Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stephen King's Favorite Novel

"... the Lot's knowledge of the country's torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there."

Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot (1975)

On this day in 1975, Stephen King published his second novel — "'Salem's Lot." It was his first novel since the phenomenally successful "Carrie," which may have been in its movie production by this time.

King has frequently said that, of all his novels, "'Salem's Lot" was his favorite. "In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns," he said.

Having grown up in a small town, I have a pretty good idea what he meant by that.

The protagonist was returning to his hometown, Jerusalem's Lot, a fictional town in Maine, after being away for 25 years. He planned to write a novel — and, in the process, exorcise a few demons of his own — inspired by a spooky old house that had been the scene of an unpleasant childhood experience for him.

Things went pretty well for him initially. He struck up a friendship with a high school teacher and a romantic relationship with a young recent college graduate.

He discovered that the house had been purchased by an Austrian immigrant, who intended to open a business. He wasn't home when the protagonist arrived in town. He was on a buying trip. His business partner was in town.

About the time they showed up, a young boy disappeared, and his brother died — and became the town's first vampire. Within just a few weeks, he had turned several townspeople into vampires.

It began to dawn on the protagonist that something sinister was afoot.

King said he was inspired to write the book when he was teaching a high school course in fantasy and science fiction, and the class was reading and discussing Bram Stoker's "Dracula." King began to ponder what Dracula's story would be like if he came back to 20th–century America. His wife suggested that he would probably be run over by a taxi, and King had to agree she probably was right — if Dracula came to New York City.

But what if he came to a "sleepy little country town" instead? What would happen?

"I decided I wanted to find out, so I wrote ''Salem's Lot,'" King said.

King also said he was influenced by the politics of the time. "I wrote 'Salem's Lot' during the period when the Ervin committee was sitting," he said. "That was also the period when we first learned of the Ellsberg break–in, the White House tapes, the connection between Gordon Liddy and the CIA, the news of enemies lists and other fearful intelligence. During the spring, summer and fall of 1973, it seemed that the federal government had been involved in so much subterfuge and so many covert operations that, like the bodies of the faceless wetbacks that Juan Corona was convicted of slaughtering in California, the horror would never end. ... Every novel is to some extent an inadvertent psychological portrait of the novelist, and I think that the unspeakable obscenity in 'Salem's Lot' has to do with my own disillusionment and consequent fear for the future."

There's no mistaking the political influence on "'Salem's Lot." It has been adapted for television twice, and its message seems just as appropriate for audiences 40 years later as it was in 1975.