Salem’s Lot is the 2nd novel by horror author Stephen King, it was released in 1975 as a successor to his first story Carrie which released the year prior. Salem’s Lot is often considered one of Kings best works, it sold very well and proved that King was a horror legend in the making and had the talent to be more than a one hit wonder.
Before we continue, this review is a part of our Stephen King Deep Dive series, I will be comparing the novel to the adaptations we have already discussed so there will be spoilers!.
A writer Ben Mears is returning to his home town of Jerusalem’s Lot to base his next story on a house of horrors from his childhood. When he was a child Ben was dared to break into the Marsten house where he soon saw the hanging body of Hubie Marsten. The image of the swaying corpse stuck with Ben his entire life and ever since the Marsten House had stayed abandoned and casting an eerie presence over the town.
The Marsten house has recently been purchased and converted into an antique store ran by Richard Straker, his business partner Kurt Barlow is never seen which leaves Ben feeling uneasy and we soon learn this is for good reasons.
While Mr Mears is definitely a more focused on character I wouldn’t necessarily call him the main character because in reality the entire town is put to paper giving almost every resident there own story and importance.
King is able to write in a way to give the town an established presence which can resonate with readers so that we have a full understanding of its layout, character relationships and the feeling that everyone knows each others business, it had a small town feel something that helped me feel connected to the book after once living in a small town myself.
So with all of the writing to ease us into Salem’s Lot it takes a long time for the vampires to actually come into the book, I’m talking more than 100 pages which is unfortunate because the novel is a bit of a slow burner, the first half of the book does take a little bit of patience but its definitely worth it for all of the horror we get in the second half.
I don’t think the legacy of Salem’s Lot has really done it many favors, when the book first came out no one knew it was vampires which helped with the patience of the Kurt Barlow’s reveal and also made certain scenes more creepy such as the disappearance of Ralphie Glick but because the book is so famous now we already know its vampires so we don’t have much of the initial mystery element to draw us in.
The book is really creepy and King has a natural talent of writing eerie and disturbing scenes which are genuinely scary, for me nothing is more upsetting than horror that involves children and this is no exception, there is a few scenes in this book that really freaked me out and both were to do with the children, the first was the initial vampire reveal with Danny Glick’s eyes open in the coffin and the window visiting scenes come to mind when discussing some of the scarier moments in the story.
Here is one of my favourite lines from the book which really shows how King can make his story telling scary without the use of visuals.
And in the awful heavy silence of the house, as he sat impotently on his
bed with his face in his hands, he heard the high, sweet, evil laugh of a child
-and then the sucking sounds.
There is a romance in the book between Susan Nolan and Ben Mears I never really got into this part of the story but by the end you do feel a little sorry for Ben after his reaction to her becoming a vampire.
Mark Petrie is easily the best character in this book, he is so cool in this and I feel like neither adaptation really did his character much justice, in the book he has nerves of steel and is from the beginning a bit of bad ass. This Mike takes down a massive school bully and is able to sleep straight after seeing his dead friend outside of his window, he is a natural escape artist and expert on all things monsters making him a perfect candidate for a vampire hunter.
One thing he does in the book I thought was really clever was tightening his muscles when being tied up by Richard Straker, he does this so that when his muscles relax it is easier for him to slip his binds.
Another really interesting character was definitely Father Callahan the local priest with a drinking problem who in this book becomes some what of leader to the vampire hunts nearing the conclusion, making an ultimate sacrifice to save Mark Petrie, Callahan is forced to drink the blood of Kurt Barlow but is not turned into a vampire, this gives Callahan ties to Satan preventing him from re-entering his church and heading down a dark path, he gets on a bus and flees Salem’s Lot a sad ending for such a prominent figure but he will return in a future entry of the Stephen King Mulitverse.
So there are some moments in the book that may upset some readers this includes child abuse, sexual assault, sexual themes and the deaths of children. I don’t want to go into any detail with these but these are really bad and are highly detailed so they could very easily cause some discomfort for some readers so please keep that in mind if you want to read this.
The most accurate adaptation is the 2004 mini series which not only made characters much more similar to how they were originally written but also took a lot of scenes directly from the original story, certain parts were definitely changed for example Father Callahan does not fight Ben Mears in the book and does not murder Matt Burke.
Unlike the 1979 version the 2004 adaptation includes some of the side characters stories, it has a big focus on Ben Mears past with the Marsten house and even Kurt Barlow is more closely mirrored in the 2004 version as in the book he does not have the blue skin and does talk, he is manipulative and charming convincing his victims to allow him to bite them and to become his followers.
The original mini series is really good and to be honest I actually prefer it to the remake but you cannot deny that for accuracy the 2004 version does take much more inspiration from Kings writing.
In our next deep dive we will be taking a look at Kings third novel The Shining so look forward to that!.
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