your favourite crossovers in the Stephen King multiverse? Do you have any theories of your own? Let us know over on Twitter, our Official Subreddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!