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[Salem’s Lot] Books That Shine: A Chronological Reread of Stephen King

This was my fifth or sixth read of this novel.

I think that’s because within Salem’s Lot horrifying, gruesome pages are some of Stephen King’s most beautiful writing.

The entire thing can be read and reread again to simply enjoy his words, especially when King is describing the changing seasons, he takes on a Ray Bradbury-like quality.

With the success of Carrie, King had the opportunity to show readers the full of extent of what he was capable of as a writer. Carrie is set in the fictional town of Chamberlain and while we learn a little about the town and its people it is nothing much in comparison with the in-depth experience of reading Salem’s Lot. Stephen King really creates an entire community in this book, utilizing his skills as a short story writer to flesh out that community by providing tiny stories about several of its inhabitants.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King Book Cover

We get the story of an aged, crabby milkman, the man in charge of the town dump, a woman who runs the local boarding house, the town drunk or a couple having an affair to name a few. The thing is all these characters feature in the story in some significant way to show the horror as it progresses to take over the town. I found I enjoyed every moment spent in these characters’ lives, especially those of Eve and Weasel, an elderly on and off again couple.


The horror in this book comes in the form of Barlow and Straker, outsiders that move into Salem’s Lot’s most notorious residence the Marston House.

Barlow is a vampire and Straker is his familiar. As they arrive so does the novel’s protagonist Ben Mears, a writer who’s never had a home but for the few years, he spent in this town as a boy. Ben gets a lot of criticism as a character for being too noble and thus boring but I never found that with him. I enjoyed every moment spent in his practical head as he meets his love interest Susan Norton and the rest of the cast.  He is in some way’s King’s first attempt at making an interesting everyday man, something he would perfect with Johnny Smith a few books later.

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While this is Stephen King’s first-time round at developing a lived-in community so is it his first attempt at building a team of characters intent on stopping a villain. You can see in these pages how King would go on the create such lengthy books as The Stand, which also features a huge cast of characters. However, those that feature in that book never feel as filled out or as enjoyable to read as those in this book. Matt Burke, a single elderly school teacher, stands out as the novel’s Van Helsing character, who is a personal favourite. Another is Jimmy Cody, the town’s local sawbones, whose end is heart-wrenching even after reading this book so many times. There’s also Father Callahan, who meets a fate worse than death, and Mark Petrie, probably the most resourceful of King’s child characters.

Barlow begins to infect the population of Salem’s Lot given the book a real sense of dread with each night that passes as the reader becomes aware that more people will have been converted into his soulless followers, especially in the book’s latter half.

The vampires in this book are clearly inspired by those in Dracula.

Their abilities are more traditional than any modern incarnation, yet unlike those in Bram Stroker’s book where vampirism is a way for characters to fully unleash the pent-up emotions and desires, the vampires in King’s are more perverse. His vampires are ruthless, soulless leeches.  They are an infection, something meant to be cleansed from your body. Combining this with King’s fantastic ability to create characters that the readers recognize and root for even if those characters are framed in the 1970s makes Salem’s Lot not just one of the best books in his catalogue but also the best book on vampires to ever be written.

Tier: Books That Shine

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Companion Story: Devil’s Creek by Todd Keisling

Devil’s Creek is the modern-day equivalent of Salem’s Lot.  There I typed it, it’s a hill I’m ready to die on.  From its story about a small-town community in Kentucky scarred by its local legends to its diverse cast of characters and how it builds those characters throughout its pages just reminded me entirely of King’s vampire novel.

That doesn’t mean Devil Creek is not original, or that it can’t stand up on its own.  It very much can, it’s a story concerning a death cult led by one of the creepiest characters I have ever read Jacob Masters.  What I mean when I draw comparisons between these two books is that reading Devil’s Creek filled me with the same exhilarating excitement that I found in reading Salem’s Lot.  I can’t praise it any higher.

Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart

Author

Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel.  He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror.  He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team.  He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis. 

He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.

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