Friday, October 10, 2014

Good Story 093: 'Salem's Lot

Julie and Scott read a vampire novel by a little-known horror writer. They are both pretty sure he'll be popular one day. Keep writing Steve! Success is just around the corner! It's October, and the subject is 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King...

  • Stephen King

  • Download or listen via this link: |Episode #093|

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    When it comes to fighting vampires and performing exorcisms, the Roman Catholic Church has the heavy artillery. Your other religions are good for everyday theological tasks, like steering their members into heaven, but when the undead lunge up out of their graves, you want a priest on the case. As a product of Catholic schools, I take a certain pride in this pre-eminence.

    Because we didn't get enough of Cleese in the previous episode:


    1. Another good episode!

      The community aspect in this book seems like a critique of where society was headed. The people were becoming insular, looking out for number one, nobody really knew anything about each other, and the kids were beginning to lose their roots. Several times he goes out of his way to point out how things were not as they should be and not the right way.

      By the time the vampires came in (were let in, as they need to be) it made perfect sense that everything would happen the way it did. People were missing, nobody cared, people died, people went on as if it didn't bother them, and meanwhile their town was dying and everyone avoided it.

      King wanted this to be a modern day version of Dracula, and comparing the two I think its clear this is his intent. In Dracula the main characters get to together to fight of the vampires with their supernatural knowledge and working together with complete faith in each other and God. In Salem's Lot, the "modern day" at the time it was written, the lack of faith in each other and God is what leads to the main characters' downfall more than once and leads to the ending we get. It rolls into the community theme really well, I think.

      That it ends with Ben and Mark's conversion to Catholicism and starting a fire that is meant to consume the evil, I think says it all. Needless to say, this is one of the few modern vampire novels I really enjoy.

      As for Father Callahan, I believe his story continues in the Dark Tower books. I haven't read them, so I can't be sure, but I believe he's in them.

      1. That's a good point about how American this "Dracula" story is, in the disconnection from community. One of the most shocking parts of the book to me was when the town was full of vampires and King says that no one else knew anything was wrong? I was thinking, "What? How can they not miss so many people?" Very American, in other words.

        I don't think Ben converted to Catholicism, did he? Just Mark. But Ben completely believed in the power of the faith, as we discussed.

      2. Yes, there's definitely a streak of social satire running through this novel. King likes to do that, when he's talking about Maine (or Boston, in _Cell_).

        Thank you guys for a fine, thoughtful discussion of _Salem's Lot_. I appreciated your religious perspective, not to mention your careful attention to the text.

    2. Oh, it's been awhile since I read it, I thought he mentioned something about Mark being "next", but I guess not.

      King mentioned before that horror is a very conservative genre in the sense that the problem always arises from destroying the norm or someone doing something they aren't supposed to, but I think his stories (his better ones, anyway) show that it arises more from selfishness and radical individualism.

      The Shining occurred entirely because Jack Torrence allowed himself to be taken and thought more for himself than his family. Not to mention the background behind him where his family was shattered due to his father's selfishness, his lack of real friends, and his pride in writing something "important".

      The Stand was allowed to happen because nobody thought through anything they did, allowing the outbreak to happen. There is a big emphasis on personal responsibility, but also in how when community disconnects, things fall apart. Even contrasting the two societies together, with their human warts, it's Mother Abagail's closer community that allows for the most positive change despite those that seek to destroy it. By the end, it gets so big and starts experiencing the same usual problems once more.

      I think 'Salem's Lot shows that clearest of all of them. That's why I like all the set up it has. To establish a small town that should have a tight community, but is slowly tearing at the seams. How else can the vampires come in undetected?

      I'm sure Scott can answer this, but I was wondering just what are the best Stephen King books to read besides his early ones? He has so many and it's near impossible to sift through them all.

    3. Hiya!

      Of his later books, my favorites are Bag of Bones, Desperation, and Duma Key. I also like IT very much, except the ending which left me annoyed and perplexed. I also like Dreamcatcher - was very good on audio.

      There are two of his novels that I want to read because people have told me that they liked them: 11/22/63 and Doctor Sleep.

      On the movie front, I have a clear favorite three Stephen King movies. 1408, Storm of the Century, and Salem's Lot (1979). Salem's Lot and Storm of the Century were done for television.

    4. One other thing - I have not read the Dark Tower books. Not sure why, but I haven't got into them. I read The Gunslinger and the second book but never continued. Does anyone have an opinion on those?

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    6. I've been meaning to get to Salem's Lot for a while and Good Story finally gave me the motivation to do so. I liked it, especially Mark Petrie and the vampire lore. After listening to this episode, I appreciate it more. It's a bit telling that it's one of King's early novels. I thought the dialogue was a bit weak at times, but his descriptions of the horror elements were singular, and I think that is one of the things that helped propel him to stardom. Personally, I like King for his stories and characters, not so much for the horror, but rather how the horror affects the people he writes about and how it moves the story along.

      I listened to the Gunslinger and I think I tried the next Dark Tower book as well, but wasn't drawn in. I am perfectly fine with flawed antagonists, but I'm not a fan of the anti-hero, and I feel the Gunslinger character is too anti-hero for me.

      Of his recent books, I loved 11/22/63 and Under the Dome(don't let the TV adaptation put you off). I think 11/22/63 would make a great 10 or 12 episode TV mini series. It's basically a period piece, and the time travel element is important, but not at the forefront. Under the Dome has an ending many people find dissatisfying, but was fine to me. I'm more about the journey in a story than the destination.

      I heart Good Story, thanks for the show!
      (I deleted the first comment to edit a typo.)

      1. Hi Philip - I'm proud that we helped motivate you to try Salem's Lot! I've also been meaning to read 11/22/63. MUST move that closer to the top of my list! And I was intrigued by the concept behind Under the Dome but must admit that I let the TV show influence me and so took it off my list. I'll have to put it back on! :-)

      2. Yeah, give Under the Dome a shot. You know, I used to be more adventurous with my public library digital sites and save my Audible credits for things I considered a safer bet, but with their generous return policy I'm more apt to give something a go that I'm unsure about.

    7. Thanks Philip! You are so right about King - the books are about the people.

      I definitely need to read 11/22/63 - I've heard nothing but praise for it. Did you listen to the audio?

      1. Yes, I did listen to the audio from Audible. I'm not familiar with the narrator, but I recall he did a solid job. It's got a 4.5 star average on Audible, which is really high for them.