Revisiting ‘Salem’s Lot by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

'Salem's Lot Paperback‘SALEM’S LOT was the first Stephen King novel I ever read.

I carried the paperback (with the bright red drop of blood dripping from the embossed black fang) everywhere I went. I’d picked it up used at — where else? — Carol’s Used Bookstore in good old downtown Edgewood, and by the time I was finished reading it, the cover was torn off and missing and most of the pages were dog-earred. I still have that copy today.

I was fifteen years old when I discovered ‘SALEM’S LOT. It was shortly after I’d read “The Monkey,” along with the rest of my tenth grade English class, and I was itching to try a full-length Stephen King book. I remember starting the novel on a school day. In the middle of class. My History teacher was not amused. Neither were my parents, a few days later, when I tried to sneak in a couple chapters during Sunday church service.

Hey, don’t blame me; I was fifteen. Blame Steve.

I hadn’t read a lot of adult fiction back in those days (I was mainly into non-fiction books about baseball and military history and every surfing magazine I could get my hands on), and I remember being most fascinated by the little stories within the big story of ‘SALEM’S LOT. Colorful — and often racy — tales of the Lot’s townspeople and their particular small town comings and goings.

'Salem's Lot Paperback No CoverI had read somewhere that ‘SALEM’S LOT was DRACULA (which I loved) meets PEYTON PLACE (which I had never heard of), but that didn’t mean much to me at the time. All I knew was that I found myself turning the pages like my fingers were on fire, something I had never experienced before with a novel.

Of course, I was eager to learn the fate of Ben Mears and his pretty young girlfriend, Susan Norton — not to mention the likes of Mark Petrie, Matt Burke, Father Callahan, and Jimmy Cody — as they tried to stop a centuries old vampire from bleeding the Lot dry (sorry, that couldn’t be helped); but for some reason I was just as anxious to learn about the dark history of the town itself and its many occupants.

I loved that Ben was a writer and Mark was brave and liked monsters and was close to my own age, and while I certainly related most closely with these two characters, I was just as captivated by folks like Mabel Werts and Mike Ryerson and Weasel Craig and Parkins Gillespie and the Glick family. Their individual stories touched me and made what was happening in the Lot that much more real and personal…and frightening.

'Salem's Lot Paperback Cover StampThis was to be my first lesson regarding what I believe makes Stephen King so popular still today. His characters; the people who live and breathe within his stories. They were so real that I learned to love and hate and fear for them — I learned to care about all of them. And, perhaps, in no other book was it more clear that these characters were just like you and me; just like the people who lived next door to us and shopped at the same grocery stores and waited in the same lines at the post office and sat in the same traffic jams with us.

Even at fifteen, I understood that Stephen King had brought horror home to me. To the neighborhood right next to mine. Or the town just down the road from where I lived.

I remember walking home from school each afternoon and summarizing the scary parts for my best friend, Jimmy Cavanaugh, and the two of us wondering aloud where we thought the vampires would hole up if they came to our own small town of Edgewood (I think we decided on the abandoned elementary school right down the street from our houses) and christening our own neighborhood haunted house as the Marsten House (although it would return to its original namesake, The Myers’ House, later that summer, which I would later write about in a not-very-good short story).

The Monkey by Stephen KingI also have very faint memories (keep in mind, I could be wrong about this, because we are both very brave individuals) of Jimmy and I squealing like schoolgirls a year or so later when we watched Tobe Hooper’s version of ‘SALEM’S LOT on television and Danny Glick made his second floor window visit to his old friend Mark Petrie, and then the two of us making immediate plans to prepare wooden stakes in my father’s garage workshop. Just in case…

THIS IS NOW…

Revisiting ‘SALEM’S LOT was exactly like stepping into that time machine I discussed in my introduction — the one with MANUFACTURED BY STEPHEN KING stenciled on the side — and being transported back to a much simpler age. It felt like finding and opening a dusty photo album, flipping the brittle pages, and visiting with a town full of old friends… and enemies.

Here are a few of my favorite snapshots I want to share with you…

* As noted, there are so many wonderful characters in the novel, both main and secondary players, but this time around, I found myself focused on Hubert Marsten and his wife, Birdie, and that mysterious trucking company of his, and that even more mysterious house on the hill. I honestly think King could have written an entire spin-off novel about Marsten and his evil past. I wish he still would.

