“He refused to talk about the town of Jerusalem’s Lot…”
This is the first book read from my list for this year’s RIPXVIII. I very rarely get a chance to read anything that might be considered genre so I’m a bit naive when it comes to the challenge of finding something suitably horror that still retains some semblance of literary talent. I had read Carrie years ago (King’s first published book that is both enjoyable and well-written) and dabbled in some of his shorter works–short stories, an essay, and a novella or two. So, when I decided to take up this year’s RIPXIII, I went straight to Stephen King.
In the supplementary introduction and afterword, King talks about his love for Dracula, a book he read as a child and subsequently taught when he was briefly a high school teacher. This book was the catalyst for writing Salem’s Lot. He “wanted to tell a tale that inverted Dracula.” Where the “optimism of Victorian England shines through everything like the newly invented electric light” in Dracula, the characters of Salem’s Lot, fought off the evil with weapons and know-how from folklore.
In Salem’s Lot, King’s second novel, he is at the top of his game. He has always been a writer that takes something so ordinary in our lives and makes it incredibly creepy and evil. Also, being richly influenced by Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, King takes us on our way. The book opens with the information that a small town in Maine has become abandoned. It’s as if all of the residents just blew away.
Ben Mears, a semi-successful writer, returns to the Lot, a town where he spent some of his childhood. He visits the Marsten House, which has a murderous history of its own, and is intent on renting it. However, Ben soon finds out it has been purchased already by a pair of mysterious out-of-towners. What King does so well is to set up a perfectly average place and then slyly unravels it, revealing all of the nasty bits.
I am always fascinated by the concept of penning a truly frightening book. I am a big lover of The Haunting of Hill House (along with other works by Jackson) and I was so impressed how she made the house pulsate like it was its own character. King does the same thing. The scariest moments were when you didn’t see anything at all. When two workmen are hired to bring boxes into the cellar of the Marsten House, I felt all of the anxiety that those two characters felt.
“There are evil men in the world, truly evil men. Sometimes we hear of them, but more often they work in absolute darkness.”
By not complicating the “rules” and the “evil,” King has written a book that truly does go bump in the night. His vampires are hissing, bloodsucking villains of yesteryear. It seems, lately, that many vampires are sexy, glowing creatures with a slight moral code. Not these baddies. For a while now, I have had an interest in Slavic folklore concerning vampires. It was a pleasure to see the protagonists grabbing bulbs of garlic and negotiating who will be staking whom.
In our culture, we have an unfortunate divide between literary and commercial and in most case, never the two shall meet. I’m of the belief that there are schlocky works of literature and commercial fiction, as well as highly merited of both category. Also, sometimes the divide is correct but I’ve always thought of Stephen King as one of those writers who can combine both.
I also recommend Viy by Nikolai Gogol for those interested in a tale of a more Slavic folklore vain. The story is available for FREE through Project Gutenberg and you can watch the 1967 Russian film adaptation for free online through YouTube (with English subtitles; also you might have to watch it directly on YouTube’s website).