The Marsten House hung over the town of Jersualem’s Lot, ‘Salem’s Lot, like a tombstone over a grave that hadn’t been filled in yet. The people in their homes and shops didn’t recognize the rich smell of fresh turned earth, the odor of their own deaths. They hadn’t caught up to the fact that they were already dead, their last days on earth evaporating like morning dew.
As a boy Ben Mears went into the Marsten House on a dare. Go in, grab something, and get back out. A rite of passage to test his bravery and show off for the other kids. The kids in the lot knew about the danger of the Marsten House, had heard the stories of Hubie Marsten. Ben went in, going farther than anyone would have expected, and left with something more than he could have imagined. One small decision, made by a boy, would end up shaping the future of the man. Ben thought he escaped from the horrors of the Marsten House but he didn’t. He took it with him, clinging to him like a leech.
Ben returns to the Lot as an adult, author of a few books, once again confronting the truth of the Marsten House as he plans to write his new book.
He’s not the only newcomer to the Lot and it doesn’t take long for the grapevine to spread the stories through the Lot. Straker and Barlow have also come to the Lot, purchasing the Marsten House and opening an antique store in town. At the same time a child disappears and suspicious minds in the town turn toward the new people, the writer and the other two foreigners.
King wrote ’Salem’s Lot very much with Dracula in mind. The vampires in King’s version are dark and loathsome monsters. Nothing romantic about them. They spread like a plague through the town before most realize that anything is going on.
King’s characters, Ben Mears, Mark Petrie, Susan Norton, Matthew Burke, Father Callahan, and Dr. Cody, the few that realize what is happening end up being entirely ineffective in their initial efforts against the undead. It’s tragic as Mark and Susan venture into the Marsten House on their own, entirely unprepared for what faces them. In ‘Salem's Lot King created a town full of characters, introducing them, building them into people. Weak, flawed, and very human people.
’Salem’s Lot remains one of the great vampire novels. One of the reasons it stays so effective is the fact that the vampires are monsters. No brooding vampires seeking redemption. No humans loving the vampire and forgiving their ‘indiscretions’ when they end up losing control and killing a few innocents.
It does leave a number of questions unresolved by the end. What happens to the priest after he leaves town? What about Barlow’s long history? What was the endgame after spreading through the town? Given how quickly the plague of vampirism swept through ‘Salem’s Lot, what would have prevented it from getting into neighboring towns?
Ben Mears’ final solution also leaves questions about what follows.
Mostly I wonder about the kid, about Mark Petrie, the boy fond of monster movies. He reminds me of other kids in King’s work, of Jake Chambers in The Gunslinger or Jack Sawyer in The Talisman. Or even Danny in The Shining. We got to see Danny again in Doctor Sleep along with another take on vampires. What about Mark?
It also makes me wonder what ’Salem’s Lot would have been like written today. Would people be sharing videos of vampires on YouTube? Would we see word spreading about the infection quickly because of cell phones and the internet? How would the novel have changed if it were set today instead of nearly fifty years ago?
The next book in the 2019 Hail to the King reading challenge is Sleeping Beauties written with Owen King. Click to download the calendar of challenge titles. Share what you thought of ’Salem’s Lot in the comments below.