* ‘SALEM’S LOT was originally published in 1975, almost forty years ago. Does the novel read a little creaky and old-fashioned now? Sure. Is it dated in places? Of course. But I’ll tell you something…none of that takes away one sliver of enjoyment from the reread. The characters carry the day (and night), and the story is every bit as powerful and chilling today as it was almost forty years ago.

Looking back, it’s no wonder that reading ‘SALEM’S LOT set me on an immediate course to read as many other grown up novels as I could lay my hands on. A lot of horror fiction, to be sure, but also my father’s John D. MacDonald paperbacks and old pulp novels by the dozens and even my sister’s Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins stash. Once again, Stephen King had opened a door for me, and once I stepped through it, I never looked back.

* As a teenager, ‘SALEM’S LOT was the first time I experienced an author creating a place so real and vivid that it practically became a character itself in the story. This amazing feeling was only reinforced as an adult reader.

Who reading this can recall that “Brock Street crossed Jointner Avenue dead center and at right angles, and the township itself was nearly circular. On a map, the two main roads gave the town an appearance very much like a telescopic sight”?

Who else remembers that the northwest quadrant of the sight is the most heavily wooded section of ‘SALEM’S LOT, and that the Marsten House stands there on a sloping hill overlooking the town like a watchful “dark idol”? Or that the Royal River runs through the northeast quadrant? Or that the southeast quadrant is the prettiest and most untouched by the long ago fire and is dominated by Charles Griffen’s dairy farm? Or that it’s in the southwest that the trailers and “junked out cars on blocks” have started moving in?

Or that the name of the cemetery where Mike Ryerson unearthed Danny Glick’s coffin was Harmony Hill?

And who else can recite the long, dark history of Hubie Marsten and his evil house like it was taught to you in History class just a week ago?

I know I can — and I see a lot of other hands high in the air out there in Constant Reader Land.

And that, folks, is what they call… magic.

* One final snapshot, and then it’s your turn: upon further review and consultation with my lifelong friend, Jimmy Cavanaugh, it was decided that he and I did not squeal like little girls. We may have covered our eyes when the undead Danny Glick floated up to that window, but we did not scream. I’m almost sure of it.

SCARIEST SCENE…

Danny Glick’s middle of the night, second floor window visit to Mark Petrie. No contest.

“Mark Petrie turned over in bed and looked through the window and Danny Glick was staring in at him through the glass, his skin grave-pale, his eyes reddish and feral. Some dark substance was smeared about his lips and chin, and when he saw Mark looking at him, he smiled and showed teeth grown hideously long and sharp.”

FAVORITE SCENE…

The lengthy scene at Matt Burke’s house the night he invites a sickly-looking Mike Ryerson home with him from Dell’s Bar. He puts Mike to bed in the guest room and retreats to his bedroom, laying awake and worrying himself over whether or not to call Ben and voice his fears.

I think it’s the most suspenseful scene in the entire book, and when Matt hears Mike’s voice coming from across the hall — “Yes. Come in.” — and the sound of the window opening, and “the high, sweet, evil laugh of a child–

“–and then the sucking sounds,” the suspense crosses over into pure terror.

FAVORITE LINE…

The opening line of Chapter Ten: “The town knew about darkness.”

SCENE THAT STILL MAKES ME CRINGE…

Doc Jimmy Cody falling on the knives in the booby-trapped cellar of Eva Miller’s boardinghouse. The most amazing part is that Jimmy’s gruesome death takes place entirely offscreen. We hear his screams and we first learn about it through Mark Petrie’s stunned reaction, but only later do we hear Mark’s explanation of what happened and still later we finally get to see Jimmy’s blood-soaked body. It’s an incredible scene, and thanks to King’s artistry, our own imaginations supply most of the gory details.

CHARACTER I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO…

It’s a tie. Mark Petrie, of course. But I also think Constable Parkins Gillespie, who abandoned his town in shame near the end of the book, might have found redemption somewhere down the road. I would like to know when and where and how that happened.

START DATE – November 7, 2014

FINISH DATE – November 15, 2014


Next you can read about the history of ‘Salem’s Lot. The complete list of the books  we’ll be reading can be found on the Stephen King Books In Chronological Order For Stephen King Revisited Reading Lists page. To be notified of new posts and updates via email, please sign-up using the box on the right side or the bottom of this site.

