'Salem's Lot Essay - Critical Evaluation

Stephen King

Critical Evaluation

Although displaying flaws in plotting and some unfortunately sloppy writing, ’Salem’s Lot is a major novel. Stephen King’s panoramic narrative approach and colloquial narrative style permitted him to create dozens of recognizable characters and to address issues and develop subtexts that previous vampire novels, because of their composition time or limited narrative focus, could not. ’Salem’s Lot was a best seller and did much to make King a household name, and it was one of the seminal works in the horror publishing boom of the late 1970’s and the 1980’s. Numerous writers copied King’s narrative techniques and attempted to replicate his style, but few succeeded, and none of their works has ’Salem’s Lot narrative drive or reaches its level of suspense.

King stated in “On Becoming a Brand Name,” his foreword to Fear Itself (1982), that ’Salem’s Lot was inspired by a conversation about “what might happen if Dracula returned today,” by memories of the town in which he grew up, and by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (pr., pb. 1938), which he was then teaching in high school. King set about creating a Maine town in which “people could drop out of sight, disappear, perhaps even come back as the living dead”; he was later, in his 2002 book On Writing, to describe ’Salem’s Lot as “a peculiar combination of Peyton Place and Dracula.”

Perhaps because King did not want to stray far from his literary models, ’Salem’s Lot is a deeply conservative work on all levels. King’s vampires are entirely traditional: evil, undead, nocturnal, bloodsucking beings bound by arbitrary rules that cannot withstand scrutiny. The major subtext of ’Salem’s Lot concerns the death of small-town America. The cause of this death, however, remains intriguingly unresolved and multivalent, for King deliberately...

(The entire section is 800 words.)