A Blood Curdling Look at Small Town Life: My Review of ‘Salem’s Lot

Ah, autumn…

Is there anything better/

What’s not to love about my favorite season?

The temperatures are finally cooling down…

(The fact that I live in South Carolina and am still wearing capris and a tank top while typing this is completely irrelevant.  I originally hail from the Barony of Indiana…and…well…you can take the girl out of Indiana, and I think we all know the rest…)

autumn 1

And the food too.  I can finally make soups and drink hot mulled apple cider without looking ridiculous…yum.

(But no pumpkin spice.  I am already pretty white, and ingesting anything with pumpkin in it…well, I just might be washed out!  Plus pumpkin spice is just plain nasty anyway.)

pumpkin spice meme 1

And Halloween is almost upon us!

Not that horror really needs a season…Michael Myers, Jack Skellington and Pennywise the Clown are welcome (in my head at least) any time of year!

Pennywise 5

As are Stephen King and his various creations! And not just in my head, either! Heck, if The Master wanted to visit me at my humble abode, who I am to turn him down?  (Hey, an obsessed fan can dream, can’t she?)

Stephen King

So yes, we are back to Stephen King.  A total surprise on the blog, I know.

But, again.  It’s fall.  It’s the season for monsters.  And serial killers.  And scary clowns.

And let’s not forget one of the baddest Big Bads of them all…

Yes, the vampire!  Those blood sucking, nasty evil creatures!

And for the record, real vampires don’t sparkle!  That’s right folks, you heard it on this little blog first!

Blade Twilight

No, I am talking about the ones that are bad ass motherfuckers!  The ones you DON’T want to run into in a dark alley!  The ones who may still be sexy in a creepy way, but who will still murder and/or enslave you in a heartbeat!

And vampires have permeated our culture.  They are everywhere, from the world of Anne Rice, to the Twilight trilogy (shudder) and have even made appearances as characters in professional wrestling.

E&C 1

So much love for the vampires.

But none of these guys would likely be here and would be discussed in this little old blog if it wasn’t for The Master

No, I am not talking about their creator, whoever (or whatever) he/she may be.

The Master 1

No, I am talking about the novel ‘Salem’s Lot.  Written by The Master.

Yes, Stephen King is responsible for the birth of the “modern” vampire.  In essence, he is the “father” of the modern vampire.

Before ‘Salem’s Lot, you had Bram Stoker and Dracula.  Which were (and still are) awesome.  But even King himself said that Dracula probably wouldn’t make it in modern day New York City.  Would probably get mowed over by a cab or something, and that would be the end.

So King, being The Master, did what a good Master does:  he improvised.  He moved Dracula to small town USA.  And it was brilliant:  the result was the masterpiece we call ‘Salem’s Lot.  With (my imaginary) subtitle:  Dracula discovers 20th century small town life.

And it’s a bloody good book…it doesn’t suck (see what I did there.)

And here it goes:  here is my attempt to recap and review this masterpiece…

So buckle up, all both  of you, and let’s take a journey to that unfortunate hamlet known as Jerusalem’s Lot!


 

Synopsis

The book begins with the introduction of an unnamed man and unnamed adolescent boy.  We are told that the boy and man are not in fact, father and son, even though many people make that mistake.  The man and boy appear to be on the run from something, and end up traveling the country, but they eventually settle in a village in Mexico.  The man buys an American newspaper, and is looking for information on a town in Maine called ‘Salem’s Lot.  He then reads an article stating that the town has become a ghost town, and that several people from the town are inexplicably missing. The man tries to speak to the boy about ‘Salem’s Lot, but the boy clams up. The boy, who has become fluent in Spanish, then seeks out a Catholic priest to make a confession.  With the help of an interpreter, the boy makes his confession.  The priest and the interpreter later speak to the man, confirming the veracity of the story.  The priest tells the man that it is one of the strangest stories he has ever heard in his lifetime.

