Salem’s Lot * Stephen King (Or the best vampire book since Dracula)

“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 soul”

Vampires are so over-rated or so people think. We’ve had Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Strain, The Summoning, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and True Blood.
They weren’t even close to the amazing Dracula.
But “Salem’s Lot” comes pretty close. I’ve read it in two consecutive nights and by the end of it, I was stealing glances towards my hotel window, I was desperate to go and buy a cross necklace to hang around my throat and I was definitely afraid of vampires. Not the slightly effeminate types that seem to appear nowadays, but of true monsters that lurk in the dark and require blood and lives as subsistence.

“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 within the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.”


The Plot

This is one of the best horror books in my opinion as it plays with all the human fears: impotence in face of a larger enemy, loneliness, darkness, the unknown, the undead, the possibility of harm and death, the fear of killing something that cannot be killed, isolation.

 The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar.

She had always consciously or unconsciously formed fear into a simple equation: fears = unknown

It is worse if the fear that starts creeping into the town does not have a name and seems to emanate from a central house, sitting at the top of the hill. A haunted house, an evil house, where a monster lurks. But there is also another type of fear – fear of the darkness and monsters that live within, in the recesses of our souls.

If a fear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered.

Under the respectable surface of “Salem’s Lot” – a small town in Maine – there is a secret. There’s the usual corruption and lies and prejudice and child abuse and murders.

“Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick. They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.
As the sun nears the horizon, its benevolent yellow begins to deepen, to become infected, until it glares an angry inflamed orange. It throws a variegated glow over the horizon.”

From the very first pages of the novel we know that some terrible fate made ‘Salem’s Lot a ghost town with apparently only a couple of survivors. It doesn’t take the reader long to realize, as we go back in time to see how the events unfolded, that the mysterious menacing Marsten House welcomed new evil that tends to lurk at night, floating past your (hopefully, tightly shut) windows.

The story itself is rather straightforward, steadily moving along to its almost-conclusion that we have glimpsed in the first few pages, and we watch with bated breath as our bunch of good guys – Ben, Mark, Susan, Matt – are trying to take on the supernatural horror.

“There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.”

What was the most horrific part of this book for me? You’re going to guess wrong. It wasn’t the horror of the vampires. It was seeing a woman punch her ten month old baby in the face because he was crying. Yes, that bothered me more than any of the actual supernatural horror. I say to Mr. King that you know what fears lurk in our hearts. The dark is full of potential evil that can possess us, take over our bodies, and turn us into monsters. But, the truest monsters are the human ones. With this novel, Mr. King showed me both kinds of monsters.

‘Salem’s Lot harbored an ex-mobster who had a penchant for devil worship, who lived in a scary house on the top of a hill, the Marsten House. It was a house that haunted Ben Mears after he went there as a nine year old on a dare. He went there, and saw something that was from his worst nightmares, but he believed even in his adulthood to be true. The evil that Hubie Marsten brought into existence never died. The house held it as a battery holds a charge. It was the perfect place for a vampire and his evil minion to set up shop in this little town.


I read the introduction to this story with interest. I love knowing how an author came to craft his or her story. Mr. King was a fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and he wrote ‘Salem’s Lot as an unofficial homage to that classic vampire novel. In my inexpert opinion, I think he did a great job. I feel that Mr. Stoker would probably nod in approval, even if he didn’t get all the modern references. Mr. King wrote his idea of a vampire story, and it holds his individual stamp on it. Yet, the aspects that make Dracula such an excellent vampire novel, at least to this vampire aficionado, are clearly represented. Mr. Barlow could give Count Dracula a real run for his money as far as being a completely evil, despicable, and formidable being. His minion, Straker, could give Renfield some lessons in evil.

And Matt, Ben, Jimmy, Susan, Father Callahan, and Mark could compare notes with Van Helsing, Harker, Mina, Holmwood, and Quincy. But, if Mr. Stoker would forgive me, I think that Mr. King ramped up the fear level significantly, because his world is not sentimental and endowed with as many basically ‘good’ people. His world is full of flawed humanity who have really nasty proclivities, although I still feared for their safety and didn’t want them to succumb to the evil of the vampire that infected this town.

“It was a moment he remembered for years after, as though a special small slice had been cut from the cake of time. If nothing fires between two people, such an instant simply falls back into the general wrack of memory.”

In this story, we learn about the heights and depths of the human condition. How a person can bounce back from despair, face his/her worst fears, and quite possibly wrap his mind around events that cannot be real to an empirical mind. We learn about what a person’s limits are. Can you go into that house and do what needs to be done? Do you have the nerve? Or will you turn away and pretend it’s not happening, as some members of this town do, for their own sanity? Can a thirteen- year-old boy show the bravery that a seventy-year-old man in the twilight of his life lacks? Can a non-believer trust in the symbols of a faith that held no relevance to him, in the face of an evil that defies scientific explanation? All these questions are explored in this story, with answers that might surprise you.

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