Script written by Cassondra Feltus
"Stranger Things" has given us another twisted villain with Vecna, who has a fascinating origin story. For this video, we’ll be looking at what we know about the latest antagonist to terrorize Hawkins. Warning: if you haven’t finished Season 4: Part I, there are major spoilers ahead! This essay will cover not only Vecna's origins, but his inspiration and some unanswered questions. What did you think of Vecna? Let us know in the comments.
Young Henry Creel
In Spring 1959, Henry Creel moved to Hawkins, Indiana with his parents Victor and Virginia, and older sister Alice. Victor explains to Nancy and Robin that Virginia inherited a “small fortune” from a relative and then put the money towards a new home in the small town. He describes his son as “sensitive,” unaware of Henry’s developing supernatural abilities. Instead, Victor believed the house was haunted by a demon, tormenting his family with nightmarish hallucinations.
Hawkins didn’t really provide a different environment for Henry and he still felt like an outcast. But he discovered a nest of black widows in a vent and became fascinated with them and their role in the world. People find them scary, but Henry sees them as the “most important of the predators.” The carnivorous arachnids are known and feared for their venomous bite and are often symbolic of ideas like transformation, darkness, death, and destruction. Henry, a young boy who’s been told by peers and authority figures that he’s “broken,” could identify with the black widow spider. Both are reclusive, intelligent, and misunderstood. They have the ability to be destructive when provoked and are generally feared for their potential.
Henry began spending more time with the spiders, developing a hatred for humanity and its societal constructs of time. Unwilling to become a part of a facade, he built up his powers through a grandfather clock, learning how to enter the minds of others, starting with animals. His new telekinetic abilities granted him access to their darkest memories and uncover secrets of the past. Henry tapped into his father’s time in the war and the deep guilt surrounding a particularly terrible mistake that had gruesome results. It’s never revealed what his mother’s “darkness” was, but Virginia became fearful of her son’s behavior, and sought out the help of a doctor.
But before he can be taken away, Henry uses his powers to kill his mother and sister. He exhausted himself and fainted, which released Victor from a nightmarish vision, leaving him to take the blame for their deaths.
It Started with One
Convicted of the murder of his family, Victor Creal was sent to Pennhurst Asylum, believing that his son Henry slipped into a coma, and died a week later. But this was a lie orchestrated by Dr. Martin Brenner, who wanted to study and experiment on Henry.
He became One, the first test subject at Hawkins National Laboratory, where Brenner began “collecting” more children with abilities, assigning them numbers and conducting experiments. But One was too powerful for Brenner, or anyone, to control. He was implanted with a device called Soteria to inhibit his strong telekinetic abilities, allowing him to be controlled and tracked. With his powers suppressed and his freedom stripped away, One was now given the alias Peter Ballard and made to work at the lab as an orderly.
Peter Ballard, Your Friendly Neighborhood Orderly
When casting details for season 4 were released in 2020, actor Jamie Campbell Bower was slated to play Peter Ballard. The character was described as “a caring man” who was “tired of the brutality he witnesses day after day.” Campbell is simply credited as “Friendly Orderly,” which is how he first appears to Eleven in the Rainbow Room in 1979. He comforts her after witnessing the cruel treatment from the other lab subjects, telling her that she’s the most powerful out of everyone.
As a fellow outcast, especially when he was younger, Peter sees himself in Eleven. We think he’s being genuine, and to a point, he is. But it’s revealed that this is mostly his way of manipulating his way to freedom. With her trust, Peter gets Eleven to remove the device, allowing him to use his powers to kill everyone in the Hawkins lab. When she sees what he’s done, she’s terrified.
Peter tells Eleven his backstory, he reveals his true identity as Henry Creel and how he came to be One. He explains the resentment he has towards humanity and his desire to change its “deeply unnatural structure.”
Peter wanted Eleven to join him in his quest for balance in the world, but seeing him as a monstrous killer, she refused. The two have an epic showdown, which he loses.
In his descent into the alternate dimension of the Upside Down, he’s struck by lightning and horrifically burned. He becomes an unrecognizable creature, who we and everyone else come to know as Vecna.
Henry’s childhood fascination with spiders and the concept of time followed him into his new identity as Vecna, using tentacles to form his nest, or web, in the Upside Down. Vecna also plagues his victims with sounds and visions of an old grandfather clock before they die, just like the one from his childhood home.
As explained in Chapter 7, Henry/Vecna gained his strength from others. In this way he’s like a cult leader, luring people in by promising to end their suffering, telling them to “join him.” He takes the lives of high schoolers Chrissy Cunningham, Fred Benson, and Patrick McKinney, after tormenting them with waking nightmares, headaches, and nose bleeds. The first time we actually see Vecna, or part of him at least, was when he’s outside of the bathroom stall at Hawkins High. He uses the source of their shame and guilt to break them down mentally, making it easier to infiltrate their minds. In this weakened state, Vecna creates a hellish landscape, forcing his victims to relive the moments they fear the most, tormenting them before taking their life.
Max Mayfield falls victim to his “curse”, but was saved by her friends before he can add her to his collection.
At the end of Chapter Seven, Nancy was his latest victim, being confronted with her guilt about the death of her friend Barb Holland years before. Since she was investigating the connection between Vecna and Victor Creel, he literally takes her through his origins and she sees his story unfold.
Dungeons & Dragons fans will know Vecna from the fantasy board game as a powerful wizard turned evil lich. The name Vecna is an anagram for science fiction author Jack Vance, whose work inspired D&D.
“Stranger Things” creators the Duffer Brothers were inspired by their favorite 80s horror villains like Pennywise, Pinhead, and Freddy Krueger. And given that the season’s homage to “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Freddy was the biggest influence on the character. Campbell had his own inspirations as well, citing Dracula as one of the figures on his “mood board” for the role. The actor also played a young Gellert Grindelwald in the “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” franchises. Though likely unintentional, there are some similarities between the characters, both being dark wizards of sorts with a similar desire for freedom from societal constraints and reshaping the world.
While Chapter Seven revealed Vecna’s backstory, we still don’t know what life was like for Henry before the move, other than he was an outsider. As Vecna, his actual role in the Upside Down is still largely unknown. Could he be another foot soldier for the Mind Flayer, or just a “resident” in the realm? Vecna’s involvement in the timeline of “Stranger Things” universe isn’t fully explained either, but it sure seems to be significant.
Hopefully, we’ll have all the answers when Volume II drops in July 2022.