‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salemslotIt’s been awhile. It’s been awhile because I have read very little. It’s March and I’ve only finished reading my second novel for this year (both I had begun in 2013, by the way). Slow reading, indeed. Faster writing because that is what I spent most of my time on – which is good but I find that without reading writing is… less valuable, certainly less stylish. My ramblings become stunted and prosaic without the ‘food’ of words written by others.

But that wasn’t my reason to return to King (returning always in the sense that he was the first adult author I ever read and also inspired my own writing). I’m currently investigating the supernatural (in case I have mentioned this already, I apologize for the repetition) and a vampire novel by Stephen Kind was hardly something I could ignore.

Here’s what happens:

Ben Mears is a writer who returns to ‘Salem’s Lot – scene of his most vivid childhood nightmare – to write a novel about the Marsten House as it is called in town. It seems to be one of those sinister places that exude evil. But it’s not the house, it’s its new resident who stirs the dead in their graves: Barlow is a vampire and he begins his evil trail through town around the same time that Ben starts writing his novel.

The desease of undeadness spreads quickly and Ben, together with young Marc Petrie, has a hard time keeping up and score of living, dead, and undead. And it seems that more than just one house is infected by an inherent evil in Jerusalem’s Lot.

‘Salem’s Lot is King’s second novel and he already picks up the theme of evil places that is probably most elaborately told in It – my all-time favorite King novel. Indeed, some paragraphs about evil that inhabits a place is reminiscent of those in It. I’m not criticizing this, I actually enjoy the thoughts as well as the concept. The mingling or merging of a supernatural evil and the way it changes a place is fascinating. King also has a good grip on the vampire lore. I like that instead of giving vampires a new spin, making them his own, changing everything about them, he goes back to the basics – making them more elusive and yet more vulnerable than it has been done lately.

The book comes equipped with an introduction by King, two short stories to enhance on the story of Jerusalem’s Lot as an evil place, and even deleted scenes. I haven’t yet read those last ones, I’m not sure why and I’m not sure I will. The ‘extras’ have been added to the original text after almost 25 years. King seems to return to his earlier stories quite frequently, probably the tales never quite let go of him. I’m not sure about the value of returning to stories or places those stories have taken place. But maybe that’s just me liking an ending better than an ongoing mystery.

‘Salem’s Lot is a good read. It’s not above criticism but it’s the same kind of criticism that one can apply to all of King’s books – too few good female characters, not a single female hero, a writer as hero, a little boy as hero. It all comes down to characters for me. But the issues I have with his texts are almost as vintage King for me as what he writes, how he writes. Reading a King novel can be as frustrating as it is exiting and enchanting.

Well, if you’re tired of all the new takes on vampire lore, if you want to go to bed avoiding to look into shadows because you’re afraid of what might be lurking there, if you like the thrill of a good horror story combined with extensive quirky details of the lives in a small town – read ‘Salem’s Lot (and remember that it’s been written and told in 1975).

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

fledglingThis is the third time I’ve read Fledgling. The first time, I read it for a class, the second time for the paper for same class and now I’ve read it for a kind of research I’m doing about different vampire-myths. And Fledgling has a lot to offer on that account because Butler invites the reader to share in a new myth that is not necessarily based on mythology but science.

Shori Matthews loses her memory. As she re-learns and understands the world around her, it becomes painfully obvious that she is not human. She is what humans would call a vampire, what her own people call ‘Ina.’ But as her story unfolds, the distinction between these two species of humanoids mght not be as clear-cut as it seems and there are certain people who would do anything to ensure that humans and Ina don’t mix.

Fledgling was Butler’s last novel, and she ventures more into the realm of fantasy than she has before. But even this novel is based more on science than on fantasy as she demystifies the vampire and pulls them into her scientific field of expertise. Vampirism is not a demonic possession in her novel, it is a medical condition, a blood-mutation that may have originated in outer space. It is a gripping tale with a lot of exposition about this very different vampire lore, their beliefs, their symbiosis with human beings.

It is also a tale about racism, as Butler’s novels usually are. Butler weaves Shori’s story around her difference, which is a genetic alteration that makes her able to walk in sunlight and that gives her dark skin. This is also the part of her that is human and this is a genetic experimentation some of her fellow-Ina cannot accept. Racism is very much a double-edged sword among this culture that is dependent on human blood but sees the human race as inferior – and racism as a foolishness of this inferior race. Butler uncovers some of the hypocricy behind racism in our culture through a culture that sees itself above such nonsense, as long as it doesn’t effect them directly.

Fledgling is a fascinating story, in part because we discover the Ina much like Shori does (and through her narrating voice), in part because the Ina are very different from the usual vampire myths but still related to them, but also because it’s simply a good story. It combines the mystical with the explainable and then adds a trial to the mix. It’s a fascinating read, certainly one of my favorite vampire novels.