Vampires have undergone a transformation in our culture from very deadly (if attractive) undead demons in human form to handsome self-loathing Byronic heroes with more angst than Batman on the anniversary of his parents’ death. Usually these latter incarnations only happen to have fangs and aversion to sunlight (and in some cases not even that), and have an easily controlled bloodlust that allows to sleep with a love interest as much as possible.
Luckily ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King was written long before any of these modern trends became popular.
I’m not a horror expert by any stretch of the imagination- my exposure to tales of the supernatural consists of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and More Ghost Stories, both written by M.R. James; An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriel Amorth; and, most recently, the actual television show Supernatural, which I consider more an eye candy fest than a spooky series. So I began reading ‘Salem’s Lot without any idea of what to expect from the tale.
I didn’t expect too much, so I wasn’t disappointed. That’s not to say I was expecting ‘Salem’s Lot to be bad; rather that I wasn’t expecting anything too deep or thought-provoking. I was looking for something to give me a shiver and keep me engrossed in the story. And I got just that. Vampires invading a New England town and doing so discretely enough to pick of a solid majority of the townspeople in a very short time span was both entertaining and shiver-inducing. Some of the characters, especially the minor townspeople fell a bit flat and I had a hard time telling them apart, but the main characters were fairly easy to remember, and, for the most part, quite likeable- at any rate I became invested enough in them that I was quite disturbed and afraid for them as the vampires in this town grew stronger. Without giving too much away, there’s quite a bit of death, enough to keep you wondering if the characters in question will make it to the next page. On the whole it was an enjoyable read, perhaps not a book I’d pick up again anytime soon, but definitely a fun way to waste a few hours and enjoy vampires who have all the seduction and malevolence of the original objects of legend.
My main criticism of the book lies, oddly in enough, in what I considered one of the strong points of King’s writing: his description of the town itself. ‘Salem’s Lot feels like a character in its own right, cramped and claustrophobic, with some people perfectly content to be there and others longing to get out. The main reason I saw this as a criticism was the fact that King at times spent too much time reiterating that ‘Salem’s Lot was a cramped and crowded place when I as a reader was already aware of it. In those instances I felt his time could have been better spent dwelling a bit more on the vampires, who I found legitimately terrifying. King doesn’t bother giving any of his human beings any means of protection other than their own common sense, and they don’t always listen to it. I have to admit there were times where I wanted to shout at the characters that if they were able to recognize that there were parallels between their situation and that in Dracula, then they should know better than to approach the spooky evil house where the fanged wonder and his henchman have set up shop. On the other hand, I do get the fascination this kind of place has- you go in because you’re partially afraid, and partially hoping that something will happen. A quirk of human nature- but one that has some rather severe consequences for the characters.
The vampire himself was a creepy hammy villain, and I quite enjoyed the few times his personality made an appearance. I think what I found most impressive- and frightening- from the vampires was their hypnotic abilities. Staring into their eyes is the way they entrap people and it was horribly frightening to read the reactions of relatives and friends who were trying to figure out what had happened to their loved ones. This was fascination with vampires done correctly- a malevolent and destructive fascination that only leads to the death of those involved.
On the whole this book was a fun first plunge into horror, and though not one that I’ll necessarily revisit, it was definitely an enjoyable reading experience.