Don’t Let Them In

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975): Stephen King’s second published novel did at least two new things I can think of: it collided the vampire novel with a sweeping character study of an entire town (as many have noted, it’s Dracula meets Peyton Place); and it codified the role of the Familiar in a vampire’s life in a way that many subsequent novelists treat as if it were derived from vampire mythology. King extrapolates the role of Straker in this novel from Renfield in Dracula and Renfield/Harker’s altered role in the Bela Lugosi Dracula.

Later works such as Fright Night (1985) and Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Twelve would run with the idea of a non-vampiric helper paving the way for the vampire. That Straker also has to perform certain rituals to let the vampire Barlow into the town of (Jeru)’salem’s Lot also seems new to me.

The novel still purrs along like a dream. Some elements (the rapid development of love between protagonist Ben Mears and townie Susan Norton) come a bit too fast, even in a lengthy novel such as this. But both major characters (struggling novelist Mears, who’s returned to the town at pretty much the worst time ever; Father Callahan) and minor (the sheriff, especially) are fleshed out with great sympathy and precision, or at least empathy.

King wisely keeps the vampire Barlow off-stage for much of the novel — the few times when Barlow talks (or writes) are also a bit weak, as King has borrowed pretty much all of Barlow’s attributes from the Dracula 101 class of king-vampire characterization. Straker, the Familiar, is much more interesting. Highly recommended.

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