Stranger Things has always been packed with pop culture references, and Season 4 is no exception. From the ‘80s-inspired soundtrack to using a Lite Brite to communicate with those trapped in the Upside Down, there are tons of references for older fans to enjoy and younger fans to Google. But one major reference towards the end of Stranger Things 4, Volume 1, has fans a little perplexed. Here’s why Stranger Things 4 referenced Lord Of The Rings — and why it works.
Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things 4, Volume 1 follow. The original setup for Stranger Things in Season 1 began with four middle-school-aged boys — Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will — in a basement playing Dungeons and Dragons. Four seasons later, they have reached high school and are now playing with the big boys. (Well, Mike and Dustin still are, and Lucas when he can.) The new Dungeon Master is Eddie Muson, a high school senior who is the perfect specimen of the late-’80s alpha male nerd. He’s a pothead who listens to heavy metal, wears his hair like an MTV rocker, and lives for fantasy of all kinds.
Unlike most new characters, Eddie takes it relatively in stride when he learns of the Upside Down. (Once he stops trying to stab Steve, anyway.) There’s another world hidden beneath Hawkins, and monsters sometimes cross into our reality? Right, sure, sounds legit. That’s because his fantasy reading has given Eddie a framework to understand it.
So when Dustin proposes hunting for a hidden gate to the Upside Down, despite the cops hunting for Eddie, he again understands the gravity of the situation by comparing it to The Lord of the Rings. “I say you’re asking me to follow you into Mordor,” he tells Dustin, “which, if I’m totally straight with you, I think is a really bad idea.”
Unfortunately for some fans, this was super confusing. As one Twitter user noted, how could Eddie Munson reference Lord of the Rings when the movies came out between 2001 and 2003?
Though Peter Jackson’s movies didn’t make J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal work a pop-culture juggernaut until the 21st century, the novels were already nearly half a century old when the films premiered. Tolkien published the books over 18 months between 1954 and 1955. Though they weren’t exactly mainstream in the 1980s (see Steve asking, “What’s Mordor?”), they were a fantasy touchstone for nerds starting in the 1960s, and absolutely something Eddie and Dustin would have read multiple times and treated like a bible.
Just in case fans don’t get Eddie is referencing the books and not the later films, the dialogue then mentions something Jackson’s (otherwise generally faithful) adaptation left out when Eddie announces, “The Shire is burning. So Mordor it is.”
For fans who have no idea what Eddie is talking about, “The Scouring of the Shire” was the most controversial part of the trilogy; Jackson left out the favorite chapter for many readers. It happens after Frodo and company make it back home — they discovered Mordor infiltrated the Shire while they were away. Though Sauron was defeated, evil still had to be eradicated at home. Jackson’s Return of the King was already super long, so he skipped that part, much to the ire of fans, who felt it was proof Jackson didn’t understand the moral of the story.
For Eddie, a book reader who probably would agree with that sentiment, “The Scouring of the Shire” would be his go-to comparison for this situation. The evil is at home, and good people must step up and act. Having him bring it up — even if fans who have only seen the movies have no idea what he’s talking about — is not just perfectly keeping in character, but the correct parable for him to grasp the gravity of what’s happening to Hawkins.
Stranger Things Seasons 1 through 3 and Season 4, Volume 1 are streaming on Netflix. Season 4, Volume 2 arrives July 1, 2022. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy of films is streaming on HBO Max; the books are available at your local retailer.