Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
Vampire Invasion of Small Town America
Stephen King’s second novel is an exploration of the secrets and decline of the traditional American small town as well as a vampire hunting adventure in the tradition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The book presents and sustains two kinds of tension. First there is the story of Ben Mears, struggling as a writer and a recent widower, he returns to his childhood hometown: Jerusalem’s Lot. Secondly the novel works as a traditional horror story as dark forces seep into and destroy the town by exploiting the desires and weaknesses of it citizens.
Evil Moves to Maine
At first Ben comes to ‘Salem’s Lot to recover from the recent death of his wife and work on a novel about the Marsten House—a local manor with a violent past and a place that emotional damaged Ben as a child. He acclimates to the picturesque town by forming relationships with a local girl named Susan and the high-school English teacher, Matt. Life appears to be approaching normal again except two other men—Barlow and Straker—recently arrived in town, established and antique business, and moved into the ominous Marsten House.
After some children go missing, people begin to get ill and die at an alarming rate. After several near-death encounters, Ben and Matt are forced to conclude that vampires have come to ‘Salem’s Lot and are feeding on the populace, turning them into subservient vampires. They mount a clandestine defense but find themselves in over their heads. It is only through luck and determination that several characters manage to survive the vampire invasion, and they return to ‘Salem’s Lot with no choice but to purify it by fire.
I Forgot You Could Tempt Me With Things I Want
Barlow and his ilk are vampires of the traditional horror standard. They have more in common with the bloodthirsty revenants of Easter European folklore than they do with stylish Hollywood vampires seen in countless Dracula movies or the moody, glittering vampires in many contemporary novels. The vampires in ‘Salem’s Lot are nearly feral beasts compelled to feed by insatiable hunger and the willful commands of the ancient vampire, Kurt Barlow.
King also maintains a lot of the lore concerning the undead such as their need to be invited into buildings, their fear of sacred objects, and their powers of suggestion. It is this latter ability that works wonders in the novel as it allows the vampires to play upon the cravings and wants of the town’s inhabitants to make them offer themselves up as food or willing minions. The misshapen Dud, for instance, joins with Barlow when promised the local beauty queen, and Corey Bryant is seduced in vampirism to get revenge. The vampires come across as entirely predatory first by singling out and feeding on the weakest members of the town, and then by using the fears and desires of other theoretically stronger people to manipulate or coerce them into service.
Rural Maine Life
What has allowed the novel to age so well is King’s use of the horror story as an overlay of criticism about towns like ‘Salem’s Lot. That the town is literally bled dry is clearly a metaphor of what really happened to many factory and agriculture-based small towns as those occupations were out-sourced over the decades. Richard Russo and other authors write about this same idea minus the vampires. That ‘Salem’s Lot so quickly and quietly dies out and becomes a haven for the undead, however, is an indictment against the sentimentality that often surrounds the picture perfect idea of small-town America as though nothing scary or evil could take place there.
Though the novel starts slow and lacks the polish of some of King’s later novels, ‘Salem’s Lot makes for a terrifying read whose deeper meanings remain viable concerns and criticisms. While some historical anachronisms like a party line for a telephone service will date the story, the terror and concerns about the frailty of life in small town America remain as strong as ever.
King, Stephen. ‘Salem’s Lot. New York: Pocket Books, 1975.
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© 2010 Seth Tomko
Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on September 05, 2012:
Thanks again, John Sarkis. The various TV and film adaptations haven't been too bad, though I won't say the same for the sequels they spawned. If you enjoyed the 'Salem's Lot movie or miniseries, then I'd certainly recommend giving the book a read.
John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on September 04, 2012:
Hi satomko, another well written hub!
I really enjoyed the movie as well. It was one of the better "made for TV" movies in my personal opinion. ...scary when the vampire (master) crawls up from underneath the kitchen floor...
Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on June 27, 2011:
That doesn't sound like a bad cross-over at all, ruffridyer. I'm certainly no expert on King's novels, but so far I have enjoyed 'Salem's Lot the most.
ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on June 26, 2011:
I liked salems lot more than most of his books. In fact the last King book I read was Misery. I gave up on his books then because they usally disappointed me.
I think a good sequel would have the boy from salem's lot meet the girl from firestarter. They could team up and go back to the lot to destroy the vampires still hunting there with her fire skills. The men following her could get involved and when one is killed his partner could bury the body near the pet semetary!
I don't know where I come up with this stuff.
Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on June 07, 2010:
Great minds think alike, AJHargrove. Thank you for stopping by.
AJHargrove from USA on June 07, 2010:
I have to say I agree with the above comments. Dracula is still my favorite vampire novel out there, but Stephen King does an excellent job. (But I will admit this book took me some time to get through.)
Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on March 06, 2010:
Thanks E. Nicholson. I, too, feel let down by a lot of vampire stories.
E. Nicolson on March 06, 2010:
Good review. Has been years since I first read it, and is the only vampire story, other than Stoker's original, that I'll read.
Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on March 04, 2010:
Thank you SmieyC and wrypatch. I'm glad I did the novel justice.
wrypatch from Virginia on March 04, 2010:
Nice review. I also liked the off-shoot short stories he wrote taking place in 'Salem's Lot, such as "One for the Road," which was especially chilling (no pun intended, since it took place in a snowstorm).
Simon Cook from NJ, USA on March 04, 2010:
Very good review on an interesting book - it's interesting to see a good old classic rather than some of this 'trash' teenage vampire crap that is hitting our shelves now. I agree that King does stick to the old folk-lore very well in this book - King has a great way of telling a story and making you believe it!