 

43 comments

  • Of course, Cody and the knives was a tamer version of what King originally wrote, which involved rats. Lots and lots of rats.

    ‘Salem’s Lot was also my first, also purchased as a used paperback at Back Pages used bookstore in Halifax, NS. I was 18 at the time, reading more science fiction and fantasy than horror, but I was immediately hooked. I only bought the book (among a stack of others, none of which I currently recall) because I had vague memories that someone had said it was good. I’ve never looked back. (Over my shoulder, maybe, or under my bed, but never back!)

  • There is so much I can relate to in this essay. Like the author, I, too, had the paperback with the black cover and the one drop of blood. In fact…I still have it! I’ll see if I can dig it out and take a picture. I used to have to sneak this book from my parent’s bedroom because my mom thought that her nine year old son would be terrified if he read it. She was right! This is my favorite of all Stephen King’s works because it scared me so badly. I think I’ve read it four times (and after this great discussion, I’m gearing up for number five).

    My most vivid memory of reading this book was the night after I read the scene with Danny Glick at the window. I was so scared, so convinced that he was really, REALLY out there, scratching at my window, that I threw up on the floor next to my bed and started to sob. My mom, of course, ran upstairs and asked me the question I must have heard a dozen times during my childhood as I lay cowering in the dark, frozen with fear over some book or movie I had devoured in the light of day: “Why do you do this to yourself?”

    I still don’t know.

    Great essay! What a trip down memory lane.

    Michael

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  • Kate

    Wonderful recap. ‘Salem’s Lot was my first too, that same paperback cover! As always with a story by Mr. King, it is the characters and their stories that make the deepest impression on me. Mr. Stoker would have loved it!

  • Lou Sytsma aka olddart

    Pretty sure this was my second King book – The Shining being the first. That black cover with the red drop of blood was one of the coolest and scariest covers I’ve ever seen. Genius design. The Tobe Hooper movie remains an enjoyable piece to this date.

    I so want to know more about what happened to Ben Mears and Mark Petrie after the book ended. One of the most fantastic parts of The Dark Tower is the appearance and eventual redemption of Father Callahan.

    One of the low points is what the Salem’s Lot Rob version did with these three characters.

  • david

    Have to agree about the scariest scene.

  • Frank Pero

    I think your new website here is going to cause me heartburn or big headaches. You see, not too long ago (finishing about a year or so ago), I too read all of Stephen Kings published works…though not in publication order. Your new site and wonderful stories and reviews are making me want to do it again. Damn you Richard!!!

  • Brianna

    I remember I had large windows in my room when I read Salem’s Lot, and one of the blinds was broken. I was 14 and remember thinking before bed, “Don’t look at the window. Don’t look at the window!” It’s still one of my favorites.

  • KC Sunshine

    I recently drove through Maine with my husband and he suggested we visit Durham where King grew up and based Salem’s Lot on. All I will say is that town is SCARY WEIRD.

  • Linda T-M

    oooooooo The scratching on the window. I was very young, but I remember the scratching on that damn window……..

  • Like so many others this is the book that got me started on my addiction to horror. I was in my mid 20’s when it was published, hooked on Bradbury, Lovecraft, and Poe. Just as you described Richard, it was the craft of weaving what seemed to be real people with what seemed to be real places. There are many authors since, that I enjoy tremendously, that owe “The Master” a tip of the hat. Thank goodness there are young writers like yourself and James Freeman to keep me reading with my back against the wall so I can see what comes through the door. Keep the trip down memory road going, I’ll try to keep up with you even though I had to take a Revival break last week.

