Title: ‘Salem’s Lot
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Ron McLarty
Audiobook Length: 17 hours, 35 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 17 October 1975
Bottom Line: Fantastic
“Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot in the hopes that living in an old mansion, long the subject of town lore, will help him cast out his own devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods and only one comes out alive, Mears begins to realize that there may be something sinister at work and that his hometown is under siege by forces of darkness far beyond his control.”
Thoughts: The town nickname of ‘Salem’s Lot evokes images of witches and devil worshipping; yet the novel involves an entirely different group of mythical nightmare figures done with typical King flair. It is a story that starts slowly, carefully building the setting and a rapport between characters and readers before the suspense builds to heart-stuttering levels. As in all of King’s novels, it is also a story not just about the external evils of monsters but also about the hidden evils inside a person. The evil is not just the undead who prey on the townspeople at night but also in the townspeople themselves, their New England isolationism, and their refusal to recognize the dangers they all instinctively feel is possessing their town.
Mr. King freely admits that ‘Salem’s Lot is his own personal homage to Bram Stoker and the pulp fiction horror novelists of his childhood, which is good because there are many similarities between Stoker’s novel and this one. There is the small band of heroes who are the only ones who know the truth. There is a seemingly insurmountable foe. There is the one elderly vampire expert who provides guidance and advice to the heroes. There is even the inclusion of newspaper articles and headlines to introduce the epistolary feel of Stoker’s novel.
Yet, there are enough differences to thrill any King fan. Most importantly, there is no guarantee that the story ends well for any of the characters. The unease with which readers will close the book or turn off the audiobook is unique to King and his realization that no one who faces such terrifying circumstances can emerge entirely unscathed. Also of vital importance and a lesson King drives home particularly well in ‘Salem’s Lot is that life very rarely ends with a happy ending. Good does not always triumph over evil; in fact, most of the time good ends up with a pyrrhic victory. It is an unsettling realization that makes the entire story just that much more frightening because of this one element of frank realism in a story filled with fantasy and myth.
Ron McLarty does an excellent job narrating ‘Salem’s Lot. His is an understated performance,, choosing to let the story provide the chills and shivers of terror. The cast of characters, as is any King novel, is quite large, and yet through subtle manipulations of voice, tonality, and pitch, listeners have no problems discerning among them. In fact, it becomes quite entertaining to listen to him switch from the rich volubility of Father Callahan to the nasal smugness of Barlow. As with any good narrator, Mr. McLarty’s performance enhances the story and improves the richness of the characters and spookiness of the setting and is yet another in a long line of narrators who make listening to King’s novels an absolute pleasure.
‘Salem’s Lot is one of King’s first novels, and it does show. There is a lack of research and depth to it that is much more prevalent in his more recent works. However, this is not enough to prevent one from thoroughly enjoying the story. It is every bit as frightening and gripping as one expects from King. Readers fall in love with the characters, making their eventual fates that much more suspenseful and gut-wrenching. It also has that stylistic signature of his, in which the ordinary become suspect and potentially threatening. In fact, after finishing ‘Salem’s Lot, readers will never drive through a small town again without wondering just what is occurring behind the closed curtains and blinds. In other words, it is a true King novel.