TITLE: ‘SALEM’S LOT
AUTHOR: STEPHEN KING
PUBLISHER: NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
GENRE: HORROR FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in ‘Salem’s Lot was a summer of homecoming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to ‘Salem’s Lot hoping to cast out his own devils and found instead a new, unspeakable horror.
A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.
All would be changed forever–Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of ‘Salem’s Lot…
Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.
‘Salem’s Lot is one of my favourite King novels. I’ve read it at least half a dozen times. The 1979 TV mini-series is one of the best adaptations of King’s work (www.imdb.com/title/tt0079844). I haven’t read this one in a while so it was good to revisit and fall in love all over again. The town also features in the short stories Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road and the plight of Father Callahan, the priest who flees after being bitten by Barlow is played out in The Dark Tower novels.
I love the sense of place King creates in ‘Salem’s Lot. The novel is set in a small town in Maine, a common trend with King’s novels. King turns the lot into a real place. He brings the small town and the people to brilliant, vivid life. As I read ‘Salem’s Lot, I felt like I was really there, walking the streets, watching Ben write in his room at Eva’s boarding-house and eating at the diner. I love it when King sets his novels in a small town. He has great skill at making little towns remarkable, vivid and memorable. There’s something satisfying about reading a novel set in a little place where nothing much usually happens. This made a great contrast with the terrible events that happen in ‘Salem’s Lot. King does much the same thing in Needful Things. The novel would have had less of an impact if King set it in a large city.
King’s characterisation in ‘Salem’s Lot is on top form. There are quite a lot of important characters including Ben Mears, Susan Norton, Mark Petrie, Matt Burke, Jim Cody and of course, Straker and his vampire master, Barlow. There are also loads of minor characters. King makes every one of them memorable, real, flawed and human. I fell in love with the people in King’s little village a little bit. My heart went out to them when they start dropping like flies after Barlow arrives in town and rising again as vampires.
King doesn’t offer anything particularly original with ‘Salem’s Lot. In many ways this novel is typical of any horror novel that features vampires. King himself has stated this is a homage to Dracula. King manages to make ‘Salem’s Lot seem fresh and all shiny and new because he’s such a skilled writer. I find his older novels more satisfying that his more recent ones. I think the unique selling point of ‘Salem’s Lot is the small-town setting. Barlow, the creepy vampire is able to infiltrate the town and turn many of the residents into vampires. He starts with Danny Glick, a boy who dies in mysterious circumstances after his young brother goes missing. Danny infects Mike Ryerson who in turn infects someone else and so on and so forth until there are more vampires than people left. People disappear right left and centre, drop dead for no apparent reason and bodies go missing from the morgue. Things would have been very different if this had been set in a city.
I love the way King structures ‘Salem’s Lot. The novel opens in the present with Ben Mears and Mark Petrie on the run after fleeing the town. King then takes the action back in town to the moment Ben arrives in town. Ben spent some of his childhood in The Lot and is coming back to write a new novel about The Marsten House, the creepy old house that looms over the town and has been the focus of his nightmares since childhood when he thought he saw the ghost of Hubey Marsten who built the house. The action them moves forward in rapid succession until Ben and Mark flee. King then returns to the present when Mark and Ben return to the town, set it on fire and discuss going from house to house and wiping out any vampires that remain. This structure works really well. I also like the way King includes chapters that show various goings on in the town with chapters that focus on each of the main characters. I love the way King gradually reveals what happens as Barlow’s vampires start to take over.
Up next: Skeleton Crew, a collection of short stories.