  • Shireen

    This review brought back so many good memories..
    Salem’s Lot was my first Stephen King book and my all time favorite horror novel.The year it came out was the year I married my husband Nick,who was a newly appointed NYPD officer.I distinctly remember thinking how brave I was to be reading this book alone at night waiting for him to come home.I devoured that book in two days..and when I finished it at 3am I was so scared I said 10 Hail Marys !! I read it in hardcover..a selection from the Book of the Month Club..and still have it.I love it so much I have several copies of it:paperback(with the drop of blood and without),a quality paperback edition,a newer illustrated HC and even on kindle. And for many years(15 ) I would read it every summer..it held so much nostalgia for me..it is the ultimate modern vampire tale.
    When the mini series was made ,naturally we watched it..and the fright factor was there in spades!! I still get the chills when Marjorie Glick begins to rise from the mortician’s table at the funeral parlor and Ben (David Soul) is desparately attempting to make a cross from two tongue depressors..or better yet the last scene in the basement of the Marsten House as Ben is getting ready to stake Barlow and you see the vampires slithering from the root cellar behind Mark !Is it a little cheesy now?perhaps.Was I disappointed that it was quite different from the book? No,not really because Tobe Hooper did a great job bringing it to the small screen ,as did some of the actors.However,when it was remade with Rob Lowe ,now that was a disappointment …and a mistake.
    I have always loved the Horror Genre in literature,movies & comics ..and Salem’s Lot has become the ultimate vampire tale I compare any and all to. What would you expect from someone who has had for over 25 years as her vanity License plate…SALEMLOT.
    Thank you,Mr King !

  • I love how closely our stories parallel each other with this book. My first Stephen King novel was also Salem’s Lot, and also at the age of fifteen. The reason I read it, is because I watched the Tobe Hooper TV movie first. My Mom decided to let me, and took it upon herself to read it as well, to see just what her young teenage son was getting himself into. All these years later, my Mom is still a fan of his novels! Your memory of having read it for the first time mirror mine to the T. Salem’s Lot is also one of the few novels of Steve’s that I read twice–that one and The Shining, both of which are my two favorites. They were certainly the most terrifying for me, and I could add The Stand to that short list. (I have a hardcover of the Uncut Stand, but have yet to read it. I’ve been saving it for a future date when I’m ready to tackle that beast once and for all.)

    Wasn’t there a part in Salem’s Lot when Father Callahan tries to ward off Barlow with a crucifix, and the ancient vampire just reaches over and plucks it from his trembling hand? That was one of the scariest scenes for me, and today I can appreciate how well this scene depicts the necessity of true faith to empower such “religious trinkets.” I even think that King outdid Stoker himself with that incident; if I recall correctly, in Dracula a cross was sufficient to ward the vampire off. Kinda lame compared to Stephen King’s Barlow, when you think about it. (Please correct me if I’m wrong on this count, as it’s been awhile since I read Dracula.)

    I think you nailed the reason King was able to terrify us with his early novels, Richard. And it has more to do with the fact he spent a lot of time building up not just the main characters, but all of the ordinary people which populate his story. In fact, I recall that he practically spent the first half of these novels (in the case of Salem’s Lot and The Shining, about two hundred pages) just describing the ordinary lives of the town’s citizens. Anyone who quit reading the book before the halfway mark because of that really missed out on the terrifying payoffs throughout the climactic second half. And there’s the reason his novels were so scary. He understood the value of creating realistic characters which you came to care about, and when the horror started to seep through the pages, our natural empathy for these people took over, and we became spellbound with fear for them.

    That was a terrific write-up, Richard. I have one question for you. Upon re-reading it today, as an adult with the cobwebs long ago cleared from your mind, were you scared? To really answer this question, consider a scale from 1 to 10, where back when we were fifteen, we’d rate it a “10” on the scare-factor. Please tell us what rating you’d give it today, as an adult. Your idea to revisit all his books and write about it here on this site is fantastic. Thanks so much for doing this!

  • Adam Hall

    This was the third Stephen King book I had ever read and I first read it when I was 15 years old in February of 1999 when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember the month because it was extremely cold outside at the time and it snowed a lot which kept me indoors a lot and I spent a lot of time reading this book secluded in my upstairs bedroom. So this book and winter have always been a good pairing to me for some reason…which was fitting because I re-read it in the winter. This book terrified me so much when I originally read it. The scenes of Ben Mears reliving his childhood nightmare of seeing Hubert Marsten hanging by a beam in the upstairs bedroom of the abandoned Marsten House that he went into on a dare, the scene of the gravedigger digging up young Danny Glick’s coffin because he “feels” Danny Glick staring at him only to open up the coffin and finding Danny Glick actually staring at him and finding out that the kid is a vampire who then bites him and turns him into one as well. The scene of Mike Ryerson inviting Danny Glick into his bedroom who is floating outside of his bedroom door and then you hear sucking sounds as Danny turns Mike into a vampire as well, the scene of Matt Burke going up the stairs of his house because he hears noises up there where Mike Ryerson had once been staying but has since been declared dead…then he finds Mike Ryerson in his bedroom as a vampire….that scene REALLY scared the heck out of me when I was 15 lol….I love all of the similar scenes in this book that it has with Dracula which obviously inspired King a lot. I had read Dracula for the first time also around this time period and was equally terrified by it. I was also terrified by the end of the book where the town is pretty much deserted because almost all of the residents are vampires. Last but not least, I love the hunt for Kurt Barlow who is the master vampire behind all of this which is also very similar to the hunt for Dracula in Bram Stoker’s classic novel. I love the way that Mr. King paints the picture of a small Maine town which is invaded by a centuries old vampire. This is still one of my all time favorite King novels. Definitely in my top ten. And I think it’s probably the scariest of all of his books. It’s still as terrifying now as it was then.

