It’s really shameful how long it took me to get around to reading this seminal horror novel, especially considering what I do for a living, but I’m so glad I finally did. It’s a great story with compelling action, vividly drawn characters, and some chilling images that will stick with me. But more than that, in many ways ‘SALEM’S LOT strikes me as the urtext of modern horror novels, the source material from which so much else followed, from imitations to improvements. Here we can see the seeds of so many tropes that would come to inhabit King’s novels, and indeed so much of the work of writers who came up reading King: the small town facing an ancient evil; the large cast of characters, all drawn with local authenticity and each with their own secrets to keep (though I did find myself wishing so many of the secrets of the Lot’s inhabitants weren’t of a sexual nature, but this was 1975 and that was probably considered quite edgy back then — although now the novel actually feels charmingly old-fashioned); the scenes of gruesome terror that stand in stark contrast to those of idyllic town life, as if to say only an evil intrusion from outside can upset the peaceful status quo of the small town. Given how closely this was written to the end of the Vietnam War — it’s still fresh in the characters’ minds — the allegory of innocent blood spilled and a whole town wiped out stands tall enough not to be overlooked.
I’ve read a fair bit of King — not a lot when you consider the size of his ouevre, but a fair bit — and most of it has been his more recent works. For years I heard that what I really should be reading was his earlier novels. Now, with ‘SALEM’S LOT finally under my belt, I understand why. There’s a purity to the story, even if there isn’t necessarily a purity to the prose (King definitely became a better writer over time), and an appealing sense of love for the horror genre on every page. You feel like you’re not just in the hands of a master storyteller, but someone who loves horror and monsters as much as you do, a kindred spirit, and that kind of connection between author and reader is something special.
As is this novel. If you haven’t read ‘SALEM’S LOT yet, don’t be like me and wait so long. Bump it to the top of your reading list and find out for yourself, firsthand, why this novel is so beloved by generations of readers.