The story then switches over to the perspective of a man named Ben Mears.  Ben is a writer who has moved back to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot (‘Salem’s Lot for short) so that he may gain inspiration for his next book.  Ben meets woman in park named Susan Norton, who happens to be reading one of his books.  Ben immediately notices that Susan is reading his book, and also immediately notices how attractive Susan is.  Ben takes Susan out for an ice cream soda, where the two reminisce about their childhood in ‘Salem’s Lot.  Ben asks Susan out on a date, and she accepts.  Ben and Susan’s chemistry becomes more apparent on their date, and Susan invites him to her house the next evening, so that he may meet her parents.  Ben also talks some more about his childhood, and tells Susan that he attempted to rent the old Marsten House, the local “haunted” house.  Ben tells Susan about an experience he had as a boy in the Marsten House:  he accepted a dare to enter the Marsten House and steal a “souvenir.”  Ben stole that souvenir, but also encountered what he believed to be the ghost of Hubie Marsten, the house’s previous owner who had killed his wife and committed suicide.  Ben believes that he has seen Hubie Marsten right before his death, and his description is gruesome.  When Susan asks him why he did not rent the house, Ben informs her that the house has been sold and is not available to rent.

Ben Mears 1

The book begins to introduces some other characters.  These include:  Mike Ryerson, a grave digger who finds the body of a dog who has been crucified; Mark Petrie, a pre-teen boy whose family has just moved into town and who has a confrontation with the school bully; Matthew Burke, an English teacher at the local high school; and Larry Crockett, a real estate agent who sells the Marsten House to a man named Richard Straker, in a questionable deal where Crockett also promises Straker that he will keep all of their dealings a secret from the rest of the town.

The next evening, Ben has dinner with Susan and her parents.  Susan’s dad approves of Ben, while Susan’s mother does not.  That same evening, two local boys named Danny and Ralphie Glick leave their parents house to visit Mark Petrie, the new kid in town.  On the way to Mark’s house, the boys sense an unknown presence in the woods.  Hours later, Danny returns to parents’ house, minus his brother Ralphie.  Danny is unable to tell his parents and the local authorities what happened, and seems to be dazed.  Danny later collapses at home, and is rushed to the hospital to be treated for an unknown ailment.  A dark presence is said to be prowling the local cemetary, and appears to be carrying the body of a child.  Two men who were hired to help Larry Crockett move some packages for Richard Straker see what appears to be the body of a child when moving those packages.

Ben continues to spend time with Susan.  He discusses his research on the Marsten House with her, telling her that Hubie Marsten likely murdered children while he was alive.  Ben is worried because the house is occupied again, and a child has disappeared.

Ben heads to the local bar one night for a beer.  He meets Matt Burke at the bar, and the two become fast friends.  Matt asks Ben to speak to one of his classes, and Ben happily obliges.

Danny Glick suddenly passes away and the causes are unclear.  His funeral is officiated by Father Donald Callahan, a Catholic priest who is an alcoholic.  The entire town, including Ben and Susan, is shocked by the death.

Mike Ryerson is tasked with burying Danny Glick, and feels that something odd is happening when he tries to bury the boy.  Mike begins to feel ill and not himself almost immediately.  Mike encounters Matt at the local bar.  Matt becomes considered for his former student, and invites him to spend the night at his house.  However, Matt hears some odd noises in the middle of the night, and checks on Mike.  It appears that Mike had died in his sleep.  Matt becomes upset and calls Ben, who immediately comes over to help Matt.  Matt also requests that Ben bring him a rosary or a cross.  Ben then suggests that Matt call the police, along with a doctor.  The local police come to Matt’s house, along with one of the local doctors, Jimmy Cody, who is also one of Matt’s former students.  Dr. Cody confirms that Mike has died, and the police ask Matt and Ben the routine questions.  The authorities also notice that the window is open and the screen door is missing.  Matt realizes that something odd is going on, and tells Ben that he believes Mike was attacked by a vampire.  Ben is skeptical, but is also afraid to not believe what Matt is telling him, as he believes Matt to be a credible source.

Susan argues with her mother over Ben, and tells her parents that she plans to move out.  Susan’s mother becomes upset, and insinuates that Ben may be involved in the recent disappearance of Ralphie Glick.  Susan mother also tells her that Ben was involved in a motorcylcle accident that resulted in the death of his wife.  According to the research by the local authorities, Ben was was cleared of any wrongdoing, although Susan’s mother is still suspicious.  However, Susan receives a troubling phone call:  her ex boyfriend, Floyd Tibbits has attacked Ben, putting him in the hospital with a concussion and several other injuries.