  • I was a latecomer to Stephen King’s work, so I actually read IT before I read ‘Salem’s Lot. As a result, this one has always seemed to me like a test run for the author’s greatest monster story. What I love about both novels is the sense of place… They make me curious and nostalgic for towns I’ve never been to…. towns that don’t even exist! That’s the power of Stephen King’s writing. He has a remarkable gift for creating a universe that feels absolutely real. I too have explored Maine with his work in mind, and it’s not hard to believe that one of the back roads could actually lead to the places he has written about. In one way or another, I *know* that the author has been there and back. I’m grateful to have his travelogues, and yours, Richard. Shine on.

  • Dan Martin

    Up front…I am a dinosaur who is uncomfortable with Tweets, Facebooks, etc. I have never wrote or responded to things in the past, but have what I think is a cute story about my experience reading Salem’s Lot. So here goes; I hope you get it and it provides a smile or two to those who get to read it. (Of course you can delete these prefatory remarks).

    I had read Carrie some months earlier, and although I enjoyed it, I was not “blown away.” But I had the perfect opportunity to dive into Salem’s Lot. Back in those days I had just moved to New Orleans and had made a trip back home to the Great White North for the Holidays. Seeing my family first in Pittsburgh, I was then going to my ex-hometown of Detroit. My friend was known for throwing the GREATEST Hall Parties going, so I had about a 7 hour Greyhound ride to attend the bash. I needed a book that would help pass the monotonous highway miles…something about 500 pages or thereabouts; something that would keep my interest.

    Further fortified with a pint of Scotch to warm my innards, I dug into Salem’s Lot as we pulled out of the Burgh. Notwithstanding a brief layover in Cleveland, I was completely enraptured by this tremendous tale of Vampires and what happens to a typical American Village when they became a target for the undead.

    I could not believe it when the driver announced we were pulling into Detroit…and me with 40 pages left to go. I think I can pretty safely say that it was one of the few times in the annals of long busrides that someone was actually disappointed that they had arrived at the destination.

    I polished it off the next day (a bit of fuzzy reading I must admit), and I was hooked. “This Stephen King guy is GREAT”, thought I! Little did I REALLY know. My next experience was back home in New Orleans, where I stayed up all night to read The Shining. I have been a fan ever since.

  • SALEM’S LOT SEMATERAY. My mom got me all three and I spent the next week reading them, starting with SL. I had only read a few borderline scary things up to that point so SALEM’S LOT was my first venture into the truly terrifying; and I’ve never stopped reading him since. Stephen King was nad is the master of modern horror.

    Randy Wiggins

  • Aside from the obvious Constant Reader draw, these reviews have been spot-on. I should only hope that SK feels some fulfillment in CR’s returning to his previous works and still thoughtfully raving about them today. Good on yuh for doing this.
    One last word before I get back to Revival: love the format of, “That was then/This is now.”

  • Wanda Maynard

    Wonderful journey Richard, and wonderful reviews. Isn’t reading great, especially if the books are by SK?

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  • Christian Froude

    I have just finished the Illustrated Edition of Salem’s Lot, which has items at the back from the original manuscript that were deleted from the published version. The death of Dr Cody was one of the more awful events for me at first reading way back when I was a young ‘un and having just read the original version where he meets his demise at the hands (claws) of a horde of Sarlinov’s (Barlow’s) rats, I have to say, that though that version is much more graphic in its depiction, I really find the spareness of the published version more horrific. A subtle, sinister trap that paints such an image in the minds eye. Going down stairs in the dark to this day always brings that to mind.

