King followed up Carrie with this take on vampires. The author has said it began "One night over supper I wondered aloud what would happen if Dracula came back in the twentieth century, to America." His wife Tabitha sarcastically responded. "'He'd probably be run over by a Yellow Cab on Park Avenue and killed." King decided to take the setting to a small town, "In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!"
King knows small towns and the evils they hold. My father used to say 'every town regardless of size has the same vices just on a different scale'. In Salem's Lot, author Ben Mears has returned to write about a scary house in the town he grew up in. He begins to notice even stranger happenings. Townspeople are disappearing but then coming back...at night. King has created Barlow as a clever aristocratic vampire that has survived for centuries. He is aided by a human helper named Straker. Barlow is the real deal. He is not a Twilight teenage bloodsucker or one interested in sexual innuendo. He feeds to survive.
Mears teams up with teenager, Mark Petrie, and English teacher, Matt Burke, and doctor, Jimmy Cody, to go after the vampires with stakes, crosses, and holy water. This is a King-convention that is used in so many subsequent novels. Good versus evil is clear and defined. Remember, this novel was written in 1975 before the Internet, cell phones, and social media so in a fantastic way it is plausible that a vampire could convert a small town without attracting attention. As it turns out, Barlow and Straker have bought and moved into the scary house Mears had come to profile, “The town kept its secrets, and the Marsten House brooded over it like a ruined king.” King's signature writing is fully on display in Salem's Lot. There is wit and observation in heavy doses:
- “The sandwich he made was bologna and cheese, his favorite. All the sandwiches he made were his favorites; that was one of the advantages of being single.”
- “The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar.”
- “If a fear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered.”
- “There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.”
The fight between our heroes and the dreaded night crawler still makes for a fantastic read. Turn the lights up though and try not to look out the window.