salems-lotStephen King
Doubleday
1975

The town kept its secrets, and the Marsten House brooded over it like a ruined king.

‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in ‘salem’s Lot was a summer of homecoming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to ‘salem’s Lot hoping to cast out his own devils and found instead a new, unspeakable horror. A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved. All would be changed forever–Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of ‘Salem’s Lot.

This was perhaps the very first honest-to-goodness vampire novel I ever read. Mind you, at the age that I was just getting into horror novels, my knowledge of vampire lore in pop culture was novice at best, usually limited to seeing a commercial for a vampire movie on television. Most of the horror novels I’ve read up to that point involved ghosts, or at least some mystery that wound up the ghosts in question were easily explained away. Come to think of it, I think the mose scary horror novel I ever read was one of the original five Choose Your Own Adventure books. Something-something-something, Chimney Rock. I should point out I’m writing this article at a church picnic at a park with no usable wifi to do a Google search. Sorry.

Anyway, Stephen King’s second novel to be released after his breakthrough with Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot is also the second story of his to feature the town of Jerusalem’s Lot (the first being the short story of the same name as found in the Night Shift collection). Here, a young writer moves back to his hometown to try and put to rest some ghosts from his past, and settles down and makes friends with the populace. Also settling into an old mansion that was the sight of a grizzly murder back in the “olden days” (it’s always an old mansion with a past, isn’t it?) is a businessman who maintains nocturnal hours. During the daytime, he utilizes his trusty assistant to conduct his business.

The business man is a vampire. You probably guessed that one by now.

So, said vampire wastes no time in turning the populace of ‘Salem’s Lot, and it’s up to the afore mentioned writer, a doubting priest, and a kid to try and fight the evil that’s taken root in their community. It doesn’t end well.

I wouldn’t really classify ‘Salem’s Lot as a post-modern vampire novel, as you can see there are shades borrowed from the granddaddy of all vampire novels–Dracula–but it’s all given a modern shellac job. Perhaps because of the time it was written, or more because Stephen King just didn’t give a rip at the time, these vampires are chilling and terrifying, not some brooding pretty (un)people that you want to have relations with.

Unfortunately, because I read this back when I was 14, maybe my third novel of his to read, I wasn’t old enough to really appreciate the story. But, I was old enough to have it stick with me from then on; now, as a more sophisticated age (stop snickering), ‘Salem’s Lot sits easily in my Top 5 favorite Vampire novels list.

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