    • The scene with the rats was deemed too grotesque by his editor at Doubleday. King didn’t feel in a strong enough position to argue the point, so he complied with the demanded change, but he was never really sure it was the right thing to do. It shows how things have changed, though–I find the rat scene quite tame now.

      • Max Hunt

        It pays to listen to your editor once in a while! The published version is SO much better than the rats. I just finished my e-book this morning which had the “deleted scenes” in it. While reading all the rat scenes, I kept flashing back to the “rat” movie (wasn’t it called Ben?). Being a farm kid, that movie made me laugh. I used to “plink” rats quite often with BB guns, pellet guns and a .22 rifle when I got a bit older. Ya’ll can call me Dud! 😉

  • Robert Walton

    I don’t remember when I first read ‘Salem’s Lot, but I read it for the second time in 1984 (I am such a reading geek that beginning in 1980 – I would have been 13 in January – I have kept a list of every book I have read). I don’t remember a lot about my first experience, but this time around (my third) I was impressed by how well the book has aged and how incredible the writing is. Although I own copies of every actual book, I reread this on my Kindle and at the same time was reading Revival. I find it difficult (based on the writing alone) to determine that one had been written nearly 40 years before the other; the writing is that strong. I also enjoyed (as I always do) the large cast of fully-drawn characters. This is definitely one of King’s strengths. I’m glad the book was written to keep you guessing for a while. I think I was halfway through before the first overtly vampiric act took place, but that in no way detracted from the sense of dread prevalent throughout the entire book. Although there are many scary scenes in the book, I think the best blend of creepy scene and great writing is the one paragraph description of the death of Barlow. Your mind can’t help but see EVERY gory detail!

  • Oh the memories!! This was the third King book I read as a child. I did a book report on it in 5th grade, my teacher was not pleased and I got a C+. (Probably because my book quote a negative passage about Gillespie, which was my teachers name as well). Love this one! I read my first copy (black cover blood drop edition) until it actually fell apart. I read this more than any other King book (about 14 times at best guess), most recently last year! 5 out of 5

  • Chris Shaver

    Well said sir. This novel took me to a dark place. Somewhere I was excited to be but never wanna return. Still a great story and a wonderful essay as well.

  • Wanda Maynard

    Salem’s Lot was a nightmarish scary read for me. Nobody else can write them like SK. He is the best.

  • Becky

    This book terrified me this time around. I couldn’t read at night. The lot dying became real, I could picture it happening in my town. I truly enjoyed reading this again, but wonder what happened to Mark. I look forward to meeting Father Callahan again. Now on to Danny!

  • THE FUN IN ‘SALEM’S LOT
    ‪#‎stephenkingrevisited‬

    I finished ‘Salem’s Lot in the midnight hours that fell between my 35th birthday and Thanksgiving. I had spent the majority of the day answering questions like, “How does it feel to be 35?,” the answer to which was generally, “Well, there is certainly no longer any denying that I am an adult.” However, within the slightly torn pages of Stephen King’s town that knew darkness, I didn’t feel very grown up at all. The jump that lifted my feet off the floor as my father swiftly entered the room while I was immersed in a particularly gruesome chapter, the adrenaline that kept me wide-eyed laying in bed past 2:00 am after having read for several hours (can’t sleep, might as well read some more), and the instance in the kitchen slowly stirring a pot on the stove with one hand and reading the book in the other, when I could have sworn — not something I do lightly — that something touched my back, spinning around with the speed and agility of a 12 year old only to find nothing there and being left to wonder if the monster had disappeared into the pantry, the basement, or perhaps worse it was waiting upstairs. Under my bed.

    ‘Salem’s Lot is without question the scariest Stephen King book I have ever read, and I can understand why the author himself has noted on several occasions that it is his favorite of all his novels. It’s different. It’s faster. Freight train faster. It chugs along with steam, raising your blood pressure in all the right areas and giving you just enough slack to consider that such a story might actually be possible. (But it couldn’t be, could it? At 35, it can’t be. But what grabbed me in the kitchen?) Stephen King writes as if he were directing a movie. You can see it played out in your head so perfectly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has envied Tobe Hooper for being allowed the honor of bringing the images in his head as he read to life. I have neither seen his film, nor the remake, though I’m much looking forward to discovering if the images in their heads were similar to my own. Storyboarding. That’s what Stephen King makes of us readers as we wander through his tale of the Lot.

