‘Salem’s Lot (1975) – Stephen King

I had a tough time with the horror genre when I was a child. My imagination was always much more powerful than any image I may have glimpsed through my fingers and consequently, I couldn’t watch them. But I was intrigued by spooky ideas.

It wasn’t until I was 12 going on 13 that I decided to venture further into the genre, reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for my required summer reading for school, and then ventured into Stephen King territory. ‘Salem’s Lot was the first King novel I read, and while I had trouble reconciling the cover image of Barlow with his description in the book (I was reading the silver cover edition which featured the Nosferatu-like Barlow on the cover from the mini-series, and contained pictures from said series), I enjoyed my first foray into the King-verse and became a devout reader at that moment.

I figured it had been a while since I read this one, almost forty years, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at it.

It’s not as scary as I remember, though the floating dead kids outside the window is an image that stays with you. It’s more of a creeping fear than anything else. A slow build to a bloody confrontation.

The story follows writer Ben Mears who returns to ‘Salem’s Lot, Maine, to find some quiet and work on his new book, which may or may not have something to do with the old Marsten House, a place that has haunted Ben since his youth.

Arriving in the small town he discovers that the house has been rented, and the sleepy little town with its secrets and lives is slowly dying.

The story guides us through the town, a number of its inhabitants, and their lives. It may be quiet, but at the moment it’s vibrant, in its own way. But the arrival of the unseen Kurt Barlow, and his business associate Straker signal that the vibrancy is on its way out. Permanently. Because Barlow is a vampire!

There are hints of trouble, and bloody encounters in the first half of the book, slowly building to the confrontations the reader knows is inevitable. King takes his time doling things out, building menace, and fear until the confrontation is inescapable, and while not necessarily a full-out potboiler, it’s definitely an engaging read.

Barlow’s vampire, as portrayed in the book, feels very much like an homage to Stoker’s Dracula, with nods to his appearance, his powers, and his effect on people. He’s not quite as monstrous and frightening as the cover and the inset pictures made him out to be. But that makes him scary in a different way. He’s charming, knows what you want, and can very much mesmerize you into doing his work for him.

Ben will run the gambit before the story’s end, finding love, confronting old demons, and one character will fall out of this story and find his way into another.

It was fun revisiting ‘Salem’s Lot again, and I’ll be checking in with more of King’s stories again soon.

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