My Favorite Stephen King Novel
Somebody once said that nothing is original under the sun. I think it was Mark Twain and he probably got the idea from somebody else.
In novels, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the inspiration for Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot – he said so himself – but that’s where the comparisons end.
The Master of the Macabre infuses new blood (pardon the pun) into the vampire genre. It all started with the morbid dinner-table question: If vampires infest a small town in the middle of nowhere, would the authorities find them?
The answer is apparently a chilling "No!" as vampires invade the town of Jerusalem’s Lot before the citizens even knew what hit them.
Stephen King is not the greatest literary phenomenon in the 20th century for nothing. Salem’s Lot is a feast of vampires – both literal and allegorical. Evil comes from without and within.
One of the most thought-provoking scenes is the battle between the vampire and the priest. Father Callahan was defeated and the vampire told him why – because he doubted his faith. King highlights the lessons we tend to forget at out own peril: no demons can conquer us from without unless we let ourselves be conquered from within.
The King of Horror – a baseball fan – throws another curve-ball at our complacency: the guy who saves the town (the neighboring towns, at least) is an outsider and was unapologetically treated as such. Ben Mears is a writer who rented the abandoned Marsten House. It raised the eyebrows of the locals but it turns out that the haunted house was already rented to somebody else. It also turns out that the occupant is the vampire himself.
Stephen King summons us to his world of make-believe like a supernatural Pied Pier, but we go nonetheless because we want to believe. Conjuring up a terrifying atmosphere has become an art in King’s deft hand. When the delivery man unknowingly takes the vampire’s coffin – while the night was falling – we want to scream until we’re reminded that we are safely away from the action. But we keep coming back.
Stephen King’s vampires are easier to kill than those of Anne Rice’s. For one thing, a wooden stake driven into their hearts can actually turn them into dust in the wind like the fellow from Transylvania. But it doesn’t necessarily render them less deadly.
Vampires are more lethal than ghosts because they infect their victims to become just like them. It’s like level marketing but your investment is your life and your product is death. Apply that to Jerusalem’s Lot and what you get is a town populated by the Undead.
What you don’t know won’t hurt you because ignorance is bliss, that’s why vampires hypnotize you. The enemy feeds on your fear, but they are at their most powerful once they take away your will. That’s a traditional belief in folklore – and also a lesson in life.
There is a tradition of dismissing horror stories as mere popular entertainment. But that’s exactly the point: tales of the supernatural are popular precisely because they entertain the general public. This elitism can give literary critics a bad rep. That Stephen King is a first-rate writer is no question. The trouble is that his novels are too famous – right in the smack of the mainstream.
About two or three generations of teenagers and young adults grew up with King’s books such as the phenomenal breakthrough novel Carrie, the cult-favorite The Dark Tower trilogy, the epic The Stand, and of course, Salem’s Lot. Stephen King has become synonymous with terrifying bestsellers and prodigious output, averaging two major thousand-page wonders a year.
Even before John Grisham and Michael Crichton entered the scene, King was already writing successful novels that are instantly adapted into becoming successful movies, like the critically acclaimed Misery starring James Caan and Academy Award Winner Kathy Bates. Salem’s Lot has also been turn into a movie and was recently revived as a U.S. TV miniseries.
Adaptations, however, can never compete with literary works because the imagination of the readers takes the driver’s seat while going full blast with whatever the author springs up from his magic hat. When you visualize a situation where your neighbor is trying to suck your blood, you get really intrigued about what happens next. Only a top-class writer can do that to you.
Photo courtesy of SodaHead.