I’m not sure if it’s the best time to review ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King . . . or the worst. Since King depicts vampire bites and turning somewhat like a viral disease, this book will either make your more anxious or remind you that it could be worse . . .
. . . we could all be turning into vampires?
That’s not exactly comforting, but these days I’m looking for silver linings where I can!
I read ‘Salem’s Lot at the end of 2019, right after I finished Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. And now, I’m really sort of interested in how authors continue to evolve this vampire trope in literature. If I ever go for a doctorate in Literature, maybe that can be my dissertation thesis . . .Literary Vampires: When He Goes from Having You for Dinner to Taking You Out to Dinner. Or, something like that.
‘Salem’s Lot was King’s second novel, published in 1975, after Carrie.The story revolves around the protagonist, Ben Mears, a writer who returns to a town where, in his childhood, he witnessed something horrific in the Marsten House — ‘Salem’s Lots own “haunted house.” Although swiftly entangled in a romantic affair with the town’s sweetheart, Susan, Ben cannot seem to get the Marsten House out of his mind. As it turns out, this is for good reason. Children start to go missing, dead animals are hung outside the cemetery as if sacrificed, and villagers start acting pretty funny. Instead of writing a horror novel, Ben starts living one.
I won’t give much away, except that at the heart of the novel, what the town seems to deal with is vampiric in nature. But, unlike my last read (A Discovery of Witches), these vampires of the ones of old — monsters that cannot step out into sunlight and scurry away from crosses, holy water, and garlic. They prey on the villagers, spreading the vampiric “virus” until nearly the entire town becomes one of vampires.
I probably was supposed to be scared. But. . . I just wasn’t.
I’ve read two other King novels: The Shining (1977) and Pet Semetary (1983). They’re terrifying. They both have supernatural elements, but I think what is most terrifying in those novels is that humans can be just as evil and twisted — if not more so — than the supernatural beings and forces that surround them.
Part of me wonders if King just didn’t have this theme down as a writer yet when he wrote his second novel . . .
. . . OR, has Stephanie Myers ruined vampires for me? Are vampires just not scary anymore because they sparkled and take you out for a fancy dinner?
Then again, there’s nothing scarier to me than dating an overprotective, controlling, semi-abusive jerk, which many of today’s romantic vampires are.
Even if not too scary, ‘Salem’s Lot is a good book and an enjoyable read.
Some Favorite Passages:
In America missing persons are as natural as cherry pie. We’re living in an automobile-oriented society. People pick up stakes an move on every two or three years. Sometimes they forget to leave an forwarding address. Especially the deadbeats.10
Places change. Like people.19.
If there was a home, it had been here. Even if it had only been four years, it was his.22
There were fourteen steps, exactly fourteen. But the top one was smaller, out of proportion, as if it had been added to avoid the evil number.24
In all small towns, scandal is always simmering on the back burner, like your Aunt Cindy’s baked beans. The bend produced most of the scandal, but every now and then someone with a little more status added something to the communal pot.42-3
the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.44
The scandal and violence connected with the house had occurred before their births, but small towns have long memories and pass their horrors down ceremonially from generation to generation.51
We all have our bad dreams.59
there may be some truth in that idea that houses absorb the emotions that are spent in them, that they hold a kind of . . . dry charge. Perhaps the right personality, that of an imaginative boy, for instance, could act as a catalyst on that dry charge, and cause it to produce an active manifestation of . . . something. I’m not talking about ghosts precisely. I’m talking about a kind of psychic television in three dimensions. Perhaps even something alive. A monster, if you like.59
Sometimes I wonder that the very boards of those houses don’t dry out with the awful things that happen in dreams.59
Well, that was just it. In the midst of life, we are in death.74
He had ranged across the length and breadth of the English language like a solitary and oddly complacent Ancient Mariner: Steinbeck period one, Chaucer period two, the topic sentence period three, and the function of the gerund just before lunch. His fingers were permanently yellowed with chalk dust rather than nicotine, but it was still the residue of an addicting substance107
Deals with the devil, all right, Larry thought, shuffling his papers. When you deal with him, notes come due in brimstone.135
You’re the stranger in town until you been here twenty years.160
The town has a sense, not of history, but of time, and the telephone poles seem to know this. If you lay your hand against one, you can feel the vibration from the wires deep in the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.167
