At one point in 11/22/63, Stephen King’s new novel about a man who travels back in time to try to stop the JFK assassination, the main character Jake Epping crosses paths with a pair of characters from his 1986 book It. I mention this in my review of the novel in this week’s issue of TIME, on stands this weekend.
In that piece, which you can read here if you’re a subscriber (or if you buy an issue), I characterize that digression as odd. Especially if you’ve never read It, which is about a group of kids from 1958 that temporarily thwart an evil foe that takes the form of a killer clown. In 11/22/63, two of those kids talk to Jake, dance and remind him of the joy of youth.
For a good part of his 40-year career, King has worked to create one single universe into which many of his books can fit. This has been made easy by the fact that the majority of them take place in Maine, in fictional small towns (Derry, Castle Rock, Jerusalem’s Lot, Little Tall Island) that he can use as settings again and again. Characters in books reference situations and characters from other books (1994’s Insomnia name-checks the unlucky little boy from 1983’s Pet Semetary) and even film adaptations of King novels. His seven (soon to be eight)-book Dark Tower series, about a world that serves as the keystone to all other parallel worlds, introduced a villain and his minions who show up in various guises in The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, Hearts in Atlantis, Insomnia, and Black House.
(MORE: Stephen King talks to TIME about his 10 Longest Novels)
King is sometimes criticized for shoehorning in references like this to prop up subpar books—that if they’re all linked in some way, then we’re not just talking about a one-off, but rather an interconnected body of work, which is more difficult to brush off. I’m not sure yet if I agree or disagree, though I can’t imagine having completely enjoyed Insomnia had I not read It and the first three Dark Tower books. What I will say, though, is that these intertextual references work as novelistic Easter Eggs — thrilling to fans who have the hard won knowledge to catch them. I dug when Richie Tozier and Bev Marsh popped up in 11/22/63 and started talking about the Turtle and the Barrens and the clown. When I told my co-worker Lev, who reviewed the book for this site, about it, he went something like “Huh. Wow. I never would have caught that. I liked the book anyway.”