    I could pontificate and tell you how much I learned from ‘Salem’s Lot. There are the spiritually powerful moments that will remain with me — “Without faith, the cross is only wood, the baked bread wheat, the wine sour grapes.” — and as a writer, I soaked up as much of King’s raw creativity as I could, noting that you could express the 11 o’clock hour to a reader as, “The day trembled on the edge of extinction.”

    But anything much further would suck the fun right out of ‘Salem’s Lot.

    “The bottom line,” I said to myself as I finished the final page of the book and set it aside, “is that it’s a fun read and a darn good scare.”

    Here, in the dawning of my 35th year, I felt like a kid again.

    It was 4:15.

  • Wanda Maynard

    Salem’s Lot was the scariest book for me, too.

  • Stewart McMillan

    I was 11yrs old when I was introduced to Salem’s Lot and Stephen King and it wasn’t the vampires that scared me it was Hubert Marsten and that creepy house.

  • Ron Reese

    Just finished for the 3rd or 4 th time ( not sure) …I originally read a paperback version in 1976 or 1977, I was about 11 . I have always loved this book, but, rereading it at age 49…..all I can say is wow.
    This book is out of this world fantastic…the wording, phrasing….descriptions
    I am in awe!

  • Iain Hotchkies

    Well. I finished re-reading SL a couple of days ago (and, having re-read The Shining recently, I’ve started in on Rage).

    Salem’s Lot in my mind these last 30 years has been the TV mini-series with David Soul, so it was good to read the book again.

    King has that agreeable knack for describing a town very well – all the little cogs whirring away, on their own, but part of the whole.

    To be honest, at my age (early 50s) I can take or leave the *horror*. I still love King for his characterisation and story-telling.

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  • Denise

    Salems’s Lot has been and will always be my favorite Stephen King book, I first discovered it (the black covered version with the blood drop which met with a horrible demise…I do have another copy and have it on my kindle as well and a hard cover).. I read and re- read this book my Junior and Senior years( 1983-84) . I lent it to friend, that was the longest time ever without my book!
    Anyway, I love this essay…loved the tv movie…I have always enjoyed the characters King develops and in his earlier books…to Needful Things, how he inter-laced characters in other books..like old friends.
    Knowing the neighborhood, locals…just like going home. To get the pants scared off of you…

  • Colleen

    One of the reasons S.K. is so much fun to re-read – the hidden Easter eggs and references to his other stories. Father Callahan is the obvious one in “‘Salem’s Lot”, but I actually squealed a little bit when I got to the scene where Danny Glick tries to get into Mark Petrie’s bedroom, and Mark defends himself by chanting a certain phrase that other Constant Readers will recognize. Seeing the early stages of his world-building is pretty awesome…gives me goosebumps every time.

    • Wanda Maynard

      That scene where Danny Glick scratches on the window of Mark Petrie’s bedroom wanting him to let him in, kinda freaked me out too.

  • Max Hunt

    Well, I have gotten behind due to a hospital stay last week. I got out about 6pm Thanksgiving Day and sometimes that’s a good place to get some reading done but not this time. I felt a bit like Matt Burke stuck in that hospital and wanting to do something but not really feeling up to it. I finished my read this morning (extended due to the extra material in the e-book). Have the stories “One for the Road” and “Jerusalem’s Lot” been published elsewhere or just in later editions of ‘Salem’s Lot? Wowsa, those were unexpected and very interesting! Also loved the “Deleted Scenes”…which are excerpts from the original manuscript. Most of the changes made for the published book were for the better, IMO.

    SL was my second SK book. I read Carrie in ’75 while a sophomore in high school, but I didn’t pick up another SK novel until about ’81 or ’82. My girlfriend’s mom was a READER and had a real library in her home. I was searching through her hundreds of books when I ran across SL and had to read it. I will say that I was quite honestly pissed off when I finally realized it was a “Vampire Book” but pushed on. I’d read Rice, Stoker and many comics and horrible paperback “vamp stories” as a kid and thought it was going to be a ripoff but after getting to know all the characters, I stuck with it. Am I ever so glad I did!! After finishing the story, I realized this “King dude” was aptly named. I was so impressed in the way he made his own vampire world…one that was so much like my own world (sure, he took some of the old things like garlic and wooden stakes from the “history” of vamps but actually that wasn’t Stephen, it was the characters that did their research, Matt Burke to a great degree, and those were the things HE read about from library books, of course).