She said there are evil men in the world, truly evil men. Sometimes we hear of them, but more often they work in absolute darkness. She said she had been cursed with a knowledge of two such men in her lifetime. One was Adolf Hitler. The other was her brother-in-law, Hubert Marsten.181
There’s little good in sedentary small towns. Mostly indifference spiced with an occasional vapid evil — or worse, a conscious one.192
Dark, don’t catch me here.211
Most bullies, he had decided, were big and clumsy. They scared people by being able to hurt them. They fought dirty. Therefore, if you were not afraid, of being hurt a little, and if you were willing to fight dirty, a bully might be bested.219
Talk did no good with bullies. Hurting was the only language that the Richie Boddins of the world seemed to understand, and Mark supposed that was why the world always had such a hard time getting along.219
Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you.223
God, right, goodness, they were names for the same thing — in to battle against EVIL.239
But there were no battles. There were only skirmishes of vague resolution. And EVIL did not wear one face but many, and all of them were vacuous and more often than not the chin was slicked with drool. In fact, he was being forced to the conclusion that there was no EVIL in the world at all but only evil — or perhaps (evil). At moments like this he suspected that Hitler had been nothing but a harried bureaucrat and Satan himself a mental defective with a rudimentary sense of humor — the kind that finds feeding firecrackers wrapped in bread to seagulls unutterably funny.241
nobody beat the system or won the game, and only suckers ever thought they were ahead243
Of course monsters existed; they were the men with their fingers on the thermonuclear triggers in six countries, the hijackers, the mass murderers, the child molesters. But not this.260
humans manufacture evil just as the manufacture snot or excrement or fingernail pairings. That it doesn’t go away. Specifically, that the Marsten House may have become a kind of evil dry cell; a malign storage battery311
Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.315
If afear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered. And the fears locked in small brains are much too large to pass through the orifice of the mouth.316
The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar.316
The town knew about darkness. It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul321
This melting pot never melted very much.321
These are the town’s secrets, and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face. The town cares for devil’s work no more than it cares for God’s or man’s. It knew darkness. And darkness was enough.327.
‘Salem’s Lot is my town. If something is happening there, it’s real. Not philosophy.342
Monsters in the movies are sort of fun, but the thought of them actually prowling through the night isn’t fun at all.341
The people have not cut off the vitality which flows from their mother, the earth, with a shelf of concrete and cement. Their hands are plunged into the very waters of life. They have ripped the life from the earth, whole and beating! Is it not true?363
They have never known hunger or want, the people of this country. It has been two generations since they knew anything close to it, and even then it was like a voice in a distant room. They think they have known sadness, but their sadness is that of a child who has spilled his ice cream on the grass at a birthday party. Thee is no . . . how is the English? . . . alternation in them. They spill each other’s blood with great vigor. Do you believe it? Do you see?363
I dreamed of them going to houses and calling on phones and begging to be let in. Some people knew, way down deep they knew, but they let them in just the same. Because it was easier to do than to think something so bad might be real429
I bet he’s got half the town after last night. If we wait any longer, he’ll have it all. It will go fast, now.428
It was darker than Technicolor movie blood. Looking at it made him feel sick, but looking at Straker made him feel nothing.446
The essential and defining characteristic of childhood is not the effortless merging of dream and reality, but only alienation. There are no words for childhood’s dark turns and exaltations. A wise child recognizes it and submits to the necessary consequences. A child who counts the cost is a child no longer.449
The final thought in this hospital-bed train of reasoning was the hideous possibility that one’s body might not be a friend at all, but an enemy implacably dedicated to destroying the superior force that had used it and abused it ever since the disease of reason set in.453
No one pronounced Jerusalem’s Lot dead on the morning of October 6; no one knew it was. Like the bodies of previous days, it retained every semblance of life.474
But they say fire purifies . . . . Purification should count for something, don’t you think?652
What are your thoughts about vampire literature?
Do you have a favorite passage from ‘Salem’s Lot? Try choosing one to imitate or lead your thinking and write something of your own. Use your surroundings of current events to inspire a plot!
Trigger Warnings: blood, gore, graphic injuries; death (murder)