My first Stephen King books were borrowed from the library when I was twelve or thirteen. I went through Christine, Thinner, Cujo, and maybe Firestarter before I read ‘Salem’s Lot. These previous books were good, and I was getting into horror novels and movies, watching them nonstop and not being scared by any of them. I mean I enjoyed them, but watching Jason and Freddy and a killer car did nothing to keep me up at night. I could separate the fantasy from reality pretty easily. ‘Salem’s Lot was an entirely different experience for me. I read this the first time back in middle school, maybe my freshman year of high school, so this was the early nineties. There was not a great deal of vampire material floating around besides Dracula and some Anne Rice. There was no True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nothing as great as Let the Right One In or Thirst existed. So the vampire story in ‘Salem’s Lot was built on more of the classics, like Dracula and Nosferatu. The market was not saturated with vampires, and so when I read ‘Salem’s Lot, I was experiencing something that was not everywhere.
‘Salem’s Lot is built around a mysterious pair that enter town at roughly the same time. One is the writer Benjamin Mears, a local kid who is having trouble with his next novel. The other is Richard Straker and his “business” partner, Kurt Barlow. They open an antiques shop while people in town start to disappear…then reappear. This novel is forty years old, and the plot is pretty simple. ‘Salem’s Lot gets overrun by vampires, and Ben Mears is trying to stop it. What works in this novel is the way the town slowly falls apart. Each day there are more and more people who are no longer out because the sun hurts them. Each night becomes more dangerous.
I liked this aspect of it the most on the reread–how the town itself was effected. The way that every day, fewer and fewer people were out doing their daily business. King uses the town as the main character, how the disease spread through and killed it off. To reread this during a quarantine makes me believe that this is a prime example of what would happen if there was no authority trying to do the right thing to keep people from getting affected. If there was some sort of public announcement that said, “Stay indoors and don’t invite anyone who is floating at your window into your bedroom,” would ‘Salem’s Lot have been saved? Probably not. The end of the novel is as expected in a town that is overran by vampires; there is no real end. The conclusion is just to run from the problem because fighting would be too much.
This novel was the first piece of horror that terrified me. When I read this the first time, I could not sleep because I was in a second floor bedroom and I was waiting to hear a tapping on the window, a vampire kid asking me to let them in. After I watched the miniseries adaptation, I was even more frightened. I had celluloid images to go with my imagination. I remember watching the miniseries and asking my dad to watch it with me because I was so frightened. The dread of living in a small town like Jerusalem’s Lot, living in a large two story house, and having a cemetery behind the house, made this novel so effective at the time.
Rereading this twenty-five years later is a different experience. I enjoyed it, but it did not have the teeth (or fangs) that it did when I was younger. I do not know if it is because that market for vampire stories has changed or if I have read and seen some much better vampire stories. Either way I can appreciate how much I used to be frightened of this, and I think that the rating that I give it now is more on the nostalgia factor than from the story itself.