’Salem’s Lot is Stephen King’s splendid adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), set in modern times. The difference is that King portrays vampires in so negative a light that, far from loving them, the reader is happy to see them destroyed for the monstrosities they commit.

In many respects, King is writing about his favorite themes in this novel. He is a visceral conservative who accepts and examines the idea that evil is an inexpungible part of real life, that evil has an existence of its own in a predominantly secular, liberal America. In King’s view, for the most part, evil is apparent to those who choose to confront it, but most people do not because of failed nerve, limited intelligence, or flawed character.

’Salem’s Lot is also notable for the display of King’s other authorial strengths. His keen observations of the small-town characters of his Maine region—their conversation, values, and fears—result in some of his best characterizations: Dud Rogers, who loves overseeing the town dump and shooting rats with his .22; Charlie Rhodes, the school bus driver who takes no backtalk from smart-mouthed kids; Weasel Craig, who once slept with widow Miller but now does handyman jobs for her; and Gillespie, the careful, skeptical, but doughty constable who helps track down the vampires.

King gives sensitive attention to adult-child relationships (as exemplified by Ben’s friendship...

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