Susan visits Ben in the hospital, and Ben gives her some information about what is going on in the town and what happened at Matt’s house.  Susan then visits Matt, who fills her in on the rest of the story.  Susan is also skeptical, but does not quite disbelieve Matt.  Matt then hears an odd noise in the guest bedroom, and goes upstairs to investigate, holding his cross, while Susan stands guard.  Matt then encounters a creature who resembles the supposedly deceased Mike Ryerson.  The creature tells Matt that “he will sleep like the dead.”  Matt brandishes his cross and the creature vanishes.  Matt then suffers a massive heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.

We also learn that Marjorie Glick, Ralphie and Danny Glick’s mother, has passed away.  Before she dies, Marjorie tells her husband that her deceased son is visiting her in her dreams.  Marjorie also appears to be feeling unwell, but her husband chalks that up to grief, and believes that her dreams are also the result of grief.

Floyd Tibbits has also passed away in his jail cell.  Floyd’s demeanor was noted to be very odd by the local authorities, as he was avoiding sunlight and sleeping throughout the day before he passed away.

Ben, Susan, Matt and Dr. Cody meet in the hospital.  Ben and Matt tell the story of what is going on in the town to the doctor, and also tell the doctor that they believe the town is being attacked by vampires.  Susan is still skeptical, but Dr. Cody has a more open mind.  Dr. Cody also tells the group that several bodies of the recently deceased have disappeared, including the body of Mike Ryerson.  Dr. Cody volunteers to exhume the body of Danny Glick and perform an autopsy, to see if there is anything out of the ordinary.  Matt has begun his research on vampire mythology, and tells Ben and Susan to keep crosses on them at all times.

In the meantime, Mark Petrie also has an encounter with a creature that appears to be Danny Glick.  Mark remembers that vampires must be invited, and refuses to succumb to the creature.  Mark is also able to fend off the creature with a plastic cross that is part of his monster toy set.

The next night, Ben (who has been discharged from the hospital) and Dr. Cody sit with the body of Marjorie Glick, to test Matt and Ben’s vampire theory.  The theory is confirmed when the body of Marjorie Glick comes to life and attacks Jimmy Cody.  Ben is able to fend off the creature with a cross, but the body disappears, and Ben and Dr. Cody must come up with a cover story for the local authorities.

Susan pays a visit to the Marsten house, and meets Mark there.  Both desire to confront Straker and Barlow in regards to the odd events that have occurred in the town.  But both Susan and Mark are captured by Straker, who intends to turn them into vampires.  However, Mark is able to escape and kills Straker, who is actually Barlow’s human familiar.  Susan is not so lucky and becomes one of the Undead.

Father Callahan visits Matt, and the two discuss a way to rid the town of the vampire infestation.  The infestation is becoming quite bad, as many people in the town begin to exhibit unusual symptoms and behavior.

Mark meets with Ben, Matt and Dr. Cody, and informs Ben that Susan is now a vampire.  The group makes a plan to try to attack Barlow, as Barlow is the master vampire.  Father Callahan, Ben and Dr. Cody head to the Marsten House to seek out Barlow and kill Susan.  They do not find Barlow there, but do find a taunting letter from him.  The group also finds Susan.  Ben reluctantly drives a stake through Susan’s heart, so that she may achieve her final peace.  Father Callahan also blesses the house to rid it of evil.

The next day, Father Callahan accompanies Mark Petrie to speak with Mark’s parents, to make them aware of what is going on in the town.  Mark’s parents are skeptical, but are attacked and killed by Barlow, who has crept into the house.  Mark flees, and Father Callahan attempts to face Barlow on his own.  However, the priest’s faith falters, and he is unsuccessful in his attempt to defeat Barlow.  Barlow forces Callahan to drink from his blood, rendering Callahan unclean.  Father Callahan attempts to go back to his church, but is unable to enter, as he has partaken the blood from Barlow, and also burns his hand on the door of the church.  Father Callahan is disgraced, and flees town on a Greyhound bus.

Mark makes his way back to Ben and tells Matt, Ben and Dr. Cody what happened to his parents.  The men make plans to attempt to destroy the vampires, but do not know where Barlow’s new lair is.

