Salem's Lot

Stephen King’s ‘SALEM’S LOT’ (1975): King’s Favorite Book

Picking up where we left off last month, 26-year-old writer Stephen King rolled the dice with his first novel Carrie in 1974. When all was said and done, King had collected $200,000 ($1.8 million today) for his efforts. Now the question was could he follow it up? King himself feared that he would be a one-hit wonder so the pressure was on to create a follow-up hit. He didn’t have to look very far for inspiration for his second novel as he had already come up with the concept years earlier. His second novel would be one of the best vampire novels of the second half of the 20th century, Salem’s Lot.

Salem's Lot
Stephen King’s second novel is arguably better than his first

Growing up, it just so happens that Stephen’s favorite horror novel was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While he was still teaching at Hampden Academy in the early 1970s, King talked with his wife Tabitha over dinner about writing a modern-day vampire novel. King joked that if Dracula were to return in the 20th century, he’d be run over by a taxi in New York City. His wife made the clutch suggestion that if he were to write about a vampire returning in the 20th century, it better be in a rural setting where news doesn’t travel very fast. King thought that was a great suggestion and started to get to work.

As mentioned in last month’s editorial, King’s problem was time. He had to teach during the morning, tend the laundromat in the evening, and spend time with Tabitha & his children at night. Writing anything would be tough under those conditions.

Stephen King
Working all day….and the sun don’t shine….trying to get by….and I’m just killin time

Fast forward to 1975. Once he was $200,000 richer, he quit his job as a teacher and the laundromat gig to devote time to writing. Now he was free to finish Salem’s Lot, and he did. So what’s the book actually about? A writer (wink wink) named Ben returns to the rural town of Jerusalem’s Lot where he grew up 25 years later to write another novel. He shudders when he realizes the home of the late gangster Hubie Marsten was purchased by an Austrian immigrant named Kurt Barlow. Barlow also buys an antique store and his right-hand man Richard Straker runs the business. Then all hell breaks loose as Barlow turns one townsperson after another into vampires and Ben must enlist some unlikely help to defend the town. I won’t spoil the ending. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens.

James Mason as Richard Straker

The original title was supposed to be Second Coming but Tabitha said that sounded like a bad sex novel, so Stephen changed it to Jerusalem’s Lot. The publishing company decided that sounded too religious and shortened it to Salem’s Lot. Four days before King’s Boston Red Sox won the greatest world series game of all time, Salem’s Lot was published on October 17, 1975. It’s unknown what Stephen got for his advance for the hardcover, but he was paid $550,000 for the paperback rights. Adjusted for inflation, that would be 2.9 million dollars today.

King’s fear of being a one-hit wonder was definitely for naught. Not to mention he was set for life. The thing about the book was that its theme also had a tip of the hat for the German Dracula “tribute” Nosferatu. In Nosferatu, Count Orlok buys real estate in Germany, and its up to Thomas Hutter to stop him from turning Germany into vampires. Sound familiar? Whether it’s Nosferatu or Dracula, King certainly had the right inspiration for turning in his masterpiece. Hell, even the movie adaption of Salem’s Lot (more on that later) modeled Barlow after Count Orlok more than Count Dracula.

Salem's Lot (TV)
Kurt Barlow looking more like Nosferatu than Dracula

The book itself sold very well over the years and in 1979 a movie adaptation was filmed for television starring David “Officer Hutch” Soul as Ben Mears, James Mason (A Star Is Born – 1954) as Richard Straker, and Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard – 1988) as Susan Norton. A non-King-written sequel called A Return To Salem’s Lot was filmed in 1987 and there’s talk of a remake coming out this year as well. Just like with Carrie, the movie adaptation of Salem’s Lot boosted book sales.

By 1976, King was 2 for 2 and never had to worry about money again. The only question was could he keep up the momentum? But that’s a story for another time. As for now, pick up Salem’s Lot when you can and enjoy a nice vampire novel.

About Kevin H's number one heel. Favorite horror movies: Insidious, Friday the 13th Part 6, Trick Or Treat (Gene Simmons version), the original King Kong, the Alien/Aliens franchise, Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I've been a writer since middle school and have been so controversial I was suspended in middle school, nearly got suspended in high school and kicked off two websites for bad language or different opinions. I can write reviews, fan fics, real fics, romance, sports writing, critiques and anything I'm challenged to do.

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