    I can’t add much to the great blog and discussions above but I have a passage to share that struck me as incredible. When I hit this (before the hospital), I read it 2 or 3 times and then just sat with my eyes closed, thinking about how horrible yet beautiful it was (and wishing more than a little that I could write!). This is from Chapter Fourteen – The Lot (IV) – 2 where dawn finds The Lot basically dead and we are getting an overview of how some of the undead residents are “not” living. Loretta Starcher is the town librarian and we learn she has disappeared. After learning she has the only key to the third floor of the library and that she doesn’t hand that key over to just anyone, we’re told that she herself, is there now. The passage I speak of follows…

    “Now she rested there herself, a first edition of a different kind, as mint as when she had first entered the world. Her binding, so to speak, had never even been cracked.”

    That touched me in a way I can’t really explain. The description and use of the double entendre (she was a spinster) is simply genius. I use the term “genius” quite often when discussing SK. The latest REALLY genius novel for me was 11/22/63. But re-reading these masterworks reminds me the genius has been there all along.

    Thanks Richard and hey…slow down a little!!! I thank you for sharing the story of George Chizmar. Great little story and the credit you gave me REALLY impressed my kids! With 15 & 17 year old daughters, I need all the help I can get in that regard!

    Oh…scariest scene for me was the staking of Barlow. From the moment Ben & Mark go into the cellar to the point they’re climbing the board which is about to break, I had a crazy pulse rate!

  • DAnne

    My first SK read also. Paperback was given to me by a friend in 1977. I read the first half without stopping, went to bed, woke up in a complete sweat, positive there were vampires in the alley. I told myself that my necklace with the cross on it was on top of my dresser within easy reach and I could protect myself; once my heart stopped pounding, I reminded myself that my big dog Toby was in the back yard, and dogs always know vampires – Toby would have warned me already, but he was quiet. Oh wait, maybe he’s dead. Took me three hours to go back to sleep. Never looked back. As with other posters, it’s the characters that get me. And a re-read of most of his books is well worth the time; I really really liked Hearts in Atlantis on the first read; but on the second read about a year ago, I cried. That’s my generation.

  • Wim Van Overmeire

    For me the scariest scene is when Ben and doctor Jimmy Cody are in the funeral parlor waiting to see if Marjorie Glick will rise again.
    And the whole paragraph that starts with the line “The town knew about darkness” is really well written.

  • Really interesting, Richard. I’m really enjoying this journey! Your essays are a great read, and is enlightening!

    As I’ve said before, I read ‘Salem’s Lot after I had read The Shining, which scared me to the depth of my teenage years. I read ‘Salem’s Lot when I was in my late high school years, and I remember reading it in bits, here and there, between courses, and, of course, at night. I remember being really, really scared. It was my first time reading a vampire book, believe it or not. I had that chance of having the King’s voice tell me a vampire story.

    When revisiting today, I tried to do it differently, but I couldn’t… Probably because it’s a hectic start, here, with everyone starting school, and the family duty taking a lot of my time in this early January, but I could just do the same as I had done then, ie read it in little chunks here and there.

    But I know what was happening. It was just scaring me too much! I couldn’t sit down and read long chunks of it because I feared I wouldn’t be able to put the book down again! How could I say to everyone: “No! Leave me alone! I’m in Jerusalem’s Lot, now, I gotta tell them how to flee, leave me alone!” That wouldn’t be quite fatherly, would it?

    So, I chose to read it everyday, everywhere, whenever I could spare a minute. And everything was exactly like before.

    The unforgettable setting, the masterful storytelling, the characters – man o man the characters! – everything in that book is great.

    I’m amazed that after all these years, this great author can still scare me like there’s no tomorrow.

    It’s a rare gift.

    • Well, well, well… Of course, when I wrote: “Your essays are a great read, and is enlightening!” I forgot to write an IT, killing this sentence… Why did I forget IT? Any ideas why I couldn’t write IT? Scared of what? 🙂

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