It’s now week eight of fourteen for us at the University of Toronto as this post goes up, and I am very keenly feeling the effects of the upcoming due dates, deadlines, papers, presentations, and the never-ending flood of emails that I need to respond to. I’m writing this on a Friday morning that I had to force myself to pencil in as a mental health day, as I really needed a break. I’ll be back to work on campus over the weekend, but for today at least, I get to think about fun little side projects!
Salem’s Lot took me a little while to get through because of how hectic my schedule currently is, not to mention the other responsibilities that I’m juggling. Although finding time to read the book was not a problem, it became difficult trying to schedule a block of time when I could watch the 1979 miniseries uninterrupted. For the record, I also did try to watch the 2004 miniseries, but after four attempts – none of which made it past the one-hour mark – it became clear that I wasn’t enjoying the experience, and I decided to nix that. Maybe some other time?
Here we are with entry number two in Reading the King: Salem’s Lot, the first edition of which now apparently goes for US$1750, at least according to LW Currey Inc.
Salem’s Lot, 1975
Salem’s Lot combines two things that I’m very fond of in literature: vampires and small towns. I have very fond memories of this book, and when I reread it I was happily surprised to find that it holds up. Salem’s Lot delivered on the good, the unpleasant, and the downright terrifying aspects of what it means to live in a small town, plus vampires. It also figured heavily in my early encounters with Stephen King as a teenager – I vividly remember reading One for the Road in Night Shift and nervously huddling under my blankets, occasionally peering up at my open window hoping no vampires were outside.
The most striking character in this book, and my favourite in the re-read so far, is Father Callahan. As a person who was raised in a religious household, and was always surrounded by people of different religious beliefs, the question of what constitutes true faith was always present in my conversations growing up. Father Callahan was so real and raw, and true to the effects of alcoholism even as it is revealed as a symptom of his ongoing existential crisis. When his faith falters as he is facing off with Kurt Barlow, my heart sank – how can faith survive after a test such as this, especially with what Barlow does to him afterwards? I know that Father Callahan turns up again in The Dark Tower series, and I am looking forward to seeing how his character develops.
Another aspect of Salem’s Lot that I really enjoy is the idea of “evil” in Salem’s Lot – how it is insidious and inescapable, sticking like molasses to the town and all the people who come to it. I am also rather partial towards the idea that an evil person can corrupt the space that they live in, and that the Marsten House essentially became transformed into a beacon of evil because of the type of person that Hubie Marsten was, especially with his life being bookended by death.
I would probably not read this book again in the near future just because of the sheer volume of Stephen King works available to me, but when this reread is done? Who knows! I firmly believe that we get different lessons when we read the same books at different moments in our lives, and perhaps when I’m 37 I’ll approach Salem’s Lot with a different perspective.
Salem’s Lot, 1979 miniseries
I enjoyed this adaptation a lot! However, I do think that it was quite long, clocking in as it does at three hours and seven minutes. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realise that my mistake was in approaching the miniseries as if it were one long movie: I dedicated an entire Saturday afternoon to watching it, but had to stop in the middle and save it for another day when it began feeling like such a slog. I think that for future adaptations, if they’re also in the form of a miniseries, I’ll spread it out and watch it as it was intended to be seen.
I believe that for the most part, the miniseries captures much of the spirit of the book even with the character changes. The most visible of these changes was the character of Kurt Barlow and how it changed from what was a preternaturally intelligent and crafty vampire in the book, to the campier and more macabre thing that he was in the movie.
Not gonna lie, I screamed and jumped when Barlow swung into the Petrie’s kitchen for his face off with Father Callahan. I am such a fan of the vampire make-up! Cinematic Kurt Barlow was fantastically ghoulish, and apparently one of its Primetime Emmy nominations was for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. Go, make-up team!
According to Richard Kobritz, the reason that they opted to go this route for Barlow was a harkening back to old vampire lore: “We went back to the old German Nosferatu concept where he is the essence of evil, and not anything romantic or smarmy, or, you know, the rouge-cheeked, widow-peaked Dracula.” I think that for this particular miniseries, with the insidious and unstoppable creep of evil engulfing Salem’s Lot, it works so well! It casts Barlow in a very not-human light, which makes the terror that much more chilling. This is an evil that cannot be reasoned with, nor can it be fully understood.
Speaking of character changes, it was a shame how the movie decided to not fully explore the character of Father Callahan. I feel like that kind of internal conflict, especially when it comes to religion and religious authority figures, would have been really interesting to see onscreen. Although I also missed the good doctor Jimmy Cody, who was altogether not in the adaptation, a deeper exploration of religion and supernatural evil would have made it truer to the source material.
Also, bonus points for the way that they made the glass bottle containing holy water shine like Sting does in the presence of Orcs – that was enjoyably fantastical.