Dr. Cody and Mark meet at the boardinghouse Ben is staying in, so that they make as many wooden stakes as possible to attempt to destroy the vampires.  Jimmy realizes that Barlow’s new lair is actually the boardinghouse and warns Mark, but Jimmy is killed by a booby-trap placed in the cellar by Barlow, who is seemingly one step ahead of Ben and his remaining friends.

Mark flees back to Ben and tells him what happened to Dr. Cody.  Ben attempts to contact Matt, but is told by the hospital that Matt has died of a massive heart attack.  Ben tells Mark that they must try to destroy Kurt Barlow if the town has any chance of survival.

Mark and Ben then make their way back to the boardinghouse, and find the body of Kurt Barlow, along with several others from the town who have been transformed into vampires.  Ben is able to kill Kurt Barlow with a stake through the heart, but several of his vampire offspring remain in the town, and most of the other inhabitants of the town are either turned into vampires or are killed.  A few, such as Ben and Mark, are able to flee town.  Ben and Mark eventually end up in Mexico, where Mark confesses the story to a Catholic priest.  Mark and Ben then decide to return to town to finish the job.

Mark and Ben return to ‘Salem’s Lot almost a year after the horrible events.  They set fire to the town, but it is unknown if the fire is successful in destroying the vampires.  Mark and Ben leave town again, their business in ‘Salem’s Lot finished.

'Salem's Lot 4


 

My Thoughts

So.  Many.  Thoughts.  Such.  A.  Long. Blog.  Post.

‘Salem’s Lot is a book about vampires.  And it is a great book about vampires…

But there are couple of other things that we need to talk about, in order to have an intelligent discussion about this book.

Surprise, there is more to ‘Salem’s Lot than the vampires!  I know, more to a Stephen King book than meets the eye…who knew???

A part of that “more than meets the eye” is the Marsten House.  King has written about haunted houses, haunted hotels and even haunted towns (Derry is a prime example of that) in other books, but ‘Salem’s Lot was his second book published under his name.  So it’s possible that ‘Salem’s Lot and the Marsten House was simply a “warm-up” for him, for later books like The Shining or even Black House

black house 1

But man, does he do the haunted house aspect of ‘Salem’s Lot well.

Yes, ‘Salem’s Lot is also a haunted house book.  It may actually be a haunted house book almost as much as it is a vampire book.  The Marsten House is another character, just like Ben and his friends, and plays a huge role in the book.  Not only does it provide a creepy setting (the head vampire bunks there, natch), it allows the reader to get to know Ben.  That house was a huge part of Ben’s childhood, and seeing it through Ben’s (borderline obsessive) adult eyes is fascinating.  The house has probably colored much of Ben life, such as his choice of a career, and his decision to return to town after so many years.  The house may have even played a role in Ben’s decision to become a writer, because it made him aware of the mysteries of the universe and so forth.

'Salem's Lot 3

Plus, that house is just plain creepy!  It’s on unhallowed ground because its namesake committed suicide on it?  Shudder!  And it was the site for so many evil acts (Hubie sacrificing children and then killing himself and his wife).  I think King could fill a book with that house’s story…maybe someday he will do just that, if we are lucky!

Speaking of characters that are not people per se…

‘Salem’s Lot.  Yes, the town itself.  I am also going to count the town as a character…

No, I have not lost my mind (you can’t lose what you never had, so I am told).

All kidding aside, the town is a character as well.  We are given so much information about the town and the people that live there.  The gossipy old lady Mabel Worts.  The boy on the farm who wants to drop out of school.  The proprietor of the drugstore who looks up women’s skirts.  The town bully.  An alcoholic priest who listens to everyone’s sins, including the lady who beats her baby.  A wife who cheats on her husband with the telephone company guy.  I could go on and on…

I grew up in a small town.  I have since moved on to bigger and better, and sometimes I look back upon my childhood with a certain amount of nostalgia…

small towns 1

Until I read a Stephen King book (since so many of them are centered around small towns).  And the king of horror (see what I did there) gives me a reality check.  Yes, small towns can be charming.  But like almost anything else (well, except for Furbies…I don’t see any good in those fuckers), they have their dark side.  ‘Salem’s Lot is a reminder of that.  It is quaint.  We can’t argue that.  But it is ugly too.  Men beat their wives with no recourse.  Bullies rule the schoolyard with iron fists.  There are residents who are just tragic, such as the Weasel Craigs, good men who drink their pain away and become shadows of their former selves.  So I become objective about my childhood once again, and see all sides of the pancake.

