Growing Old in ‘Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot

Author: Stephen King
Page Count: 672
Available Formats: Print / eBook / Audio Book

But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.

When I was a kid, I was terrified by the tv-adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot. To this day, it scares the hell out of me. Especially the scene of a child vampire floating in front of a second-story window, knocking to be let in.

In high school, I, like many other geeky teenagers of the 1980s, began devouring King’s novels. And eventually, I got around to reading ‘Salem’s Lot. As King tells it, he was enchanted by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the vampires of EC Comics. And he wondered what would happen if Dracula showed up in the modern day. Initially, he pictured Dracula in New York City (with his wife joking, Dracula would immediately be run over by a taxi cab). However, he quickly settled on the idea of a vampire setting up shop in a small Maine town. He initially supposed the townspeople, and those who opposed the vampire were doomed. However, he found some of the characters he had created proved far more formidable than he’d anticipated.

‘Salem’s Lot follows author Ben Mears as he returns to Salem’s Lot, a small New England town he’d lived in for several years as a young child. The novel takes place in the then-contemporary mid-1970s, with many tales of its past decades. (All the way back to colonial times when we learned the town was named after a nasty sow, Jerusalem—”keep ye out of Jerusalem’s Lot”). Still mourning the death of his wife, he is hoping both to find inspiration in ‘Salem’s Lot and defeat some childhood demons, remembering the terror he experienced when visiting the town’s “haunted house,” the Marsten House, a house abandoned for decades since a murder-suicide ended the lives of rumored retired gangster Hubert Marsten and his wife Birdie way back in 1939. It even occurs to Ben that he might rent out the Marsten House—something he cannot do as a strange pair, Barlow and Straker, have just set up shop in town, purchasing space in town for an antique furniture shop as well as the Marsten House.

Shortly after the town’s newest residents arrive, people begin disappearing or dying in ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s almost as if a vampire has set up shop in town. But that’s not possible, is it?

Before everything starts falling apart, Ben gets to know people in the town, including dating a young woman and befriending an elderly teacher. King builds up a network of townspeople, some of whom join Ben in fighting the vampire threat. Their little group could almost be a Call of Cthulhu group of investigators—an author, an artist, a young middle school student, a medical doctor, a teacher, and a Catholic priest. As was especially true of early Stephen King novels, it might be best not to get too attached to the characters, as many meet rather horrific ends.

If you’ve never read it, should you seek it out? If you’re someone who absolutely cannot stand Stephen King—first of all, congratulations for making it this far—then it is doubtful you will enjoy it. I feel this is the novel (his second published) in that King really found his voice. I’ve always found King to be the modern master of New England horror, especially in his home state of Maine. Before the vampires show up, King truly brings the town and its people to life. And King does a great job with the tension of facing the undead, trying to accomplish that by daylight, before the time of the vampires. You can feel the hours and minutes ticking away.

The novel has aspects that some might find challenging. The world of 1975 was the modern day when the book was published, but now it is nearly five decades in the past, so be prepared for problems that are much easier to overcome in a world of cell phones. After several readings, I wonder what the master vampire’s plan was. He spends over a year getting ready to settle in the town, but once he’s unleashed, most townsfolk are overcome in just a few weeks. Perhaps the undead might find some twisted enjoyment in that (“it’s the journey, not the destination, my dear Igor”).

Most of our audience consists of tabletop RPG-ers. I’d offer it as an excellent example of a challenging adventure refereed by a fair GM—it is a very deadly scenario, and most characters do not survive, but victory is possible. I’d also recommend this as a great example of a party of “normals” that you might find in a zombie apocalypse of a Call of Cthulhu scenario.

At three in the morning the blood runs slow and thick, and slumber is heavy. The soul either sleeps in blessed ignorance of such an hour or gazes about itself in utter despair. There is no middle ground.

~ Daniel Stack
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