Salem's lot 2

Stephen King writes the small town really well.  ‘Salem’s Lot was  the first one (Derry, Castle Rock and Harlow are just a few more later examples) and will probably not be the last.  Again, the man knows how to realistically depict a small town, weaving together a tapestry where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So.  Vampires…

sparkely vampire 3

Whew, finally getting to them…

I know no other way to put, so I will come out and say it…

These vampires are scary as fuck.  There is no other way around it.

I hold a special place in my heart for Dracula (don’t want to run into him in a dark alley).  And the vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (good old William the Bloody, although I don’t care for his poetry too much).  And let’s not forget Louis and Lestat.

Spike

But these vampires…

Vampires are scary enough.  Maybe the scariest of the Big Bads.

But again, these vampires!

sparkly vampire 1

The notion of a child (Danny Glick) turning into one of the Undead is just horrible.  Profane even.  But awesome too.  If you are going to scare someone into a change pants, combine the sacred (a child) with the profane (a vampire).  And watch the pants come a’flying off!

salem's lot 3

And Kurt Barlow himself (Straker is not a picnic either).  He is scary because he is a vamp (duh) but also because he reminds us again and again, that he is not human (well, duh).  The booby trap that he sets for poor Dr. Cody is something that Ted Bundy would have been proud of, it is that ingeniously evil.  And he kills Mark’s parents by bashing their heads together right in front of Mark…I just have no words.  And none of these acts are supernatural.  They are just good old fashioned (in)human fuckery.  Simply brutal, because they have a touch of realism and could happen to any one of us.

Hell, the creature is so evil that his teeth are still alive even after he is killed.  His teeth bit Ben…ewww!  Can’t get much more evil than that, folks!

'Salem's Lot 2

 

 


 

Well, what a trip that’s been!  Do they make t-shirts for this?  Maybe one that says “I survived my trip to ‘Salem’s Lot, but all I got was this lousy bite mark on my neck!”  Too soon. you say?  Maybe, maybe not.  But, it is fall now.  And almost Halloween.  And ‘Salem’s Lot will also have a special place in my heart (near the jugular, actually), no matter what time of year it is.

'Salem's Lot 1


 

Connections

‘Salem’s Lot is a very early King work, but there are quite a few connections to his other books, and it is an important part of the King universe.  Here are the connections I found:

-Donald Callahan is the most obvious connection to King’s other works, mainly The Dark Tower series.  Callahan’s back story is told in book five of The Dark Tower series, The Wolves of the Calla.  Callahan becomes an integral member of Roland’s ka-tet, and plays a huge role in Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower in books six and seven of the series, The Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower, respectively.

Father Callahan

-In the novel Pet Sematary, Rachel Creed passes by a sign that gives directions to the town of ‘Salem’s Lot, and thinks to herself that it is not a very pleasant place to live.

pet semetary 1

-As stated before, ‘Salem’s Lot was King’s first foray into the concept of a haunted house.  However, it is not his last.  The Marsten House seems to be similar to a few other houses and buildings in King novels, which include the house on Neibolt Street (It), Black House (book of the same name), Rose Red (movie of the same name), the house on Dutch Hill (The Wastelands), and even the Overlook Hotel (The Shining).  It is possible that these structures are all Twinners to each other, as they share some similar traits.

gorg_and_mr_munshun

-The dog that is slaughtered in the beginning of the novel is similar to a dog encountered by Roland in the short story, The Little Sisters of Eluria, which is part of the collection Everything’s Eventual.  Both dogs have similar markings, which include a marking on the head that resembles a cross.

Sister Mary 1

-King has also written a prequel of sorts to ‘Salem’s Lot, a short story called Jerusalem’s Lot (Night Shift), along with a sequel of sorts, One for the Road (also part of the collection Night Shift).  Both of these stories provide some information in regards to the cursed town of ‘Salem’s Lot, but also raise many more questions that they answer.

the worm 1

 

 

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